By Boys Town Contributor, Boys Town
Boys Town recently hosted Amie Konwinski, Founder and CEO of the Omaha-based, non-profit Smart Gen Society, to share insights and information on how to create smart, safe and private digital lives for our children and families.
Konwinski, a media expert and educator with a background in communications and systems technology, offered advice on how to get smart about digital wellness in our 24/7 connected world. She reported that 56% of five-year-olds in America today have their own smart device, and the average age to have a cell phone is 10.3 years. In her presentation, Konwinski stressed the importance of communication, safety and digital branding in this ever-changing, completely connected world:
Creating digital wellness for our children and families is the balancing act of using devices without having them take over our lives. Open, judgement-free communication is the foundation of a safe digital family life that includes being approachable and having those tough conversations with our kids, when necessary. When problems and issues arise, it’s helpful for parents to use these steps:
A – Acknowledge – restate comments, statements and concerns.
L – Listen with Intent – make eye content, put down your devices and use supportive language.
A – Ask Questions –
Are you safe?
How did it make you feel?
How can I support you?
S – Support – indicate you are sorry that it happened and if necessary, take action by consulting with the school or law enforcement.
Safety and Privacy
Internet safety is key to developing an effective family digital wellness plan. This includes:
- Remembering that social media is not for kids under the age of 13.
- Knowing all your child’s passwords to devices, social media platforms and gaming accounts and regularly checking on usage.
- Limiting screen time.
- Keeping devices out of bedrooms at night to ensure that your child gets adequate sleep. (Teachers report that today’s students often come to school exhausted.)
Don’t give up your privacy. Help your child to be careful to avoid disclosing information online including:
- Username – your child’s name should not be the username.
- Home address, global location or other identifying features online – Cyber-Security experts indicate that most people can be tracked online to a real-life location in as little as six clicks.
- Be sure to set all your child’s accounts to private
- Delete apps that your child no longer uses
- Disable location services for each app
Protect your family’s mental health by limiting time spent on devices.
Excessive engagement online has been linked to:
- FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
- High-risk behaviors
- Suicidal Ideation
Protect your family’s mental health by asking everyone to disconnect for 60 minutes per day to exercise, work on a relaxing project or read.
Set specific screen block-out periods like mealtime or family time and take days off when everyone steps away from their devices.
Everything your child posts, likes, loves, views, creates or comments on in social media lives forever. It becomes your child’s digital brand and must be protected.
- 39% of college admissions offices research applicant’s social media presence.
- Nearly 100% of all scholarship applicants will have their social media posts reviewed.
- Encourage your child to post positive content by helping them to be mindful of the appropriateness of the posts being made, avoiding intimate photos or adult content.
Konwinski stressed that, “Open communication and trust are necessary to restore digital wellness. Always remember that it is never the minor’s fault if they are exploited online, and parents are not to blame if their child is exploited or makes a 30-second bad decision.”
If you believe your child has been exploited online:
- Don’t delete your child’s account as that may tip off the predator.
- Place phone in Airplane mode and keep it in a safe place.
- Contact local police or call the FBI.
“The digital world is here to stay and it’s important that we, as parents, provide a foundation for our kids,” said Konwinski. “We need to honor that social media is important to them and empower and support them to make good choices. It’s our responsibility to set the foundation that protects them and keeps them safe.”