Back to school: 7 tips for improving your middle schooler's digital literacy

Emma McGowan 17 Aug 2022

As our kids grow over the summer, so does their online fluency. Here are some tips for working digital literacy into your back to school plans this year.

New transitions sometimes bring new schools and friends. Enter middle school. Tweens are constantly navigating digital dilemmas. As your Middle Schooler becomes a more confident internet user, it’s important to continue having conversations about online safety and privacy. 

So what do we need to know about kids online today? Well, one thing is for sure: as our kids grow over the summer, so does their online fluency. The big digital choices that come with each milestone mean the back to school is the perfect time to talk about online safety. Here are seven tips for working digital literacy into your back to school plans this year.

Talk about social media

Middle school is when lots of kids get access to social media: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Discord require users to be at least 13 years of age, so 11 and 12-year-olds are going to want to get on there with their older friends, too.

That means it’s time to start having conversations about sharing sensitive information and the risks of interacting with strangers online – even if they think they know and trust the person they’re talking to. These conversations can be awkward, but think of it as another “talk” that your child needs in order to be safe in the world.

But as a parent, the best move isn’t to tell your teen “Don’t go into these adult rooms! They’re not for you!” Psychotherapist and author Catherine Knibbs — who works with clients who have experienced trauma online — suggests asking kids questions that help promote critical thinking about what’s going on in different online spaces to help guide them to their own decision.

“Rather than saying ‘there are bad people out there online,’” Knibbs previously told Avast, “say something like, ‘Who are your friends online? How do you know they’re friends and not just someone you talk to? How do you know it’s a genuine person?’”

Talk about cyberbullying

Make sure to talk about kindness while you’re having these conversations about social media. When you're staring at a screen it can be really hard to remember that there’s a person on the other side. Even grownups have a hard time with this! 

So it’s super important to remind your kids early and often that it’s important to speak with people online the same way you’d speak to them in person – and that cyberbullying is never okay. You know what your family’s values are and it’s important to underline them in the digital world, just as you would in the physical world.

Keep on top of parental controls

You can also use parental controls at this age, but make sure you’re having open conversations about what you’re using and why. Middle schoolers are increasingly digitally savvy every day, so know that your tweens will likely figure out ways around any software that you install. That’s why the conversation part is so important: parental controls alone aren’t going to cut it at this age. 

Set a digital schedule

Your tween is going to be online — that’s a given. But you can help them figure out the right amount of time they should be online by working on creating a digital schedule with them. When is school time? When is play time? When is device-free time? By working collaboratively with your middle schooler on these limits, you’re less likely to face as much push back when it’s time to enforce them.

(Note: We did say less likely. They are still tweens, after all.)

Talk about passwords

Talk to your kids about strong passwords by sitting down and doing a password reset on all your major accounts at the beginning of the school year. You can even make it a game, by setting silly rules about what should be included.

Get to know your browser

It’s important for both children and parents to get to know their browser. Your browser has a lot to do with how safe you’ll be when you’re online, and with so many browsers to choose from these days, it’s important to know exactly how your browser helps you stay safe online. 

Avast Secure Browser, for example, is focused heavily on privacy and security, with built in features that hide and protect your personal info, prevent hackers from stealing your data, and block ads for faster browsing and online learning. 

Update your cybersecurity and antivirus software

A good antivirus and cybersecurity solution should be largely invisible, running the background of all of your devices and protecting you and your family from attacks of all kinds. But when’s the last time you checked on it?

Back to school is a great time to make sure that your family has the best possible protection. Have some chats with your kids, and know you’re going into the new school year protected.

--> -->