Tuesday 30 May 2023
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Internet Safety for Parents with Elizabeth Milovidov

Internet Safety for Parents with Elizabeth Milovidov

Internet Safety for Parents with Elizabeth Milovidov

This interview is part of a special series by intrepidNOW Lifestyle on Internet Safety. The series is targeted at parents that know that they must protect their children from the dangers of online access but are not quite sure how.  We will interview the experts and share their prescriptive advice.

GUEST: Elizabeth Milovidov, American Lawyer, French Law Professor, European eSafety Consultant and Founder of Digital Parenting Coach.

Elizabeth joined us to share her advice for parents on many aspects of internet safety.  Specifically, we talked with Elizabeth about the following:

  1. (1:48) What inspired you to start Digital Parenting Consulting?
  2. (2:31) What are some of your favorite projects as a Digital Parenting Coach and Consultant?
  3. (3:48) What is the biggest problem facing parents today and how do you help solve it?
  4. (5:54) In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, there have been many discussions about data protection and privacy, what advice do you have for parents?
  5. (8:58) Does your advice differ for children of different ages or is there a one-size-fits all tip that parents can follow?
  6. (10:24) What are the dangers of gaming like Fortnite that a parent may not know about?
  7. (14:17) Earlier this year, the World Health Organization identified “gaming disorder” in it’s classification of diseases, what should parents know and how can they prevent their children from developing this disorder?
  8. (16:18) Parents today as busy juggling work, home and children, how difficult is it for them to get up to speed as a digital parent?
  9. (17:30) What is the one quick tip that you have for parents?

Visit Digital Parenting Coach on the Web and join their private group on Facebook.

Check out our other great interviews on Internet Safety for Parents!

About Elizabeth Milovidov 

Elizabeth Milovidov is an American lawyer, a French law professor and a European eSafety consultant.  She founded Digital Parenting Consulting and provides support to governments and associations.  From 2014-2016, she consulted for European Schoolnet, a European consortium of 30 Education Ministries on several Internet-related projects, including the ENABLE (the European Network Against Bullying in Learning and Leisure Environments) project.  She also has provided support to EU Kids Online, Internet Matters, UK Safer Internet Centre, Family Online Safety Institute and many other key actors in online child protection.

She regularly intervenes as an independent expert on Children’s Rights and the Internet and Digital Parenting for the Council of Europe and is currently an Expert Working Group member on Digital Citizenship Education as well as a member of the Drafting Group of Specialists on Children and the Digital Environment. She is an international speaker on Internet safety issues, leads parental workshops, writes on digital parenting, and coaches parents on best practices in the digital age through her website  and Facebook Group, The Digital Parenting Community and Parentalité Numérique (in French).

A graduate of UCLA and UC Davis, she practiced as a litigator in California for four years before moving to France to work as General Counsel in two Internet Technology companies. She earned a Ph.D. in International Relations and Diplomacy from the American Graduate School (AGS) in Paris (dissertation: international adoption via Internet and photo listings).

She is a lecturer at several universities in France and Geneva and specializes in Law and Technology (ISCOM, Paris), Intellectual Property and Internet Law (INSEEC, Paris) and Children’s Rights and the Internet (University of Geneva, Geneva).

LinkedIn profile:

Press page with recent interviews on France 24.


Joe Lavelle: Welcome back to intrepidNOW Lifestyle. I am your host, Joe Lavelle, and I am really looking forward to this conversation with another great thought leader in our series about internet safety and security.

We’re going to get right to it today. We’re joined by Elizabeth Milovidov, an American lawyer, a French law professor, and a European eSafety consultant. She founded Digital Parenting Consulting and provides support to governments and associations. Elizabeth, welcome to the show!

Elizabeth Milovidov: Hello there, Joe. Thank you for having me.

