Keeping Kids Safer Online Through Storytelling

Online technology has become an integral part of daily life. Technology is used for everything from navigating to work, to connecting with friends, to buying shoes and even setting thermostats. Children, like adults, are glued to their devices. This interconnectedness—while valuable—can be problematic, especially for children.

A Plethora of Platforms

Twitter, Snapchat, Boomerang, Periscope, YikYak, 4Chan, Discord, Twitch— there is an onslaught of new online platforms with increasingly trendy-sounding names. For parents who are also being bombarded daily by new options, it is daunting to know how to guide children through this maze. Parents are generally at a loss over how to safely guide their children in an environment they themselves barely grasp.

This is precisely the situation that caught Liz Repking’s attention when her son was in middle school. She saw her fellow parents were throwing their hands up in defeat, overwhelmed. They were saying “I don’t understand this. They’ll be fine.” Hearing this, Liz understood that the increasing use of online activity was affecting all children and was becoming an urgent parenting issue. Repking knew it was a problem she could help solve. She found her calling and started Cyber Safety Consulting.

An extensive background in IT consulting and training as well as being the mother of three children gave Repking a unique perspective on how to help parents and children navigate this new and treacherous landscape. Initially, her focus was on teaching parents how to educate their children on internet safety, but when she was approached by a school for help in the aftermath of a sexting scandal, Repking realized there was a great need to present directly to children as well. The goal? To educate about the dangers associated with online behaviors and how they can react when finding themselves in uncomfortable or risky situations.

When “Spidey Senses” Tingle

Repking said while students are frequently more tech-savvy than parents, they often lack the social and emotional awareness needed to protect themselves. This is exacerbated by the fact that online interactions are devoid of the sensory cues prevalent in personal interactions ‘IRL’ (in real life) so critical to assessing/understanding situations. In person, body language can raise warning signals which make a person’s “spidey senses” tingle. But without such input, subtleties are stripped away and people—especially children—easily step squarely into exploitative or other treacherous situations.

The greatest tool I use is storytelling.

Repking said, “The greatest tool I use is storytelling.” But the stories must be relatable to be impactful. She has found that students have a hard time relating to stories used as scare tactics. Children believe that extreme scenarios are exceptions and wouldn’t apply to them. Young people do not react well to direct warnings not to do something, especially if they think they know more about something than their parents, she said. So instead of lecturing at children about what not to do, she weaves abstract concepts into stories from her own life and current events.

For instance, instead of warning kids with “What you [post online] stays up forever,” she tells the story of the 2018 NFL draft quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen was one of the league’s top draft picks but lost his offer when old offensive Tweets were uncovered. Though he posted the Tweets when he was a teenager, the damage was done. Repking said her presentations are conversational which begins with knowledge from the students. She talks with students and never at them. In doing so, she guides them into discussions about real-life consequences of their online actions and spurs conversations with their parents at home.

Accelerating Cyber Safety Consulting

In addition to presentations, Repking has created internet safety curriculum for schools and is in the process of developing a book on the subject. Since 2012, she has delivered keynotes and speeches locally and nationally and been interviewed by WGN, FOX, and other news sources to establish herself as a leading expert.

Repking joined the Innovation DuPage accelerator program, Owner-to-CEO, which also allows her to work at #IDHQ to access mentorship and other ID business incubator resources, as well as collaborate with other business owners and startups. She came to the space for the resources it offered to help her develop her programs and further grow her business, but now she comes daily to interact with new friends and colleagues. She said the stories her ID colleagues share give her ideas and help her grow as a business founder and owner.

Which just goes to show, storytelling educates grownups and children, alike. Just as Cyber Safety Consulting is using stories to help keep kids safer online, so are stories helping ID members become the DuPage region’s employers of tomorrow. For more stories about innovative business founders and owners follow ID stories.

by Katie Uram

Innovation DuPage