Tips for safe surfing, texting, posting online: Expert talks to La Jolla parents about the power of the Internet

By Ashley Mackin

As Internet safety expert Jon Moffat began his presentation on March 6 to parents with kids in La Jolla schools, he acknowledged that the magnitude of the Internet and all that’s accessible to children online make parents want to “throw every electronic device off a cliff.”

However, he argued, that’s not the answer. Rather, informed use and setting good examples for children is a more constructive way to go. “Technology is a tool,” he said. “It’s like a hammer, I could use it to build something beautiful or I could beat someone to death with it. It depends on how I’m taught to use it.”

Jon Moffat discusses the importance of safety when using a smartphone during a program at La Jolla High School. (Photo by Ashley Mackin)

Moffat spoke to parents of students attending La Jolla Elementary School, Muirlands Middle School, Pacific Beach High and La Jolla High in La Jolla High’s Parker Auditorium, courtesy of the Community Education Committee of the La Jolla Cluster Organization.

Of his presentation, Community Education Committee Chair Melinda Gaffney said, “Protecting your digital identity and being aware of how your online reputation affects your real-world reputation is of critical importance to this next generation, so I’m thrilled to have Jon here with us.”

During the last 10 years, Moffat has worked with students, parents and educators to promote cyber-safety, and he emphasizes the value of having a non-judgmental conversation with teens and setting a good example when it comes to using the Internet.

Have a contract with your kids

It starts with a contract that parents and their children agree upon. “Just like you had to sign a contract to get the technology in your home, your kids should have a contract to keep it,” he said.

The ideal contract includes several points, the details of which parents can negotiate. “Your kids shouldn’t have the final say, but they should have some say in the development of the contract,” he said.

There are more than a dozen points on the contract that teach children technology is a privilege not a right. For a free template, e-mail Moffat at

One suggestion is to mutually decide where the smartphone goes at night. “Every night the phone must be charged; that can be done in any room, but the key here is not the bedroom. There should not be phones in kids’ bedrooms at night,” he said.

He also argued for not letting students take phones to school. In the event of an emergency, the school can reach the student (because, after all, phones aren’t supposed to be out during class).

The negotiable facet is when it comes to after-school activities, such as sports, hanging out with friends or any time the child is not in class or at home. The contract can be adjusted according to parent/child negotiations, the ages and parental values.

Teach them that anything they do on a device can be seen

Once an agreement is formed, the next step is to instill good judgment. “We want to teach kids that anything they do on a device can be seen. I ask kids if they’ve ever sent a text they wouldn’t want their parents to see — for the most part they say ‘yes,’ ” he said. “They put these things (texts, tweets and photos) out thinking no one will see it. They don’t understand the power of it.”



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