Joe Lavelle: Well, thanks so much for making the time today. Before we start the discussion Elizabeth, could you take a few seconds and tell the audience about you and your background?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Sure. I had been now in Paris for about 23 years. But I am a California lawyer, grew up in San Diego, went to UCLA and practiced law in San Francisco before moving to Paris. Once I got to Paris, I finished an MBA, found a job and then started working in-house. Eventually, I became general counsel in a technology company, did that for a few years and absolutely loved technology. I got married, had a family and then really found myself finding that children’s rights were so interesting and also I wanted to stay home and be with my children.

So I took a step back and started teaching, so I can have a more flexible schedule and once I did that, it was really interesting to then see the sort of intersection of law, technology and children that this was really what I was passionate about.

So when I started looking for work again, as my children got older, in the different meetings and associations and government projects, I realized that there was always some group that was missing at the table and that was the group of parents.

So I thought that it was really necessary to help inform parents about what’s happening in the digital age.

Joe Lavelle: Outstanding. Is this how you get inspired then to start Digital Parenting Consulting?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Yes, exactly. It was always the law, tech and children’s rights aspect. But in the beginning, it wasn’t called Digital Parenting Consulting. It was called The Crossing Guard and it became Crossing Guard Consulting because I saw myself as this crossing guard at the intersection of children’s rights and at that time, it was corporate social responsibility.

So I was always trying to help companies do the right thing by children and it just morphed into this area of internet and internet safety because I was seeing that industry, Facebook, Google, Apple. This was really something that was just particularly interesting to me.

Joe Lavelle: Great. Elizabeth, what are some of your favorite projects as a Digital Parenting coach and consultant?

Elizabeth Milovidov: I absolutely love doing the workshops when I get to get out and speak to parents and speak with their children. But I also love it when I get to speak with the children and find out what they’re doing online because this helps me keep my finger on the pulse, so to speak.

But the other thing that I enjoy is being a consultant, being an independent expert for the Council of Europe which I remind your listeners is 47 member countries. So I get to work on a lot of projects in the children’s rights division or the digital citizenship education division and that has just been absolutely mind-blowing for a little girl from San Diego. I get to travel to places like Baku. Two weeks ago, I was in Lithuania speaking at a conference on behalf of the Council of Europe at a UNESCO conference talking about the internet literacy handbook, which was a book that the Council of Europe has for free on its website. And really it’s just these types of things to guide parents, to keep parents with us in the digital age.

Joe Lavelle: As a parent, we all have what we think is our biggest problem with internet safety and I can tell you in my community it’s how we take that grip of our children off the remote for Fortnite. But from your perspective, what’s the biggest problem facing parents today and how do you help them solve it?

Elizabeth Milovidov: That is so funny that you mentioned Fortnite. Two days ago I was in Lausanne in Switzerland again speaking at a conference but this time about selfies and sexting. Somehow the conversation got to Fortnite and the best advice that a group of us – about 120 professionals, judges, lawyers, psychologists. What we came up with as parents was that: grab a glass of wine, sit down and play Fortnite with your children. It’s the best way to understand the game and what’s at stake for them. So that way you could put appropriate limits on it later.

So I just think it’s very funny that you’re mentioning Fortnite. Yes, I do play. So if any of your listeners want to play with me, they can because I am very good at parachuting into an area and then they come and take all my supplies because I get wiped out very quickly.

Joe Lavelle: That’s funny.

Elizabeth Milovidov: But Fortnite aside, I think it’s always the same thing which is screen balance. The idea that these little devices are built by manipulative design to keep our interest. They’re fascinating. You always want the next thing and if it’s not the device itself, then it’s playing that game. You want the next level or if you’re on social media, you want more likes. So it’s really – for me I believe that the biggest problem facing parents today is finding that balance.

I also find it particularly interesting that we – I will just call us normal lay parents. We are working with this and yet we’re seeing more and more that the parents in Silicon Valley, the parents of engineers and the tech people who are in the know, that they are sending their children to schools where tech is not available.

