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How parents & their kids can lead a balanced digital life - Q&A with expert Denise L. DeRosa

Denise Lisi DeRosa is the founder of Cyber Sensible, a consulting firm dedicated to helping families manage technology in their homes. Denise offers insightful and actionable advice on having a balanced digital life and leads discussion with both parents and teens. We talked with her about her work, new digital trends and what it means to be a good "digital citizen".

What is the one tip you give parents the most? There are two actually, The first is to be involved. Know what your kids are doing online, ask about the sites, apps and games they are playing, who they are connecting with and why they are drawn to them. Next, model the behavior you would like to see in your children: know when to turn off your devices and be present, don't overshare on social media, be kind online, don't text and drive, employ the available privacy settings, use strong passwords, etc. Your kids will follow what you do more than what you say.

What do you think is a disturbing or alarming trend these days, one we might even ignore is happening? The shear volume of information and constant communication can be overwhelming to adults, so the burden on kids is something we have not yet tackled. I want to make sure that kids understand the need to detach from digital media overload, so they can fully absorb and process the information. What we are all missing is the quiet time to observe, think, take it all in and make sense of the constant information being fed to us.

People don't even put their phones down while waiting in a grocery line or in an elevator; we should all take the time to digest, and kids especially. We also need to recognize that greater quantity does not equate with greater quality of content. We have to learn to filter more too.

When you talk with teens and tweens, what is their feeling on their parents' involvement in their digital lives? There is the most tension over privacy. What I tell kids is that nothing they do or share online is private. They should have no expectation of privacy with anything that is shared digitally (even texts or sexts can be screen shot and shared without the senders knowledge). So they should understand that their parents need to check in on what they are doing online, for their own safety and to help them preserve a positive online reputation.

How do you balance the "helicopter parenting" vs. "overlooking parenting" dilemma? My goal as a parent is to help my children to become self sufficient, self-reliant and self motivated in all aspects of their lives. I want to raise happy adults who can function on their own. It is important to allow your kids access to digital technologies and social media but let them know that you will be present both in their online and offline lives to guide them. I believe parents shouldn't comment, œlike or get involved with every post or photo a kid shares online. Make sure you are aware of their behavior and only step in when necessary.

How can parents and their children use social media more effectively and carefully? The largest social media platforms have privacy settings, reporting mechanisms for abuse and safety centers for advice on how to use their services in a positive way. Parents should sit with their kids when they open a new profile and help them to make the best privacy and safety decisions for their age and need. Next, be your child's first friend or follower. As I said, you do not need to stalk your child online, but check in regularly to observe their behavior online. And parents, be mindful of your own social media use - be a positive online influence for your child. Let them see you use social media responsibly.

What does it mean to be cyber civil? When we are in public, there is a set of social norms and acceptable behavior that one follows to be part of a civil society. These basic standards can be lost in cyber space. It is important for everyone online to recognize that the cyber world is a public space, and everyone is watching. When you enter cyberspace you are part of a global community and those standards of behavior should transfer in order to maintain a civil online environment: treat others with kindness, respect the property of others (especially intellectual property), keep private interactions private, etc.

Over the years, we have seen an increase in cyberbullying due to the emergence and greater use of social media. What can be done? This phenomenon is not unique to kids. Adults engage in poor decisions online, even in our political discourse. So first, adults need to clean up their own act. Next, there should be a zero tolerance policy in all communities and action should be swift. Social media companies continue to look for solutions but they cannot stop it all, so we all have to do our part. Apps like Bosco can help parents to monitor their own kids. When you see poor behavior call it out, report it or take appropriate action. Teach kids to stand up to bullying and not to be bystanders that allow it to continue.

In one article, you talk about digital citizenship education. What are the skills one needs to teach and be taught to be a good "digital citizen"? Digital Citizenship is defined as the safe, savvy and ethical use of technology. We all have a responsibility to know how to engage online safely, to use technology when it enhances the task at hand and to be civil online. It is about being the same online as you are in person. Use your head, be kind and respectful, know the difference between what can be shared online and what should remain private, and use the tools given to you to maintain that difference.

It's important to set limits and rules. What are some of the you discuss with parents? Every household has to establish their own standards based on their family values and goals. We want our kids to have balance in their lives. If your child is happy, healthy, gets exercise, enjoys friends and family, is engaged in learning, pursues hobbies or interests then I think all is okay. Though, some good rules can be no devices at the dinner table, set a bedtime for all devices, and insist that your children look people in the eye when in conversation.

How do you implement a tech diet in your family? It's important to consider what your family is doing online and not just how long they are connected. Some screen time is better than others, are they connecting with others or disengaging, consuming or creating content, being passive or active online. Like nutrition, encourage the good stuff and limit the junk online. If your family uses tech to connect with others, to collaborate, to create, to investigate, to research, as opposed to getting online only to consume digital media then that needs to be taken in to consideration when setting limits.

I like to lead by example too. I only use technology when it enhances what I'm doing, not when it detracts from those around me. I might use my iPhone map to get me to somewhere I've never been before, but once I'm there, I look up and take it in. I expect my kids to do the same. It's all about balance. Remember, you need time to digest.

What has led you to digital education after many years in communication? It has been a natural progression. I started my career in media at MTV Networks in the mid-1990s. I left to pursue my Masters Degree in Communication, Culture and Technology at Georgetown University where we studied the intersection of the three and how they affect our society, industry, politics, art, education and so on. After graduation, I worked for America Online on their Kids Only Channel. Our goal was to create an online space dedicated to kids, providing them access to burgeoning technologies in a safe environment.

I left to start my own family and as my kids grew, I began to experience first hand the challenges parents face in connecting their children to an online world that is exciting and collaborative but can also be dangerous. I was helping friends who were struggling which lead me to create Cyber Sensible, LLC. I lead presentations and discussions where I advise parents and schools on how to encourage responsible online behavior.

Denise Lisi DeRosa, Founder of Cyber Sensible, is an expert in online safety, a writer for the Huffington Post and a frequent speaker on parenting in the digital age. Cyber Sensible Consulting is dedicated to helping families manage tech use in their homes. Denise provides information and actionable advice even the least tech-savvy parent can apply.

For more of her advice or to book an event for your community, visit

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