A letter to my 13-year-old daughter about being safe and kind online

A letter to my 13-year-old daughter about being safe and kind online

Dear Daughter,

Today is Safer Internet Day, which is intended "to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, especially among children and young people across the world," according to saferinternetday.org. It feels like a good occasion to revisit some of my thoughts about the Internet in general and expectations of how you spend your time in your corner of the World Wide Web, although I hope you know they apply every single time you use a computer or phone.

First, the Internet is amazing. Truly. I love that it connects you with wonderful resources, important information, and some fabulous friends. I'm grateful that you have it and the amazing technology that allows you to access it from literally anywhere.

You've never known life without it, so I don't know that you can truly appreciate it the way I do (I know I'm a parental dinosaur who looked facts up in encyclopedias at your age), but I hope you have some measure of understanding that you are lucky to have access to it at your fingertips. Many are not as fortunate.

The Internet is undoubtedly powerful. As in all other aspects of life, with power comes responsibility. We expect you to use the Internet in ways that are thoughtful, considerate, and kind. In short, we expect you to be responsible. I know you're thinking that we've told you this before, and you're right. We have, and we will continue to reiterate and underscore our expectations because is so very important that you know what our expectations are.

While we trust you to be kind and responsible in person and on the Internet, we do not trust everyone else who is online to do the same, and you should not, either.

Although the Internet is great, the same cannot be said for everyone using it. It is a sad fact of life that there are bad actors with evil intentions everywhere, and that includes online.

You are only 13 years old. I know that you think you can handle a lot, and you're right, you can, but there are very valid reasons that you are not legally old enough to drive, or vote, or drink alcohol, and those are the same reasons you are not given unfettered, unmonitored access to the Internet.

Your brain, like the rest of your body, is still growing. It is not yet fully formed. While this is not excuse to not do your chores, it is a scientific reason behind our insistence that you provide all passwords and why we regularly check the phone that you use. (I still do not call it "your" phone, because we pay for it.)

I've long said that my first priority as a parent is to keep you safe. It has been difficult realizing that I cannot keep you completely protected. No parent can do that. That does not mean, however, that we don't try to keep you safer than you would be on your own. We do our best to educate you and learn alongside you the best ways to be a safe person online, and we all seek opportunities to be good and kind.

In our family, it means talking about the pros and cons of different online activities, the importance of maintaining privacy, pointing out possible pitfalls that you may not think of, praising good choices, and talking through the implications of seemingly minor interactions and realizing that they can have major impacts on the feelings of others. You must T.H.I.N.K. before you post.

It is why we insist that you follow the rules of various apps and social media platforms regarding their required age of use.

It means having those uncomfortable talks about people who are inappropriate online, about how predators groom potential young victims, and about the heartbreaking headlines of the tragedies that result from online interaction, including the recent murder of a girl exactly your age allegedly as a result of a relationship started on Kik.

We want you to know that you can come to us with any questions, uncertainties, and worries, whether for yourself or someone you see online. (And please allow me to underscore again that reporting dangerous behavior that you see online is not tattling, it is reporting and helping.)

Even teens need safety nets, and we are yours. We understand that you are not perfect. No one is. We expect you to make mistakes online, and we also expect you to learn and grow from them. If something goes wrong, no matter how bad it is, know that we will help you and nothing could make us stop loving you.

Watching you blossom into a teen who has a beautiful viewpoint that you share through your Instagram photos, strong opinions that you voice in the online conversations you have in your classes, a wonderful sense of humor that is evidenced in your silly texts to your friends and a kind heart that is evident in your support of others in your encouraging comments has been a wonderful joy and privilege.

Thank you for working with us to find ways for you to be online and to be as safe as possible (and yes, we know you still roll your eyes at us, but we appreciate that you primarily do so when you think we're not looking.)

I'm confident that your generation will find ways to make the Internet safer, and I'm eager to see the part you play.

Love,

Mom

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What teens need to know about being both safe and kind online.

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