Social media blogger, vlogger and all around super mom Mindy McKnight exclusively shares her secrets on keeping kids safe online in her new book released today—Viral Parenting: A Guide to Setting Boundaries, Building Trust, and Raising Responsible Kids in an Online World.
Mindy McKnight unlocks the daunting mystery of child rearing in an advanced digital age while working on setting safety limits in an ever-changing, high tech society that is still foreign to most mothers and fathers. Her powerful platforms reach over 5 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.5 million followers on Instagram where devoted fans frequently turn for advice on any number of topics that the matriarch of this family of six children shares on a routine basis. McKnight’s twin daughters Brooklyn and Bailey, who also have a popular YouTube platform of their own, add their input on how kids can securely share posts online. Viral Parenting is an invaluable tool for families looking for answers on how to successfully and safely support their kids as they navigate surfing the web, Snapchatting friends, posting on Instagram and maintaining a healthy online presence.
How can parents help preserve their child’s innocence in an advanced digital age?
We wouldn’t hand the keys to our brand new car to a 10-year old, right? With any child reaching driving age, there are certain things that need to be done first. For example, reaching a responsible age, taking driver’s education, getting a learner’s permit, student/parent driving, obtaining a full license, license renewals every five years, and even then STILL having to obey all rules of the road and traffic laws forever. We each had to earn our way to responsible vehicle use. This is a process that keeps everyone safe. Why are we not treating technology the same way? The long-term damage tech can cause (mental health and/or reputation) can be just as dangerous to our children and others when they don’t quite understand how they are using and/or misusing it. In fact, this damage can affect hundreds or even thousands more people than a mere fender bender in a car, and we see this in the media every day.
It should be a priority for all parents, but why do you feel it so important to understand the digital world that kids are so obsessed with today?
Parents today are digital immigrants…meaning we were raised in a completely analog world free of a lot of the complications that tech brings. Our kids, on the other hand, are fully digital natives, meaning all they’ve ever known involves the laptops, smartphones, the internet, and social media. I strongly believe that if we are going to have kids online, we need to be parents online. We need to speak their language. While our kids may know more efficiently how to adapt and learn new technology, they definitely need us to teach them how to understand their digital footprint and its effect on themselves and others.
How do you teach your child to understand the good and bad side of social media?
We simply cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend “… that would never happen with MY kid!” The internet is inherently neutral, and only becomes a “good” or “bad” place depending on how we use it. We should teach our kids that truth in simple terms that are age appropriate. (Not unlike the discussions we have in teaching our kids how to ride a bike or walk to school. Discuss the benefits, and warn about pitfalls and negative consequences.) This is where open and honest conversations with our kids are most important. Use real stories in the media. Help them learn how to use if/then analysis to lead towards effective “positive” decisions in their social media use.
What is the best way to protect your child from content they are not mature enough to be exposed to?
There are plenty of internet monitoring apps out there, like Disney with Circle or Bark, that do a fabulous job monitoring kids’ use of the internet via parental controls. Apple’s recent integration of Screen Time into its iOS was a VERY good thing, and we use it in our own home. Yet as good as we can be about controlling mature content exposure in our homes, nothing other than effective parenting will better prepare our kids for the moment another child shows them mature content outside our homes. It will happen. More importantly, we should not overreact when our child brings such content to our attention, whether they discovered it themselves or someone else sent it to them. We need to build trust so that anytime our child stumbles upon something they do not understand or feel uncomfortable with, that they will ALWAYS come to us first.
Cyberbullying continues to be a very big problem for young, impressionable kids. What are your thoughts on online trolls and bullying and how can parents protect and prepare their kids for unwarranted cruelty?
This is probably one of the most bothersome subjects for me. So many people believe that you can say anything online, as long as it is behind a screen name. I strongly dislike trolls, but they will always exist out there, and we need to help our children learn how to handle them. Most trolls are victims of circumstance, inherently good people who are lashing out from a place of hurt inside. Let us teach our kids to never respond to cyber-bullies, and instead focus on sharing goodness online. There is a whole segment in the book dedicated to talking about this. Most social media platforms also have vulgarity filters that you can enable for yourself or your teens. (It is quite an exercise to think up a comprehensive list of vulgarities, or derogatory terms, and place it into the filter, but they do work well!) I would also suggest adding your child’s phone number, variants of your address, and any other term you do not want getting through the filter.
You also share your strong family beliefs in the book. How does that factor in safe online practices and behavior?
Yes, we do share a lot about our faith and how it helped establish a foundation for our family motto and how we view this world. One does not have to be religious to include this step… because faith, absent religion, is hope. There is a lot we can hope for. People seek happiness, and that there is a lot of good out there that we can focus on. The true goal is to make the mental shift from simply consuming things that make us happy, to CREATING things that make not only ourselves happy, but others as well. This applies both in real life, and online.
What is the best way to establish guidelines and rules when it comes to online privileges?
There are many ideas out there, but we have used contracts with our kids when they are old enough to own technology. (Many of these contracts, including for cell phones, computers, cars, etc. are found in the book, and can be adaptable to be age appropriate). Each contract clearly describes that the technology is a privilege, NOT a right, and goes on to delineate the terms including rules and consequences. In order to own and use the technology, the teen must agree to the terms by signing the contract. This removes the “bad guy” status from us as parents each time our child violates the rules and receives appropriate consequences. All you have to do is point to their signature and say, “Whose signature is this?” It is tough for them to argue. You get to be the good cop, and THEY get to be the bad cop.