On Sunday afternoons after church, our family likes to relax. Well, actually, I want to relax, so I make everyone have a quiet afternoon. Usually my oldest will grab his tablet for a movie or show. One Sunday, I was sitting near him and heard some unusual comments coming from his device; as I glanced over, I saw he was on YouTube watching a cartoon that was absolutely not for a child his age. I looked at his tablet initially because I heard a woman making noises like she was giving birth! Then, I saw it was a cartoon of a pregnant woman and her partner walking through the house as if getting ready to go to the hospital. I had pulled up a video of a kid playing with bugs, so I don’t have a clue how he stumbled on this adult cartoon. While I believe a woman giving birth is absolutely beautiful, my son is only 5 years old and not ready to see how that story ended!
Despite having all of the child security features enabled, this cartoon made it through the filters. As I looked into his tablet history and settings, I realized that I needed to wipe the entire browsing history and favorites clean. In addition to the video about a pregnant woman, he had apparently watched some gamer videos and prank videos. I realized that the algorithm was sending these suggestions to him, and it would be easier to have him start over with the shows I was okay with him watching than to try and navigate where he went wrong. For me, it was best to reteach the algorithm about what he is allowed to watch.
The incident made me realize we needed to have a talk — a “tech talk” — way earlier than I expected. When I found out I was pregnant, all of the future lessons I would need to teach my children were still very abstract, in big buckets like sexuality, identity, family, love, school, sports.
Now, we are finally getting down to the nitty gritty of what I actually need to tell him — and it’s more challenging than I expected it to be. I’m not at the point of having to talk about the birds and the bees, but we’ve started having short conversations about him being an individual, what it means to be a Black American, and now, we needed to talk about safe and age-appropriate Internet usage. They don’t warn you about this stuff at the baby shower.
After doing a few quick searches on the Internet about how to use said Internet, I came up with a game plan for this sit-down. There are several main risks for kids online: content that they watch, contracts and agreements they may sign, and who they contact and talk to. The most important piece of this talk was to keep the level of trust with my son while protecting him as best I can.
I opened by talking with my son about what he liked to watch and why. We discussed a few of his favorite characters — like the Wild Kratts, Spidey and his superhero friends, and Combo Panda from Ryan’s World — and he got really excited to share everything he’s seen and learned through these shows. We also talked about some of the games we have downloaded for him to play. Getting to know his excitement and desire to use the Internet will help me to steer him towards safe usage, and it lets him know that he can talk to me freely about what he sees and does.
Next I explained the danger of the Internet. I realized that while my son knows that he cannot interact with the characters he sees, he did not understand that much of what he was watching was not “real.” Although they are real people in some instances, we had to talk about what acting was.
Lastly, we set some family ground rules. He knows that he cannot watch shows with only adults and that he is not allowed to share anything about himself to anyone through his tablet. As he gets older and wants to post or share, we will talk about how everything on the Internet stays online forever, and that he should not post anything that hurts anyone else.
The talk will continue to evolve as he matures and I’ll have to have the talk again with my second son. I intend to use this talk as practice for future, more difficult talks with hopes of keeping an open and honest relationship with my kids.
Rachel Pierre is an innovative strategist, writer, podcaster, and mom of two incredible boys. As the founder of Mommifaceted Media, Rachel shares the stories of Black motherhood in all facets of life and connects lifestyle brands to moms of color so they can build authenticity and true community. In 2022, Rachel is launching a podcast network to highlight Black mom podcasters.