At Actua, we are proponents of youth building strong digital literacy skills – skills that are necessary for them to navigate their current world safely, but also essential to prepare them to thrive in the future of work. A critical part of engaging youth in technology is their safety. Parents and teachers have the responsibility to equip and empower youth with the skills and knowledge they need to be good digital citizens and to stay safe. This can sometimes feel like a daunting task, so here are some helpful ways to get started:
The most important way to keep youth safe online, from the time they first start using a device, is to have open, ongoing conversations with them about the time they spend online. Youth need to feel they can come to their parents at the very first signs of any trouble or concerns online. They need to know that their parents will listen and not overreact. We also encourage parents not to rush to judgement if things do go off the rails – this is a learning opportunity for you and for the kids. Reassure them you won’t automatically take away their device access and reward them for confiding in you – trust builds trust.
Ask them questions, similar to how you ask them about their day of who they played with, who they talked to and did anything to make them feel weird or uncomfortable.
Just like you have rules for the house – it is a good idea to set rules for online environments as well. It is especially important because you can’t monitor your kids online the same way you can monitor them in the backyard or in the park. Rules vary by age, but these should apply to youth using any Internet enabled game, app or social media platform. Some great resources to refer to are Media Smarts, Google’s Be Internet Awesome, and Binary Tattoo’s Family Digital Device Contract.
General rules we recommend:
Good digital citizenship means contributing to online spaces in a positive way and understanding that your actions online have consequences to yourself and to others. With the rise of online bullying and the effects on mental health, being a good digital citizen is extremely important.
The best way to combat negative things online, like cyberbullying, is to have youth empowered and encouraged to contribute positively to online environments, being kind, and being vigilant. We recommend setting the same standards of behavior and expectations you would have for youth online as you would offline. Encourage them to report and call out bullying when they see it, and to only post content they would be comfortable with anyone seeing – from a friend, to their parents, to their teacher.
For more helpful advice, visit the following:
In 2019 Actua launched a cyber empowerment pilot project called Engage.Empower.Connect. This project, supported by Women and Gender Equality Canada, is designed to increase knowledge and confidence among Canadian youth on how to navigate the online world safely. A key part of the work is conducting consultations with cyber safety experts, law enforcement, child psychologists, educators, and more, to help us create the most effective and relevant program content. Revisit our website and social media as we share updates on this project.