This week, First Lady Melania Trump unveiled her formal “BE BEST” initiative, focusing on some of the major issues children face today—including Internet safety, cyberbullying, and the role parents play in teaching their kids about staying safe online.
With the goal of encouraging children to Be Best in their individual paths, Mrs. Trump’s initiative focuses on three main pillars: well-being, social media use, and opioid abuse.
As part of this initiative, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) worked with her to update, repurpose and redistribute an educational Internet safety guide, "Talking with Kids About Being Online," which covers a wide range of issues to raise with kids about living their lives online.
At a White House Rose Garden ceremony, Mrs. Trump defined “Be Best” as:
[A]n awareness campaign dedicated to the most valuable and fragile among us — our children. There is one goal to Be Best — and that is to educate children about the many issues they are facing today. If we truly listen to what our kids have to say, whether it be their concerns or ideas, adults can provide them the support and tools they need to grow up to be happy and productive adults who contribute positively to society and their global communities.
The First Lady pledged to:
[M]ake every effort to Be Best at championing the many successful well-being programs in existence today that teach the tools and skills for emotional, social, and physical well-being. I will also work to shine a spotlight on the people, organizations, and programs across the country that are helping children overcome the many issues they face as they grow up.
Her one goal is to help children and our next generation.
President Trump joined his wife at the Be Best unveiling, where he signed a proclamation declaring May 7 as “Be Best” day.
Promoting Internet Security, Safe Social Media Use
The First Lady hosted a roundtable with large technology companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon to discuss the social media initiative, aimed at getting children to use social media so they can "learn positive online behaviors early on."
Mrs. Trump expressed her concern that in this day and age, "Children can be less prepared to express or manage their emotions and oftentimes turn to forms of destructive or addictive behavior such as bullying, drug addiction, or even suicide."
She placed a great deal of responsibility on adults to teach children positive online behaviors early on, and said, “Social media can be used in productive ways and can effect positive change […] and it is our responsibility as adults to educate and reinforce to them that when they are using their voices—whether verbally or online—they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion.”
Talking with Kids About Being Online
What is the best way to protect kids online? Talk to them! The First Lady is encouraging all parents to talk to their kids about staying safe online, and as part of her initiative she joined forces with the FTC to update and repurpose its Internet safety guide, now titled, "Talking with Kids About Being Online."
This guide includes some very useful information for parents to discuss with their children from safe social media use, cyberbullying prevention tips, benefits of parental controls for online supervision, and other tips for parents to teach kids about computer security. It covers many of the same topics we've discussed on The Mac Security Blog, which can be found in our Five Minute Family Protection Tips series.
Some of the more important topics included in the FTC's guide include the following.
Communicating with your kids about online safety
The guide opens by explaining the importance of communicating with your kids—when to start, how to initiate conversations and set realistic expectations, and being patient and supportive during the learning process. (After all, your kids won't learn everything in one night! And they will slip up from time to time.)
Technology is constantly evolving. So are the risks associated with it. You can reduce these risks by talking to your kids about how they communicate — online and off — and encouraging them to think critically and act in a way they can be proud of.
It provides tips for communicating with your children at different ages, because 8-12 year olds certainly require different guidance than older teens. "Tweens," for instance, need to feel independent but not alone as they start exploring online on their own; however, younger children still need guidance to help them understand how to safely navigate the Web. For this reason, it suggests parents consider the use of parental controls—such as Intego ContentBarrier, parental controls for Mac—if you're concerned about what your kids see online and need the flexibility of age-specific restrictions.
Cyberbullying is understandably a big concern for parents these days. Predators are always a danger, but unfortunately kids also face hazards from their own peers.
It's no secret that children can be particularly vicious in what they say to each other (heck, even adults can too). Examples of cyberbullying include sending insulting texts, creating rumors about other students on Facebook, publishing embarrassing pictures of a victim online, abuse of Twitter and other platforms, and general horrible behavior.
Bullying others online has been called, "A New Way to Terrorize," and the reality is that most kids probably do not understand what the consequences might be—for personal reputation and safety.
On pages 10-11 of the FTC's guide, it covers how to recognize the signs of a cyberbully and what parents can do to help prevent cyberbullying.
Using Mobile Devices Safely
The age at which you decide to give your kid a phone or mobile device is totally up to you. But there are many things to consider before making this decision, like your kids age, personality, maturity, and your family's personal circumstances. And the last thing you want to do is hand your child a mobile device with unrestricted access to the Web.
It's important to set rules and boundaries for safely using mobile devices, and the FTC's guide explores what you can do to help develop rules and setting an example as a parent, and mentions the importance of password protecting phones. One thing missing, however, is driving home the importance of not sharing your password with friends.
There is a troubling new trend with young kids carelessly handling their passwords. It has become fashionable for teens to share passwords with friends as a sign of trust and intimacy, and it is a spectacularly bad idea.
Kashmir Hill at Forbes, for instance, speaking from experience in a past relationship where she and her then-boyfriend knew one another's email passwords, described how emotions sometimes get the better of a person when times turn bad in a password-sharing relationship:
It wasn’t healthy. Curiosity is a devastating emotion when you have access to a significant other’s account. When times turned bad, I found myself addicted to seeing how he was describing our crumbling relationship to others. I eventually had to ask him to change his password — which he initially refused to do, seeing it as a nail in the coffin of the relationship — but I insisted, because I couldn’t stop myself from looking.
An important lesson to take away from this is that parents should teach their kids the importance of not sharing passwords. It's simple: Just say no to password sharing!
Making Computer Security a Habit
Teaching kids about computer security is the best way to help protect their devices and your family's personal information.
The security of your computer, phone, and other mobile devices can affect the safety of your online experience — and that of your kids. Malware could allow someone to steal your family’s personal or financial information.
Beginning on page 18, the FTC's guide covers things that we've been talking about for years on The Mac Security Blog. These include password security, keeping your computer software updated, avoiding phishing scams, using public Wi-Fi securely, and the importance of regularly backing up your files.
If you're a parent and want to teach your kids how to securely navigate the online world, have a look at Talking with Kids About Being Online. Print it and come up with a time each week to talk with your kid (covering one or two sections from this guide) and before you know it, your child will be better prepared to stay safe online.