In Part 1 of Parenting a Geek, we discussed the threats kids face online, how to identify those threats, and recommended a few technical solutions to keep kids safe. And while we’re all about utilizing the tools we have at our disposal, the biggest challenge is raising awareness and ultimately changing behavior. This is where effective parenting comes in.

I struggled with this next section because I feel strongly that it is not my place to tell someone else how to parent. All I can do is explain what I have done so far and what seems to be working for me. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject and, like all parents, I learn as I go. But maybe what works for me will work for you. So, without further ado, I give you Parenting a Geek 1.0:

Start early.

The earlier you start, the easier it will be to mold your child’s behavior. It’s not uncommon for one-year-old children to use tablets or phones, so setting expectations early creates a situation your child sees as normal.

Start small.

Again, you can create normal. Is it normal for the entire web to be only Disney.com? It could be. Is it normal to not allow internet access at all? Sure. Normal is what you define it to be. There was a time when my kid only knew about Nick Jr and she was happy as a clam. Later, when she learned about Minecraft, I let her play it with a few conditions. She didn’t have chat privileges at first, was only allowed to play with the boy down the street, and I configured it for “peaceful” mode. As she matured, she earned more features.

Be involved.

Probably the one thing that has been the most effective for me is simply to be involved in her activity. I ask her what she’s doing. She shows me the new Minecraft skins she created and I praise her for her creativity. In turn, she keeps coming to me with questions about her computer use. She trusts me to steer her the right way and seeks my approval. I use this trust to teach her that people online sometimes lie and that she should never disclose her real name, age or location. I teach her about good passwords and the importance of not sharing them.

Trust, but verify.

No child is a perfect angel all of the time. As they grow up, they will test boundaries and explore. I allow my daughter a lot of latitude these days, but only because she has demonstrated responsible computer use. That doesn’t mean I don’t check up on things. I do have logs of her activity and I do check them. Parental control software—even if it is in monitor only mode—can help a lot here. However, if you tighten the bolts too much, you may find that your child learns how to bypass the filters. Then it becomes a cat-and-mouse game, the likes of which you may not win.

Reward positive behavior.

Children seek approval and want to feel that they can come to you with concerns. When my daughter showed me that chat request, I made a point to praise her and share her positive actions with her mom. An emotional reward often works just fine. Would an ice cream sandwich work better? I’m not sure. But I do know that she seeks that praise and I use that to my advantage.

Technology is a privilege, not a right.

School and grades come first, technology second. That’s the rule in our household. If there is a problem in school, she loses computer privileges. It’s that simple.

Make it visible.

We have another rule: no technology in the bedroom. This serves two purposes. One: she will hang out where we are, so we can see what’s going on. Two: it ensures that she is able to get a good night’s sleep, unencumbered by bright screens and enticing games. When you are in the same room you can observe how they behave when you walk by. Do screens get minimized? That may be cause for concern.

Every child is different. What works for me, might not work for you. What have you found to be useful? Chime in below!

Michael Starks

Michael Starks is an information security professional with more than fifteen years of experience in the industry. He is an Information Systems Security Association Fellow and President of the Fort Worth Chapter. He also serves on the International Ethics Committee and has written several articles on ethics and privacy for ISSA Journal. When not writing, speaking, tweeting or otherwise geeking out, Michael enjoys semi-futile attempts at gardening, B movies and really bad jokes.

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