The Internet Talk

The Internet Talk for Tweens (8 - 12 Years Old)

Why talk about Internet use with your tween?

Unlike preschoolers and school-age kids, who look to their parents as primary sources of influence, tweens are in the process of shifting their attention from parents to peers. They aspire to grow up fast — to be teenagers — so they often start pushing boundaries. They need help understanding which behaviors are acceptable and which aren't, whether offline or online. They need boundaries set and expectations of increased personal responsibility made clear, since they want to spend a lot of time online, and they want to spend it alone.

What is your role?

First, continue to be a active parent in the media domain—it is just another part of the world in which you're raising your kids. And even though your tween probably knows more than you do about navigating technology, the part of his brain that controls impulses and understands future consequences isn't developed yet. That means that a big part of your job is to provide that structure and guidance for them.

You do that partly by figuring out the kinds of freedom for which your tween is ready. Sometimes they need the chance to take risks and fail. In other cases, they are not developmentally ready to make responsible decisions or the stakes are too high for the learning to be worth the risk. The challenge is to know which is which.

  • When he sees something you'd prefer he didn't see, help him process it.
    Make it clear that you are a safe resource to go to if he gets in trouble online. If he makes a misstep, focus on helping him navigate it rather than punish him - and help him determine how to prevent it from happening again.
  • Keep computers in a public space.
    Although your tween will likely push for time alone online, he may or may not be ready for the responsibility yet. Until he is, keep the computer in a public area. When he reaches the point where you'd let him go to a party at a house you don't know - where you trust him to behave in ways that keep him safe and sane without your immediate guidance - then it is time to integrate private Internet time into his life.

What can you say?

  • "What's your favorite game? Will you teach me how to play it?"
    Tweens know more about the Internet than you do. Embrace the shift, and use it as a way to connect with them. Have them teach you about favorite social media sites, games they play, websites they like, etc. This lets them demonstrate mastery, which they'll love, and will help show that you respect what's important to them in a world you know less about. This trust will help stand you in good stead into the teen years.
  • "What are kids at school doing online? Can you tell me about that?"
    If it feels like your tween will have trouble answering direct questions about himself, start out at arm's length by asking about his friends or classmates.
  • "Have you noticed kids saying things to each other online that aren't nice? Do you know anyone who has experienced that? Why do you think kids do that? How do you think you would handle that?"
    Asking these questions can help open conversation about difficult topics. Make a point of listening to his responses. This will help build a relationship where he can tell you what scares him, what he doesn't know how to manage, or where he needs an adult to intervene.