Summer Means Sun, Fun, and … The Smart Talk?

[Sponsored Post] As kids eagerly anticipate the start of summer break with relaxed schedules and no homework, parents face the decision whether or not to relax rules around screen time and digital devices. To deal with this transition from school to summer, one PTA dad has decided it’s time for his family to have ‘The Smart Talk’ … again.

When Alvin Gainey’s oldest daughter—who is now 16—started first grade, she got a cell phone.

“She was in aftercare and this was a way to communicate in the event of an emergency or if we were running late,” recalls Gainey. “Of course, back then people weren’t using their phones for everything like we do now. We basically just handed her the phone; we didn’t talk with her about digital safety or our family ground rules or screen time. I wasn’t worried one bit about her ‘digital life’ back then.”

Gainey admits he worries now. “Times have changed. Kids put everything online. And I mean, everything.”

As the Miami-Dade PTA Council President and highly involved dad of three school-age kids (his younger children are 9 and 11), Gainey jumped at the chance earlier this year to receive one of 20 grants awarded from National PTA and LifeLock to host a community event on digital parenting as an extension of Safer Internet Day.

The Miami event featured a digital safety expert who helped families better understand the many upsides of modern technology as well as the potential risks. A major focus of the event was on ‘The Smart Talk’ which is a free online tool created by National PTA and LifeLock that guides parents and kids together in an exercise that allows them to set customized technology ground rules for their household.

When Gainey completed The Smart Talk with his kids, he came to the startling realization that a lot of what he was doing in his own digital life maybe wasn’t so smart. “I am a big believer in practicing what I preach,” said Gainey. “All of a sudden we’re going through the prompts online in The Smart Talk, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, I have to change some of this for myself if I expect my daughter to change what she’s doing too.’ It was very, very eye-opening.”

He also acknowledged that The Smart Talk helped him and his wife tackle an “awkward” conversation with one of their children about some recent questionable online behavior. Gainey noted, “Even though The Smart Talk was primarily intended for parents giving younger kids a device for the first time, I definitely found it helpful with my kids who have had devices for a while. Like a reset button.”

With summer approaching, Gainey admits his household will relax some of the rules they previously established using The Smart Talk. “We have to do the whole exercise over again because some of our technology rules for the summer break are going to be different than what we have now for the school year. I guess we’ll have a summer Smart Talk!” he noted with a laugh.

In summer, Gainey’s kids “self-manage” their own time a lot more especially during the day and that often equates to more screen time with less oversight. Gainey plans to praise his kids for making good decisions like turning off their phone at the dinner table and encouraging a balance between device time and having fun in other ways. Since the kids will have more digital access during the day, he said they are likely to institute device-free hours in the evening which will be a major change from their original Smart Talk contract which allowed for devices in the evening.

When asked what advice Gainey has for other parents grappling with the transition from school to summer, he replied enthusiastically, “Honestly, have The Smart Talk as a family. Seriously. If you’ve had it before, have it again. The rules you set in September probably don’t make sense in June, and everything changes so rapidly with your kids and technology anyway that you can’t ever just set it and forget it.”

To have The Smart Talk with your household, visit TheSmartTalk.org.

Pro Tip: Before gathering your kids to complete this exercise with you, consider reviewing the website and talking privately with your co-parent to make sure you are on the same page. This “pre-talk” helps ensure a smoother Smart Talk experience with your kids. 

LifeLock, a modern identity theft protection company, is a longstanding Proud National PTA Sponsor and co-creator with National PTA of The Smart Talk.

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service. No endorsement of LifeLock is implied.

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.

The Smart Talk Holiday Gift Tags

The-Smart-Talk-Holiday-Tags-Horizontal-Wide-750x313Digital devices are topping holiday wish lists for many kids this year. Are you considering giving the gift of technology this year? Perhaps you are upgrading your smartphone and passing down your old phone to your child. Before your child starts using their new (or new used) smart device it’s important to set some smart ground rules.

While many new devices come with instruction booklets- they don’t cover things like who your kid should be “friending” or “following” and when they should share texts with a trusted adult. It’s up to parents to have clear conversations with their kids about using technology responsibly and that can leave many parents wondering where to start. The good news is that there’s a tool that makes the whole process a no-brainer.

LifeLock and the National PTA recently teamed up to create The Smart Talk, a free, online toolkit to help you set up—with your child—some technology ground rules. The goal? A healthier relationship with technology.

Just sit down with your child and review a series of questions on a variety of important, tech topics—from privacy to respect, from apps to social media. In about 15 minutes, you’ll have an agreement you can print, sign and post on the fridge for easy reference.

And just in time for the holidays, we also have gift tags that you can use to remind your family to talk about technology before the fun and games begin. Just print and use as tags on all your tech gifts!

Have a great holiday—and kick off the New Year with The Smart Talk!


Erin Thwaites is the Associate Manager, Health & Safety at National PTA.