Parents and educators want to create a community for students that is safe and free from violence, but it can often feel like we’re fighting the tide to do so. One issue we often hear about relates to the negative aspects of technology: cyberharassment, online conflicts and inappropriate use of technology.

The sheer number of ways people interact that are not face to face makes it daunting and frustrating for parents and educators to know how to manage issues that arise. While technology does create opportunity, it comes with a responsibility that young people and adults are still sorting out. However, a healthy relationship with technology, media and the Internet is possible – and the solution doesn’t even require you to be a tech know-it-all.

We see this issue not only through our professional eyes as a middle school principal and a violence prevention specialist, but also as parents. As our children grow, we too are sorting out the balance of how technology can positively and negatively influence the lives of our kids. In our view, the most important steps we can take are not so much revolutionary but realistic. We offer these as ideas for anyone who interacts with young people as they navigate virtual reality:

Talk about technology: Talk to your students and kids about what media they interact with and learn about it from them. Doing your own research about what is out there can be empowering, but do not be overwhelmed if you have never heard of Snapchat or Burn Note.

Your energy is best invested in direct conversation with your children/students about the technology they are using. When doing so, it is important to remember to have these conversations without judgment (which can be especially hard for adults!).

Here are some conversation starters: What technology is used at school? What games do you play and what do you like about them? What apps are you using? What do you like/not like about them? How do people talk to each other in this app/game/forum? If someone says something inappropriate on one of these platforms, how is it handled?

Lead by example: Role modeling is an extremely powerful tool, so let young people both observe and hear from you about the choices you make related to technology and virtual life. Tell them why you still use Facebook (even if it’s not cool anymore). Share your concerns about how easily online communication can become negative and even become unsafe. Talk with them about ways to protect privacy online and why that is an essential safety rule.

Children and youth are watching how we interact with each other all of the time – from a much earlier age than we might like to admit – and they are learning a great deal directly from these observations. Modeling respectful communication and conflict resolution in real life and online shows them it is possible.

Commit to the long term: Avoid the temptation to make talking about media and technology a one-time conversation. A healthy relationship with technology and media requires us to communicate honestly with young people on an ongoing basis. Your commitment to this dialogue will help foster their internal sense of what is and is not acceptable to them – which they will need when you are not around.

Building decision-making skills they will need throughout life to determine what is or isn’t acceptable behavior will outlast any of the expensive technology at their fingertips. Providing a comfortable place for them to talk about issues relating to technology will help them see you as an ally, not an adversary, if something bad or scary happens and they need your help.

Seek assistance: If at any point you have significant concerns about what your child/student may have been exposed to, reach out to support networks, other parents, teachers, school administrators or behavioral health providers to help you in supporting the young person.

We join you in trying to find the best possible ways to support children and youth and find ways to prevent conflict. By working together through a grant led by the city of Portland’s Public Health Division and Maine Behavioral Healthcare, Portland Defending Childhood has partnered with schools like Lincoln Middle School to support training for educators to understand, and help prevent, issues of violence and trauma.

We feel strongly that collaboration and honest conversations can help young people develop the skills necessary to make good decisions, avoid risk and positively contribute to their communities, both on- and off-line.