Jumpstarting Conversations About Online Safety at Every Age
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and as Comcast is the largest residential Internet service provider, we like to do our part to contribute to the dialog about online safety and security issues. I recently had the chance to sit down with Cathy Avgiris, SVP and General Manager of Communications and Data Services, here at Comcast and Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston. We had a frank conversation about keeping kids safe online and what parents can do to stay informed.
Avgiris: Comcast conducted a national survey of adults and teens about a variety of topics related to Internet safety and security. One of the key findings, which we thought was really interesting, is that 95% of adults surveyed think it's just as important to talk to kids about Internet safety as it is to talk about sex education and the risks associated with drugs and alcohol. In addition, the survey revealed that only 65% of parents have actually spoken with their kids about online safety issues, which means 30% of adults admit they have not. So, we're here today to help encourage those parents to have these conversations with their kids and that's where Dr. Rich comes in.
Ramsay: Interesting. Dr. Rich, what do you make of that? Why aren't parents talking with their kids about this if it's that important?
Dr. Rich: At Children's Hospital Boston, I spend a lot of time working with young people and their families, examining various aspects of how the media they use, and how they use them, affects their health and development. A lot of the time, I find that parents know they should have conversations about the "house rules" for various devices, like smartphones or gaming consoles, but they don't always know where to start. So, I developed four conversation guides that parents can use to jumpstart these important conversations with their kids at different stages of development, giving them the tools and strategies to talk with children and adolescents about safe and healthy use of the Internet. The guides are for parents or caregivers with preschoolers, elementary school-age children, tweens, and teens. And the reason we developed four different guides is because how kids use the internet—and how you talk with a child about being safe online—is very different at different ages. For example, you can't talk with a preschooler in the same way you would talk with a teenager. It's a completely different conversation. But it is essential to have ongoing communication at every age because the risks kids confront change over time.
Ramsay: Can you give us a couple of examples of tips you recommend?
Dr. Rich: Sure. School-age kids' brains can focus on one task for about 30 minutes at a time, so a 9-year-old won't really get much more from an online session that lasts longer than that. You also want her to have many kinds of experiences, so it's important to switch activities frequently, mixing up strenuous physical activity, reading, and free play. Many school-age children may be using the Internet for the first time, and they need as much guidance online as they're given offline.
As for teens, it's really talking about the consequences of their actions. With digital technology, an embarrassing photo or poor word choice can be very difficult or even impossible to delete or take down once it's posted online. That makes it important to remind teens that, when they put something online, everyone can see it—even the person they're dating, and their teachers, and their grandmother. To help them understand a potential immediate consequence of their actions (which is the main kind of consequence they can really understand), encourage them to use the "do I want Grandma to see this?" test before posting online.
Ramsay: Where can parents find these guides?
Cathy: They're available to everyone, not just Comcast customers, at http://xfinity.com/constantguard.
Dr. Rich: They are also available with links to the scientific research that supports them on the Center for Media and Child Health website at http://cmch.tv.
Ramsay: Great thanks. Cathy were there any other surprising findings in your survey?
Cathy: There were a number of them. Here are three:
Roughly two-thirds of parents and teens believe they are in full control of what they post online and can take it down whenever they want. In fact, most parents and teens do not understand the reality that what goes online, stays online - and nearly three in 10 teens have posted something online that they later regretted.
Parents vary on the appropriate age for a child to start using the Internet. Thirty-six percent of parents surveyed believe the appropriate age for a child to start accessing the Internet is between the ages of 10-13; 35 percent of parents believe the appropriate age is between 6-9 and 12 percent of parents think a child 5 years old and under is the appropriate age to start using the Internet.
Parents are not aware of what their children are downloading on the Internet. Sixty-eight percent of teens surveyed say that they have downloaded a program or software without their parent's permission. However, only 35 percent of parents surveyed believe that their children have ever downloaded a program or software without their permission.
For more survey results, please visit this page.