Unite for a Better Internet: Have the Smart Talk

Navigating life online

(Sponsored Post) My boys are nine and eleven-years-old. This means that we’ve had “the talk” — yes, that one about the “birds and the bees.” But in our fast-moving, digital world, where children are engaging more and more on social media, playing online games and reading news online, we need to have a different kind of talk — one that teaches them the rules of the road for navigating life online.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 50% of children receive their first smartphone by age 11, and 74% have access to laptops and desktops as early as six-years-old. There’s no doubt technology is playing a huge role in our children’s development. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore this enormous part of their lives. Having open and ongoing conversations about online safety and responsibility is essential to the well-being and overall safety of children.

However, when I chat with other parents about having a digital safety talk with our kids, I get the sense they find it overwhelming because they don’t know what topics to cover. And that’s understandable. How can we possibly know how to approach talking about everything our kids see online when we didn’t grow up with the same devices, sites and apps they use today? Not to mention the fact that parents often tell me that they also feel pressured to buy their kids new devices that their peers and classmates are using, regardless of whether or not their kids are ready for that kind of responsibility.

Fortunately, there’s a free, online tool to help families navigate these issues and talk about digital safety. It’s called The Smart Talk. National PTA and LifeLock developed it for families who want their digitally savvy kids to learn and have fun through technology, but also make sure that they are building positive habits to stay safe and be responsible online. The Smart Talk gives families an opportunity to talk about the issues that can come up as kids use smartphones, social media and apps — while they’re still developing emotional intelligence skills.

Since the tool is online, you can have The Smart Talk as a family whenever it works best for you. After developing an agreement together, you can print a copy of the agreement, hang it where you’ll see it (like on your fridge) and revisit as needed.

I’ve had The Smart Talk with my each of my boys — and they even enjoyed it (at least more than they enjoyed having that other talk)!  We plan on regularly checking in on our digital safety agreements. When that happens, I’m sure they’ll teach me a new thing or two, and we’ll have to evolve our agreements accordingly.

Join me in partnering up with your kids as we try to make the internet better and safer — have The Smart Talk tonight.

Kim Allman is the Vice President of Government Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility at Lifelock.

Tips You Need to Keep Kids Safe Online

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Keeping your kids safe in the age of continuous internet access and social media is tougher than ever these days. My wife and I work in information security, but even we struggle to keep up with evolving technology, so staying safe online is a frequent dinner topic in our family.

With new websites and apps coming out every day, it’s easy to see how parents can feel a little overwhelmed. So what can you do to keep your kids safe? The biggest step is to start with a conversation. And the good news is, there’s an online tool to help!

The Smart Talk is a fun and simple way to develop tech ground rules with your kids. Developed by LifeLock and the National PTA, the interactive website enables families to create personalized technology ground rules together by discussing key online safety topics. These include safety and privacy, screen time, apps and downloads, texting and calling and social media and respect.

After agreeing on healthy limits together, your family will end up with a personalized and official family agreement that you can print, sign and post in your home for quick reference and revise throughout the year.

Our family recently had The Smart Talk, and there were many lessons learned all-around. Here are a few tips that may come handy when you have a safety tech talk with your kids.

Tip 1: Talk, don’t lecture

Lecturing kids about online security works about as well as lecturing them about putting their socks away. They just tune out, hearing only, “Blah blah Internet blah blah chatrooms.” But when you’re able to have an actual conversation with your kids, and get on their level, they can begin relating what they do online and what their friends do online to the issues they hear about in the news.

Tip 2: Help your kids understand that the internet is not private

This false sense of privacy can lure kids into revealing far more than they should, with potentially devastating results (such as harassment and bullying, possibly even leading to assaults and suicide). Talk to your kids about what privacy means and remind them that anything shared over the internet or over a smartphone has the potential to be made public. Tell them:

  • Social media accounts can be seen by others
  • Text messages and “selfies” can be copied, forwarded and shared
  • Information can be accessed on an unlocked device or broken into and posted freely on the internet
  • Location data, commonly made available by devices, can reveal where the photos were taken or where they are located at that moment

Tip 3: Treat safety in the digital world the same as safety in the real world

When our kids are online, they’re connected with the entire world. Would you let your kids bring home random people off the street or from the shopping mall? Into your home, into their rooms? Of course not. Similar to how you teach your child to be self-aware in a mall, movie theater or amusement park—your kids need to learn safe behaviors in the online world.

Tip 4: Help your kids understand that anyone can pretend to be anything on the internet

With social media, video game chatrooms and other remote chat tools, strangers can become familiar, even though your child has never actually met them. Kids need to understand that people they meet online could be someone other than who they say they are. Teach your kids that unless you’ve met someone in person, they are a stranger. Any time a stranger attempts to convince your child to meet up unsupervised or share private information, your child should assume that’s not a nice or safe person.

Bring this lesson to life with a game: Ask your kid to list all of the things an alligator would say to convince a duck that they should meet up in the swamp at night. Then, connect the alligator’s motivations with a fraudster online that is trying to lure your kid into sharing information. It sounds silly, but such a game can help drive the point home.

Tip 5: Sharing is good until you share too much

You’ve seen the websites and apps that ask you to share your name, home address, age, birthdate, phone number and more. Kids grow up learning that sharing is caring, but what happens when sharing information could leave your kid vulnerable to identity theft?

When it comes to sharing sensitive information, teach your kids that the best answer is no answer. Your kids should also know that a majority of sites don’t need all of your sensitive information. Most times you don’t need to add all your private information. Have your child use their favorite movie character as their name and profile pic. Children are clever, creative and motivated. Give them a nudge and they’ll take it from there.

Remind your kids that their friends need to be safe online too. Kids are stronger when they’re looking out for each other, when they understand the problems and have a mindset to protect themselves.

Visit TheSmartTalk.org to learn more about having a conversation about these key ways to stay safe online.


Joe Gervais is the father of five children and the security communications director at LifeLock.

Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family

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As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.


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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.