Open Dialogue as the Basis for Dealing with the Challenges of the Internet and Multimedia

An open channel of communication in the home is fundamental to cope positively with a complex, ever changing world full of surprises and temptations.  Dialogue is essential to understand the child's coping with the world at the press of a button.

An open discourse contains four goals:

  1. To connect with your child - to understand his/her world and what s/he is going through
  2. To clarify together with your child the advantages, disadvantages and risks of the Internet and multimedia
  3. To set rules and boundaries about Web and multimedia based on an informed decision
  4. To enable your child to share his/her thoughts and participate without fear

The Family Discourse

One of the essential elements in educating children is finding a way to the heart of one's child and developing appropriate modes of discourse for each and every child.  By means of open discourse, a parent can gauge the mood of his/her child, understand his/her world, understand the pressures s/he experiences, develop joint thinking and insight, and strengthen the child's sense of security and belonging.

As a result, the child feels comfortable opening up to his/her parents and sharing thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  This supportive framework facilitates the child's ability to cope with the world around him.  In every home, discourse is an important component in the development of relationships between family members - between spouses, between parents and children, and between siblings.

Bridging the Gaps

How is it that good kids find themselves in extremely vulnerable situations, and their parents have no clue?

Studies show that about 80% of boys have been exposed to pornography, and for most of them it occurs at elementary school age.  One out of every six youth has experienced Web based violence such as identity theft and sexual harassment.

True, there is a technology gap between parents and children, and parents are unfamiliar with their children's content world on the Web.  But the data demonstrates that parents are not doing enough to bridge the gap.  According to a survey commissioned by the Israel Internet Association and published in early 2013, more than a third of parents are not involved at all in what their children are doing online.  Parents tend to trust their children, though children encounter problems accidentally or at random.  On the other hand, children don't inform their parents what they do.  Parents can't wait for their kids to come and talk.  Rather, they should develop normal conversations with their children about their computer use and surfing habits to be up to date with their children's activities and avoid future problems.  It's likely that through these conversations some of the difficulties the child faces will surface, and can then be treated as early as possible.

Parents also need to periodically be updated about what's new on the Web, and stay in touch with the latest technological developments to best protect their kids.

Be Prepared to Deal with Complex Situations

Internet era is very likely to expose children very difficult content like pornography and contact with impostors. Even if the child is very safe at home, it can happen with a friend or with relatives.  To direct the conversation in the right place and beneficial it is important to be aware of situations that the child can deal with them. Here are some common examples of cases of injury from the Internet:

  • A boy searched online for a game.  He innocently found one in which he approaches a sandbox, demolishes what the kids there have constructed, and then beats them to death, as blood splatters from their bodies.  (This game and others like it are common Israeli gaming sites as of 2013.)
  • A girl corresponds online with a sweet kid, who really is a pedophile.
  • A kid searching for fun clips on YouTube is led to films containing extremely violent and sexual content.
  • A young boy searching for images of butterflies for a school project is exposed to a pornographic website with a butterfly theme.
  • A boy is in the midst of a crisis, and on the Web he finds advice which only worsens his condition.
  • A girl is harassed on Facebook or other social network.
  • A girl becomes involved with an online group supporting its members to become Anorexic.

Is it Possible These Situations May be Harming Our Children Right Now?

Most parents will deny that is possible. It's hard to imagine difficult situations.  But real challenges require a willingness to acknowledge complicated, and sometimes painful, realities.  The dialogue with children should engage all possible aspects – both the simple and routine elements, and the difficult ones (such as pornography, violence, harassment and identity theft).

The Right Time to Speak

The right timing, and the state of the child, greatly factor in the success of the dialogue.  It is important to find a convenient time, and to create a positive atmosphere.  One can initiate conversations about computers and Internet use, about the child's interests, and about harmful situations and how to deal with them.  Listen to your child.  Accompany your child while s/he's using the computer to talk about the content, games, movies, and advertisements, to develop a critically constructive eye for use.

How to Relate to the Child

When engaging in the conversation it is important the child should not be the focus of the problem, but rather the Internet and multimedia.  Talk more about the easy access to harmful content, and the negative influences on the Web such as large companies or people aiming to take advantage of others on the Internet.  When the conversation deals with the Internet's advantages, disadvantages and risks, the child understands s/he is not to blame, and then the discussion can proceed to more personal questions.

How to Talk, and about What

As mentioned earlier, it's important to develop routine discussions about the challenges and risks and influences of the Internet and multimedia.  Talk about the temptations on the Web, about those seeking to exploit others, about the dangerous people lurking on the Web, and about harmful content.  Then select topics that are more relevant to what concerns your child and discuss them.  For example, if you see your child surfs a lot, talk about the dangers of addiction, about the harm to one's physical health and about wasted time.  If your child plays games, discuss the lack of borders, and about what is appropriate or inappropriate.  (See more on this website about games).  It is important to let the child express himself, and bring up the dangers he is aware of.  Only then should you bring up additional dangers that are relevant.  It is important to establish a sense of trust in which the child feels s/he can speak without fear.  Try not to talk directly about the specific harmful experiences of the child, but rather present them as general occurrences in society.  When talking about negative content, there is no need to give specific examples unless your child brings this up for discussion.

