Kids, Fake News + Cyberbullies: An Interview with Kerry Rego

Kids, Fake News + Cyberbullies: An Interview with Kerry Rego

This blog post was originally supposed to go on the mom blog I was writing for, but it isn’t around anymore… BUT, that doesn’t mean this info should go to waste! So… here you go:

I met Kerry Rego about 10 years ago – through social media, of course. We were both just starting out with our own businesses in social media consulting in Sonoma County. Fast forward to today -- social media is prevalent in all our lives (not just those who make a living off of it), both as a way of bringing people together and as a means of changing the course of our history (e.g., the 2016 American election through Russian-created propaganda that purposely drove us apart). In terms of marketing for any business, including Wine Country Moms, social media has provided a platform for sharing stories and making connections.

As parents of children growing up in a world in which they won’t remember a time before social media, I wanted to talk to Kerry about how to have conversations with your kids about cyberbullying and fake news, as well as how to raise a Generation Z kid who may know more about using digital tools than you do. So, I Interviewed her...

Tell us about your family.

My dad and stepmom live in Santa Rosa. My sister and her family are in Poway, CA. My husband, 13-year-old daughter, bunny, and tuxedo kitty love living in the West End of Santa Rosa.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a social media consultant, author, speaker, and college lecturer.

How did you get into it?

Technology has always been a big part of my life. My grandma always kept my eye towards the future to make sure I understood that big change was coming. I got two degrees in business and software so that I was ready – for what, I didn’t know. I just wanted to be professionally competitive.

I started my business, an organization and efficiency consultancy, in 2006 and grew it rapidly. When the recession hit, my clients didn’t need the same services I’d been providing; they needed help in new ways.

My friend Neil heard me talking about technology (particularly Twitter) at seemingly every networking function. He purposefully nudged me and told me to figure out a way to make a living off of the information I was giving away. Then I attended a class you gave, Shana, about social media and business. I walked away from that with clarity, that I was uniquely positioned with an in-demand skill set, so I spent the next year turning my ship around and have been providing digital media services since 2008.

What’s it like being a parent who also owns her own business?

It’s pretty awesome. I can modify my schedule to my child’s needs, as her schedule changes each year. The school system posts their next school calendar in June, which I use to block out every single holiday and day off so that I decide when I work.

My husband and I both own our own businesses which allows us to really determine the structure of our lives. He runs his company, Advanced Painting, from home, and his workshop just blocks away. I have a shared office space in downtown Santa Rosa in order to have a professional location for client meetings. We are a fully integrated team when it comes to “covering the kid.”

The only downside I can find is that, because we are our own bosses, our kid doesn’t get that sometimes we’re busy, and, “No, I’m not running down to school to bring you a band-aid.” She doesn’t understand the 8-5 workday that many people must adhere to. #firstworldproblems

What other advice would you give to parents who want to start their own business?

Write a business plan before you do anything else. Get an advisor to help you through the largest obstacles of starting a business – it’ll mean the difference between a painfully expensive hobby and sustainable work. Do the work, do the research. It’s worth the effort. You will get to live the life you want, but don’t jump off the cliff without checking the parachute.

What advice do you have for dealing with a pre-teen or teenager with a cell phone?

One of my favorite topics! Each parent must make a lot of decisions in this space. If you get your kid a smartphone, learn how to set up the privacy protections and USE THEM. Have discussions about what is appropriate behavior towards living, breathing, feeling humans in 3D and digital spaces (we often forget about the real impact our words have when we’re online). Have agreements about what is (un)acceptable usage of devices. Create consequences together and be strong – they’ll love you for it though they can’t show it yet. Dock all devices at night in a controlled space – their uninterrupted sleep is too important.

My kid doesn’t yet have a smartphone. It wasn’t easy to hold out but I. Would. Not. Be. Budged. She has a flip feature phone that she HATES, but I force her to take it when I really need to reach her. Most of the time she leaves it at home. Whenever she messes up, she loses access to all digital activities. My job is to keep my kid safe.

Do you have a few suggestions for helping children distinguish between what's real and what's fake news?

I do. I found a great critical thinking infographic created by Global Digital Citizen that features a set of suggestions when reading. I’ve memorized a few: “Who benefits from this?” “What is another perspective?” “What would be a counter-argument?” “How do we know the truth about this?” It’s important to teach our kids how to critically think about the content they come into contact with and how to evaluate its validity. We need to read with our kids and discuss how we, as adults, go through this process and how we research information.

I also recommend visiting the source of a piece. Investigate the organization by going to their About page, learn who they are affiliated with, and potentially who owns it. This is a big one and doesn’t take nearly as long as people think it will.

Do you talk to kids about helping to teach their parents about sharing fake news?

It’s funny that you ask that question. I just read about a study by New York University’s SMaPP Lab and Princeton University that finds that people over 65 share a disproportionately common amount of “fake news.” Normally I’m teaching young people to be nice when their elders ask for help. But after reading that data and your poignant question, I think I’ll be incorporating this more into my seminars and classes. Truthfully, I think everyone needs help in this arena.

What about dealing with online trolls?

There’s a protocol for bullying that I share with students and parents that I learned from law enforcement resources. These can be used in trolling situations as well. They include: save the evidence, don’t respond, report to authorities, block, don’t participate when it’s happening to others, discuss with a friend group what types of behavior they won’t engage in, and support each other.

I don’t recommend blocking trolls right away. A block is a reaction, and we don’t want them to think they were able to get one. I do think that deleting the offending app for a bit to create a bit of breathing room is helpful.

How can parents look out for signs that cyberbullying is happening to (or by) their child?

I’m a proponent of regular monitoring of devices. Checking messages for concerning words or conversations. Using parental assistance apps to cover many of their apps is another option (check your mobile provider to see what they offer). I also recommend checking their YouTube history. You can see everything they’ve watched and interacted with.

Changes in behavior, depression, pulling away from social situations, and unwillingness to show devices are just a few signs of involvement with cyberbullying.

Nothing replaces conversation. Talking to your kids about their digital and personal relationships, checking to see if they have any questions, if something’s going on that’s worth mentioning (let them fill in the blank). Ask questions – they tend to open up or give clues as to what’s happening.

What age should parents start talking to their kids about these issues?

There isn’t one big conversation. Children are getting access to devices and the internet in their toddler years. As each new situation arises, talk about expected and appropriate behavior. Role play around sticky situations and give them suggestions on responses they can have at the ready for when they find themselves in an unsafe or uncomfortable spot. Cyber safety starts day one and just gets more advanced with each new bump in the road.

Anything else you want to tell us?

There’s nothing more important than sleep – for your child and for you. Please emphasize this in your home behavior. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a minimum of one hour between device usage and bed time. Create a routine around bedtime to build healthy habits that will benefit your kids for the rest of their lives. I call this the Power Down Hour.

An hour seems like a long time, but if you have a routine, your body learns it and will wind down. Dim the lights, play relaxing music, take a bath, have a cup of tea, read a physical book if you don’t have a blue light blocker (most devices emanate blue light that interferes with our ability to sleep), and set a regular alarm clock rather than using your phone. Dock your phone in another room if you can.

Most teens sleep with their phones under their pillow. Not only is that a safety hazard, but it’s seriously impacting their rest. We can have tech and balance. It just takes a mindful approach.


*Image of Kerry, by Tyler Chartier, a photographer in Petaluma.

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