Top 3 online safety tips for parents

A dear friend of mine asked me on Facebook if I could share with her my “top 3 safety tips” she needed to know, now that her oldest was 7 and her youngest was fast approaching internet age.  While I could talk for hours on this topic, I think I came up with the 3 things that parents of young digital natives should think about as they brace themselves for the years ahead.

1. I would start with thinking what you want your family rules about internet to be.
- Are they allowed to download things to the computer/device? If so what/when?
- Are they allowed to talk to other people on sites, games, etc? If so, who and when should you know about it?
- Who is in charge of passwords – you or them?
- Do they really get what privacy means and why we keep our personal info to ourselves?

2. Think about setting up a transparent dialogue about tech and digital activities.
Casually talk about different sites, games, devices, etc so that it’s known that those things are under your watch, just like other offline toys, games & relationships.

3. Think honestly about your kids naiveté and innocence.
Are they on the younger/more doe-eyed side of that spectrum? If so, make sure they know not to trust everything they see on the internet.
Are they more street smart? Make sure you are having the early conversations about bullying and how you expect them to treat others, even when they can’t see the other person’s face.

Just like with all parenting – there is no silver bullet, but the earlier you start taking the benevolent authority role with digital, the more they will see you as a resource rather than an adversary.

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How to do this “kids entertainment thing” right

I was on a panel at GDC this year called “Monetization of teens in a safe and legal way.”  I was joking before the panel that it sounded like “How to make money off of kids.”  Then I found out that it was QUITE the controversial session pre-conference.  If only I would have known, folks, I would have spiced it up a bit more. ;)

But in reality, that’s what all of us in kids entertainment are doing – making our living from figuring out ways to get kids to like our stuff and have their parents/caregivers pay for it.  

Sounds insidious, but we ARE in a capitalist society.  If you are going to pick something to make money off of, kids entertainment is a pretty fun choice for your own work happiness levels.  And it IS possible to do it in a non-sinister way, with high integrity and keeping an eye on your ethics.  It’s easy – just make games/cartoons/toys that don’t suck.  

LOL right? But really – make products that kids will love AND their parents will love.  Parents will be more prone to not mind paying for your product for their kids if it’s beautiful, fun and their kids like it.  Add a layer of learning in there and you are good as gold.  Make any of those factors superficial or not focus on it at all, you are going to start to see that revenue/profit fall.

Of course, you will have to make it legally and safely too.  But these should be pretty “Duh!” statements, right?

Legal - It is not difficult to comply with the regulations.  You will get fined or shut down if you are doing things illegally, so figure out what features trigger what laws (or hire someone who can help you), then decide whether to comply or remove the feature.  Easy as that.

Safe –  It’s also not hard to make your game or toy safe, either.  Figure it out.  If you can’t, seriously, don’t make it at all.  If you aren’t safe, or don’t have that as a priority, why are you making things for children in the first place?  There are tons of other demographics you can work with who are less concerned with safety being a priority.  Go there and make your money.  Please.  Leave the kids space to those of us who care and will continue to bend over backwards to keep the kids safe – not because we have to, but because we want to and we feel it’s the right thing to do.  

Bonus advice: 
Stop busting the balls of the person(s) on your team who are fighting for these things.  Thank them for being that person and having that drive.  Don’t make it a hostile environment for someone to bring up those sorts of concerns.  If they are bringing it up, chances are one of your audience will too at some point, so consider it a fortuitous heads up, not annoying nuisance.  

And give that person a raise too while you are at it (or at least buy them lunch sometime).  Most of those people fighting for the underdog aren’t making the big bucks, so a little goes a long way.  :)

GeekDad interview

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My colleague, Bill Shribman over at WGBH, interviewed me for GeekDad.com recently.
Here’s a snippet:

You threw my daughter out of Animal Jam when she was making plans to meet a friend for lunch, which I thought was a pretty impressive catch. She thought she had mistyped “duck.” What other kinds of behaviors or activities have you interrupted?

Thanks – I always love it when we can turn a discipline from the game into a positive parent interaction. As far as other behaviors/activities, where do I start? Obviously, for COPPA compliance, players trying to give out personal information is a very high priority – that’s addresses, emails, and phone numbers – but even Skype and other instant messaging usernames, FaceTime handles, and any other methods where players would be communicating outside of the game and potentially sharing that personal info.

While there is no law around it (which most parents are surprised to learn) we are also very diligent regarding inappropriate behavior and conversations, including cyber dating, drugs/alcohol, violence, vulgar language, cyberbullying and anything else we have deemed inappropriate to be associated with our brand and within the younger demographic we attract.

Read more here: At Least 17 Reasons Why Your Kid May Be Playing Animal Jam

Safer Internet day 2014

My dear friend and awe-inspiring colleague, Anne Collier from ConnectSafely.org, recently spearheaded the US Safer Internet Day event.  Along with a fun campaign called One Good Thing, where people sent in their multimedia good deeds or promises to help make the Internet a better place, she helped host an event in DC to celebrate the initiative.

And they taped it (yay!).  Here’s one of the videos, but check out the whole days coverage at their site.

Yep, that’s my big blonde head in the foreground of the audience… grumble…

CARU Annual Conf Keynote

I was recently asked to keynote the Children’s Advertising Review Unit’s (CARU) annual conference.  The audience is primarily general counsel from top brands who market to children and their families.  They convene multiple times a year to discuss online privacy law and advertising law as it pertains to their demographic.

I spoke at a previous event and was flattered to be asked back.  My keynote was a lighter piece, basically getting everyone up to date on some of the trends and habits of younger kids online and int he digital space.  This was the deck I used to chat through this topic.

My Commitment to Kids Online Safety & Privacy

I have spent years working for various children’s brands trying to make sure that every community I oversee cultivates a culture that encourages and promotes appropriate behavior online for child audiences, while offering resources for their parents.

I am so lucky to currently work for a brand that supports me in this personal and professional mission.  I am proud to show off our new parents page.  We have a robust vision for our parent outreach and this is just one of our first steps toward that vision.  Check out my second video highlighting some of the many ways we work to do this at Animal Jam.

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