As CEO of Los Angeles-based SSP Blue, Hemu Nigam and his staff focus on creating a blueprint for digital safety, security and privacy. His experience includes work as a district attorney, consultant to national and international governmental agencies and numerous corporate jobs, including high-profile positions at Microsoft, the Motion Picture Association and News Corporation. Between 1997 and 2000, Nigam served as a federal prosecutor against child and computer crimes for the Department of Justice, while also acting as an advisor to the White House. He is also the proud father of four children.  

Mediaplanet spoke to Nigam about how to discuss online safety issues with kids, while helping them become responsible digital citizens. Nigam believes that the guiding principles of dealing with online behavior should mirror offline, ‘real world’ principles. He suggests, “The technology may be different, but it doesn’t change the dynamic between children and their parents.”

Mediaplanet: If you had to explain one thing to parents to help them gain a better understanding of teaching children about online safety, what would you say?

"Ask your kids, “Who are you meeting online?” Remind them that they you don’t know a person until you’ve seen the whites of their eyes."

Hemu Nigam: For young people there is no distinction between being online and being offline. It’s the same thing for them. When you embrace that concept, you are not easily daunted. When you think about the online world, consider what the equivalent is in the offline world. Ask yourself how you would handle this issue in the real world.

MP: Some examples?

HN: For example, in the real world we ask our kids who they are hanging out with, if they are putting themselves in danger, who they are meeting and whether they are behaving respectfully. The questions are the same when it comes to their online lives. Tell your kids to think before they speak or before they post anything online or communicate digitally. Remember that the Internet has a memory. It never forgets.

MP: What is a hot topic right now?

HN: Anonymity. There have always been ways to be anonymous. The internet is another medium for anonymity. There is a current trend in social media to use various apps to maintain anonymity, including apps such as Yik Yak and Ask.fm. Companies are working on ways to stop abuse of online anonymity. Ask your kids, “Who are you meeting online?” Remind them that they you don’t know a person until you’ve seen the whites of their eyes. Tell them that if their gut tells them that they are entering a dark place to not go there. 

Kids need to take a break. If their friends were in their room at midnight talking to them, you would tell the friends to go home. Use the same approach with texting. One idea is to keep a basket outside their door and tell them to put their devices in there at night.