Parents urged to have open discussion with kids, avoid online ‘ban’
Inside the Blair YMCA, April Komasinski asked the parents of 11 Washington County third- to fifth-graders if their kids had any of various social media accounts. Most parents said their children didn’t.
“Your kids are lying to you,” Komasinski said.
The Papillion police officer and former principal taught a NetSmartz Workshop with separate sessions for kids and parents Monday night as part of a program to provide age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on and offline.
“I am adamant that all kids need information about how to be safe online,” she said of teaching the class. “(Kids) are in that stage when they’re exploring the internet, and it’s a big place. They have a lot of questions, and they’re looking for guidance. If (parents) don’t give them the guidance because (they) don’t have the information, they’ll find it from somebody else.”
The first hour of the workshop was only between Komasinski and the kids. Having no other adults in the room promoted honesty from the children, she said. But parents were invited back into the room later for a half-hour Q&A session with Komasinski where she let them know some of what their children said and offered advice on approaching online-life discussions.
She said the most important thing parents can do when discussing the internet, social media, smartphones or other online aspects with their kids is to let their children know they won’t be punished if they see or hear something upsetting or troubling online. An online “ban” will make kids feel they will get in trouble, she said.
“If they have to be secretive, they are going to be,” Komasinski said. “You have to be informed about what your children are doing, not in a ‘We’re going to be scared,’ system. If we’re scared of the internet and we’re scared of what they’re sharing, and we try to block it all in — I don’t know about you guys, but my mom was very protective of what we were doing online, so what did I do? I went over to my best friend’s house. Your kids will do the same.”
Komasinski told parents in attendance that they shouldn’t monitor or “spy” on their children’s pages or accounts, but they should at least know they have them.
“Being that open avenue for your child to talk to you,” she said. “If you cut off the conversation, you are cutting off your ability to teach how you want your children to grow and how you want them to go in life.”
She told parents that some of their children have experienced cussing, nudity or unwanted sexual questions from someone online. Zero of the kids said they have discussed these things with their parents, Komasinski said, because they were afraid of getting in trouble.
“You need to have the conversation that if, ‘You are seeing these things, you are allowed to come to me, and I will help, and you will not be in trouble,'” she told parents.
Jack Dill, parent of a Fort Calhoun Elementary student, said he hoped the workshop would allow more open conversation between him, his wife and his daughter.
“It’s not even about locking things down, but having the information,” he said. “We have a 15-minute ride back to Fort Calhoun, so maybe we can have a good conversation on the way home.”
Other online tips provided by Komasinski
Discuss the topic with children before they reach their teenage years when it happens. Have an open conversation about what is and is not appropriate to show. That conversation should include input from the child, so he or she feels like part of the solution rather than the problem.
• Meeting an online friend in the real world:
If parents have built a strong, trust-filled relationships with their kids about their online life, they are more likely to know about online friends. Tell children that if an online friend wants to meet, they should meet with the child’s parents at a public location. The online friend may either agree and bring their parents, stop talking to the child or try to convince them otherwise. At that point, approach children respectfully should they become reserved and unforthcoming about the topic going forward.
• Look up child-safety features for apps, electronics:
Komasinski said most apps, such as Snapchat, and other electronics have safety features built into them. The features can limit how people can track children through GPS locations built into apps and electronics or how people can contact them.
• Seeing or hearing “bad” things on accident or on purpose:
Don’t punish children. Kids are curious and may be secretive if they feel they will get in trouble. Have an open, honest conversation about whatever topic they may have come across.
• Additional information at netsmartz.org:
Parents and children can visit netsmartz.org for additional information on topics such as cell phones, cyberbullying, gaming, messaging, video chat, email, sexual solicitation and social media.