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The Balance Feature: Denise DeRosa, on Digital Balance and Online Safety

I’m really excited to introduce the Balance Feature! Each month Believe in Balance will feature an individual or organization striving to bring greater balance into the lives of the people they serve.

In our inaugural feature, I spoke to Denise DeRosa, Founder and Online Safety and Digital Citizenship Expert for Cyber Sensible.

I met Denise online when I was creating Believe in Balance. For most parents, the rules around access to screen-time including texting, social media and gaming is a big point of discussion.

Ours is the first generation of children who will grow up with technology in the palm of their hands, and its impact on their lives is still unknown. Denise has a very pragmatic approach as it relates to digital balance.

Her strategies take much of the fear out of what we don’t know about the digital space and focus on building relationships and open communication with our kids.

Meet Denise DeRosa….

Tell us a little about how Cyber Sensible came to be?

I’ve worked in media my entire career – from traditional (radio and television) to online platforms. When I became a mother, I gained a new and more personal perspective on how powerful, pervasive and influential media is on our kids.

The constant connection to screens, when not used in a balanced way, has the potential to overwhelm and supersede parental guidance and values during the tween and teen years.

Parents have always had to contend with a generational divide when raising kids. The difference now is that it is nearly impossible to close the door on those outside influences for even a family dinner.

I wanted to offer solutions for parents who are struggling to keep up with what their kids are doing online. I also wanted to guide kids and teens to develop healthy digital habits, learn to put technology and ‘likes’ in proper perspective and use these powerful social platforms in meaningful and positive ways.

Once I had done my first Online Safety Workshop, I knew starting Cyber Sensible and meeting face-to-face with families, PTAs, and students was the best way for me to share my expertise.

What are the biggest challenges parents face as it relates to digital safety?

The biggest challenges are first that the landscape changes so quickly. Once you’ve got an understanding for the Nintendo Wii or Instagram, your kids are off and on to the next game, social media platform or new device.

The second is that you really can’t police every moment your kids are online – nor should you. Technology may offer the ability to keep your kids under constant surveillance but our goal as parents should be to teach our kids how to use tech safely, wisely and with purpose. We should guide them toward more freedom with the devices as they mature and rely less and less on monitoring as they prove able to navigate the online world – just as you do with taking a child to the park when they are little and then allowing them to go on their own as they get older.

Finally, I think it is hard for parents who see a lot of fear-based messaging when it comes to tech (think Momo Challenge or Tech Addiction headlines). Parents need to cut through a lot of noise and just focus on understanding the devices and apps that their children use – why do they like them, what is their favorite, and do they know how to employ the privacy and safety settings available.

What are the top ways parents can find digital balance for themselves and their children?

Most importantly, parents need to model good digital habits – be an example for how you would like your child to use technology.

Next, agree to some simple tech etiquette rules (silence phones in the movie theater, don’t share photos of others without permission) and standards for online behavior (think before you post, don’t connect with strangers, block unwanted attention, no sexting!).

Review the privacy and safety settings on the apps, games, and devices your child uses – for kids under 12 you can set them to your comfort level – for teens make sure they understand how to employ the safety tools available.

Finally, use the digital wellness tools available to help you set goals for your family (tech-free time, do not disturb settings, limit unnecessary notifications, turn off auto-play on YouTube, use time limit reminders on social media, etc).

If your child is doing well in school, getting enough sleep, enjoying time with family, friends, sports or activities then they are likely using tech in a balanced way, even if they seem more connected to devices than you’d like.

If you could give one piece of advice to parents, what would it be?

Parenting is a challenge and at times humbling. Parenting online is no different. It can be overwhelming but try not to let the news headlines of online bullying, sexting, and gaming addiction cloud your purpose.

The vast majority of kids are using tech like we are – to stay connected with friends, make plans, get directions, be entertained, learn something new, etc. Your goal is to raise your child to be a safe, self-reliant and responsible user of tech.

What resources or tools do you recommend to manage digital life?

I like the digital wellness tools provided by the tech firms as a starting point (Apple Families, Google Family Link, Microsoft Family Features) to encourage good digital habits, but none of these replace your role as a parent – there is no ‘parenting app’ that does all the work for you.

You need to be involved, talk to your kids about your expectations, concerns, and values as related to tech and the online community. You need to be open, upfront and reasonable with your expectations around technology.

In the end, your best resource is your ability to keep the lines of communication open with your family – that also means listening to what your kids say and understanding how they use tech – in order to find the right balance for your family. You don’t have to be a tech expert but you do need to familiarize yourself with the apps, games, and devices they use most in order to set rules that make sense.

How can people who want to learn more find you?

Visit my website, Cyber Sensible where you can learn more about me, my workshops.

Visit my blog, A Positive Digital Life

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Most importantly, I love to share my advice in person through my workshops and consulting services and I am happy to travel (or Skype) wherever I’m needed and invited.

I’d love to know your thoughts about digital balance and safety. Leave me a comment below. If you enjoyed this post, I’d love it if you share it and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.


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