On a Sunday afternoon after church, our family loves to relax. Well, actually, I want to relax, so I make everyone have a quiet afternoon. Older people will usually get their tablet to watch a movie or show. One Sunday, I was sitting near him and heard some unusual comments coming from his machine; When I peeked, I saw that he was on YouTube watching a cartoon that was absolutely not for a kid his age. I looked at his tablet at first because I heard a woman making noises as if she was giving birth! Then I saw it was a cartoon of a pregnant woman and her partner walking home as if they were getting ready to go to the hospital. I had pulled a video of a kid playing with bugs, so I have no idea how he stumbled upon this adult cartoon. While I think the woman who gives birth is absolutely beautiful, my son is only 5 years old and not ready to know how this story ended!
Although all child safety features are enabled, this cartoon has succeeded in bypassing filters. When I looked at my tablet’s history and settings, I realized that I needed to completely clear my browsing history and favourites. In addition to the video of a pregnant woman, he appears to have seen some video of players and fake videos. I realized that the algorithm was sending him these suggestions, and it would be easier to get him to start over with shows you were okay with watching rather than trying to navigate where he went wrong. For me, it would have been better to re-teach the algorithm about what it is allowed to watch.
The accident made me realize that we needed a conversation – a “tech talk” – earlier than I had expected. When I found out I was pregnant, all the future lessons I would need to teach my children were still very abstract, in big groups like gender, identity, family, love, school, and sports.
Now, we’re finally starting to get to the nitty-gritty of what I really need to tell – and it’s more challenging than I expected. I’m not at the point of having to talk about birds and bees, but we’re starting to have short conversations about being an individual, what it means to be a black American, and now, we need to talk about safety and age-appropriate internet use. They don’t warn you about these things at the baby shower.
After doing some quick internet searches on how to use said internet, I came up with a game plan for this sit-down. There are several major risks to children online: the content they view, the contracts and agreements they may sign, and who they contact and talk to. The most important part of this conversation was maintaining the level of trust with my son while protecting him as much as possible.
I opened up my conversation with my son about what he likes to watch and why. We discussed some of his favorite characters – Wild Kratts, Spidey and his superhero friends, and Combo Panda from Ryan’s world And he was so excited to share everything he had seen and learned through these shows. We also talked about some of the games we downloaded for him to play. Getting to know his enthusiasm and desire to use the Internet will help guide him toward safe use, and let him know he can talk to me freely about what he sees and does.
After that I explained the danger of the Internet. I realized that while my son knew he couldn’t interact with the characters he was seeing, he didn’t understand that much of what he was seeing wasn’t “real.” Even though they are real people in some cases, we had to talk about what acting is.
Finally, we set some ground rules for the family. He knows that he can only watch shows with adults and that he is not allowed to share anything about himself with anyone through his tablet. As he gets older and wants to post or share, we’ll talk about how everything on the internet stays online forever, and that he shouldn’t post anything that hurts anyone else.
The conversation will continue to develop as he reaches maturity and I will have to speak again with my second son. I intend to use this talk as a practice for future, more challenging conversations with the hope of maintaining an open and honest relationship with my children.
Rachel Beer He is a creative strategist, writer, podcaster, and mother of two adorable sons. As Mommifaceted Media, Rachel shares stories of black motherhood in all aspects of life and connects lifestyle brands with mothers of color so they can build an authentic, authentic community. In 2022, Rachel launched a podcast network highlighting black mother programming.