If the children are still young and innocent - usually children up to fifth grade- one should talk in general terms about the dangers, and make sure they do not surf alone.  Honest and open conversation will build an awareness and understanding without arousing unnecessary curiosity.  The topics for discussion should be chosen with respect to the real risk of exposure or harm on the Internet.

Discourse As an Illumination in the Dark

Often the young are caught in a whirlwind of struggles with difficult content.  Curiosity led them to an encounter with dark worlds.  They feel lonely entangled by things taxing their mental wellbeing.  It is possible that a child may be addicted to harmful Internet content, yet not even realize it. An alert parent can sense things are wrong, and with an open and healthy dialogue can reach the soul of his/her child and discover what is going on.  Even if the conversation doesn't solve all the issues, it will extract the child from a dark and lonely place to a brighter one, making it easier to deal with and preventing further decline.

Routine questions to ask your child:

Do you enjoy using the computer and surfing the Internet?

What do you like best about the computer / Internet?

What do your friends like about the Internet?  What things about the Internet interest them?

What are the best Internet games?  (Elicit examples.)

Have you ever encountered violence or evil games?  (If yes, it is important to ask for details, or to view them.  Then discuss why these games exist, and what the implications are of such games.)

For a mature child, ask if s/he would allow his/her child to surf freely on the Internet.  If the answer is no, develop the conversation further to understand why.

Have you ever been harassed online? 

Is there a ban on any of your friends?  Have any of your friends been harassed?  If so, whether it happened or is happening to you?

Who are your friends in your social networks?

Have you ever received requests from strangers?  What did they want?

How do you maintain your privacy on the Internet?

Are there any websites that you refuse to visit?

Have you even been exposed to extreme, unusual or shocking content on the Internet?  How did you react?

Have you ever been exposed to extreme sexual content?  How did you react? (See our Page about sex and pornography.(

How to Talk to Your Child When You Discover s/he's been Engaged in Harmful Activity on the Internet, and What Questions to Ask

The starting point for parents should be to help the child overcome the difficulty, while creating trust and full cooperation.  Parents should communicate to the child that s/ he is not alone, and that, together, they will overcome this challenge.  This sentiment alone may arouse the children's strength and hope.  It is also important to remember that the process takes time.  The child may not immediately open up about his difficulties, so it is important to talk kindly and patiently until the child is ready.  It is important to receive the child's perspective on the matter, and to conduct the conversation so that the child feels he is developing meaningful insights that allow him to move forward in addressing the problem.  A number of solutions should be offered to the child to choice the most suitable solution.

In order to give your child the feeling that you truly care about him, it is important to establish the optimal conditions for a conversation.  Select a comfortable and unthreatening environment for the child, and see that there is complete privacy during the conversation.  Turn off your cellphone, and ensure that other family members do not distract you.  Consider serving refreshments to further structure the setting.

Questions You Can Ask:

How do you understand the situation, or what do you think happened?

Did you initiate the surfing?  Or did your friends?

On which website were you exposed to such content?

To what kind of harmful content were you exposed?

For how long did you view the content?

How frequently do you visit this website?

How do you think the content may affect your behavior?

Do you feel you are out of control?

Do you feel addicted?

What can be done to avoid such content in the future?

What can be done if your friends view harmful content online and you don't want to?

Why do you think there is harmful content online?

What benefit is there for websites to include violent or sexual content on their sites?

What might be the consequences of uploading harmful content about friends (i.e., embarrassing photos, bans)?

How might one rectify the damage committed online, if at all possible?

It is important to end the conversation with conclusion and a purpose, and to let the child know that you will initiate additional conversations to see how s/he progresses.

A Healthy Dialogue Should Lead to Conclusions and the Establishment of Rules

Up to this point this article elaborated the function of the conversation as a communication means allowing the parent to know what's going on, and to allow the child to develop.  But it is important that the discussions lead to a clear framework of rules for Internet use.

It is advisable to set rules, such as: time limits on computer and Internet use, prohibition of computer use in one's bedroom, definition of a permissible list of friends for chat or correspondence, definition of a permissible websites list, files downloading and movies searching allowed only with parental approval, and others.

Whereas at younger ages, the conversations are more instructional and supervisory in nature, as your child ages, they become more about guidance and encouragement.

Key Topics to Discuss

The world of the Internet and multimedia is vast, and touches many facets of life.  One should converse with one's child depending on his/her age and interests.  It is important to ask your child about the advantages, disadvantages and risks about each topic.  Below is a list of important topics to explore with your child.  Information about many of them can be found elsewhere on this website.

  • Chats and social networks
  • Contact with strangers
  • Privacy
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Effects of exposure to sexual content
  • Addiction
  • Virtual games
  • Film and video sites
  • Copyright regulations
  • Culture of rating
  • Risk factors – negative groups on the Web
  • Awareness of the effects on the mind and overall health
  • Maintaining a healthy balance between computer use and other activities
  • Monitoring time spent surfing
  • Distinguishing between quality information and superficial information
  • Use of appropriate language in communication
  • Filtering as a tool to reduce access to harmful content
  • Advantages and disadvantages of tablets and smartphones
  • Instruction on how to conduct an Internet search – particularly for younger kids