Teaching Safe and Smart Cyber and Cell Phone Activity: Five Talking Points with Dr. Michael Slone

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Michael Slone, Psy.D, from the Center for Developing Minds (www.devminds.com)

“The Talk About the Birds and The Bees” is very well known by parents and children as the often awkward conversation about sex and reproduction.  In this blog I’m going to discuss another “Talk,” or ongoing parent-child discussion, that is as important and complex as “The Birds and The Bees,”—that is, “Safe and Smart Cyber and Cell Phone Activity.”  

In Part 1 of this Parenting In Today’s Digital Age blog I emphasized that parents need to be vigilant in monitoring and setting limits for appropriate technology use, including:

  • Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations regarding not allowing screens to displace essential activities, such as one hour of exercise daily, family meals, schoolwork, a full (9-10 hour) night of sleep and “unplugged” downtime.
  • Do not allow screens in bedrooms, and instead monitor, co-view, and enjoy healthy media with kids to help them learn from what they are doing, seeing, and saying online.
  • Develop family media use and device contracts with your children and teens so there are clear expectations of when, where, and what they are allowed to access on screens.
  • Utilize reputable reviews of media, such as those at www.commonsensemedia.org, to determine with your child and teen appropriate content, sites, and apps to access by age.
  • Use technology to set and monitor limits for your screen-time. Great options include working with your network and/or phone provider. You can also consider purchasing parental control apps such as the Circle by Disney.
  • Encourage social and family time with no screens, and participation in beneficial non-screen activities including sports, music, arts, theatre, nature hikes, chores, etc.  

Setting and enforcing expectations and restrictions can help limit your children’s access to excessive screen use, inappropriate content,and temptations.  However, as Ms. Rebecca Randall, VP of Education for Common Sense Media has noted, “(You) can’t always cover kids’ eyes—you need to teach them how to see.”  Studies indicate that almost all U.S. children use the internet regularly and most teens have cell phones—parents must talk to their children openly and ongoing about how to be digitally safe and smart.  In Part 2 of this blog, I will help parents teach safe and smart cyber and cell phone activity by focusing on the following Five Talking Points:


  1. Not everything on the internet is true—there is no fact checker or verification process, and people may lie about who they are or what they say to manipulate, upset, steal, or hurt you.  Communicate online and by phone with people you know and trust in real life, and be aware of suspicious and/or untrue information that should not be responded to or spread; follow up in person with trusted adult(s) to determine the accuracy and/or your response. If someone online wants to meet with you in person, tell your parents right away.    
  2. Never share private info online without parent/guardian permission, such as your full name, passwords, birthdate, bank/credit cards, social security number, address, phone number or when you and/or other family members will be home or away from home.
  3. Even if you delete it, what you post and search for on the internet or your device is permanently recorded, potentially for anyone in the world to see, forever—avoid texting, searching, writing, or taking any pictures or videos that contain negative, explicit, mean, inappropriate, illegal, or private info about yourself or other people. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t want your family, friends, strangers, school administrators, or law enforcement to see or read it, now or in the future, don’t put it on the internet.
  4. Normalize the curiosity and urges children and teens have about sex and pornography. Discuss with them healthy and realistic expectations and perceptions of the human body, relationships, intimacy, and respect for others.  Talk about safe and healthy ways to explore and respond to their curiosity and urges that are consistent with your family values.  Explain how pornographic images and videos at times involves fantasy, stolen property, victims of abuse, kidnapping, manipulated people who are underage, or people who may be  desperate for money and/or drugs.  Discuss potential concerns and consequences related to pornography searches, addiction, and “sexting.” 
  5. Open the lines of communication about what they see and do online, and let your children know that your job as their parent is to have ongoing conversations with them about their life, including their digital life.  Tell them that just like real life mistakes, if they accidentally or impulsively search, click, or post something they now regret it’s best for them to tell you or another trusted adult immediately.  Furthermore, you want to know and help unconditionally, if something or someone makes them feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or uncertain—they can always come to you.  If more assistance is needed, encourage your children to talk to a trusted adult at school, or make an appointment for them with a therapist.     

Our children and teens’ developing brains need now more than ever for parents to be vigilant of what they are doing online, and to steer them towards healthy balance and behaviors.  This three-part blog, Parenting In Today’s Digital Age, is designed to give parents quick tips and resources for this epic challenge,.  First, I discussed how parents must Set Expectations and Limits for Appropriate Technology Use.  Second, I presented FIVE TALKING POINTS for Teaching Safe and Smart Cyber and Cell Phone Activity.  Last but not least, part 3 will advise parents on how to Attentively Participate in Their Children’s Lives, Including Their Digital Lives.