I find that particularly telling especially as we’re always looking for evidence-based research to back us up on our different claims and I say look to what the engineers are doing. Look to what the leaders in the tech industry are doing with their children and let’s try to model them a bit more.

Joe Lavelle: Wow. Some fantastic and really surprising points. So thanks for sharing those. In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, there has been all these discussions about protecting data and what’s free for people to use and not. What advice do you have for parents?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Read the instructions. Really it’s all about critical thinking just to keep it as a nice little sound bite. Read the instructions. Whether we are using Facebook or Instagram or Google Home or Alexa or even Siri, read the instructions and it will tell you how to limit your privacy settings.

It will tell you who has access to your data and I think that that was probably the biggest surprise at Cambridge Analytica is that people for the most part did not know. But if they had read the instructions – by that of course, I mean the terms of use, the terms and conditions of these websites and gadgets, if they had read this, it was already there.

Joe Lavelle: It’s funny. I’ve been angry at Facebook for five years when I found that they had stored my birthday because I know I didn’t put it there. I refused to give anybody my birthday. At one point, I was talking to a friend and said, “I would be glad to pay Facebook $10 a month for the service for me to have control of what I see and what I can protect,” and they just laughed at me and they said “they’re making way more than $10 a month off your data”. So just give it up and you better learn that it’s not just Facebook. It’s Google and everybody else. So I think the parents have to know that free comes at a huge cost, not a $10 a month cost.

Elizabeth Milovidov: Exactly. That’s what so many of the experts are saying now is that if it’s free, you are the product. If you have that in mind, this is not a matter of scaremongering or not using any tech as adults. It’s a matter of knowing that certain things are going to be accessible. If you want that, if you don’t mind, then that’s fine.

A couple of days ago, someone was asking me about the data that I store in the cloud. Well, of course I love Dropbox. I use others. Is there a risk? Of course there’s a risk. Am I OK with that? Yes. Yes. I am OK with that. I think that that is the importance of knowing what’s out there. In fact, if I could even give you another example, I would say it’s perhaps like driving a car. If you drive a car – and we know that there are statistics about how many accidents, what can happen, whether you’re driving under the influence or if you don’t have your seatbelts on. If after that point you know this and you engage in that behavior. You cannot then sit back and blame the car manufacturer for your own behavior. You see what I’m saying here? I think that really we have to just stop accepting these devices because they’re so brilliantly convenient and I love mine. I do use them. We have to just stop willy-nilly accepting them, read their terms and conditions and decide what’s appropriate for us, our personal usage and for our families and especially our children because they really are too young to dip through 20 pages of legalese.

Joe Lavelle: You know as well as I do that our kids are growing way too fast and my rules for last year don’t apply this year. How does your advice differ and grow as your children get older and more mature?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Actually Joe, what you just said is perfect because it’s the flexibility. As your children grow, you have to be more flexible. What works for a four-year-old will not work for a 14-year-old. I’ve seen parents try to place parental controls on teenagers. That’s difficult. If you already had parental controls on a child that was younger, it will be a little bit easier than just all of a sudden waking up and saying, “OK, I’m walking locking down everything.”

But again, parental control is probably a bad example because any teenager worth his or her salt will go on to Google and will quickly type out how to disable parental controls and they will watch the tutorial and it’s gone.

But I do think that for children of different ages, we have to take into consideration the developmental milestones of these children, what they’re able to do. I don’t think that there’s a one size fits all sort of tip other than critical thinking, communication and confidence and that’s at the age-appropriate level for your own child and again I would stress that you know your child.

Some parents tell me, “Yes. But my 10-year-old, my 11-year-old will be great with a smartphone because they’re very mature,” et cetera. If that is their judgment, then obviously that’s fine. That’s their call. I always say your house, your rules. But I do think that parents have to take a step back and really engage in some critical thinking. That is probably my keyword.

Joe Lavelle: Perfect. We’ve mentioned Fortnite. Talk us through for the parent that’s listening that hasn’t heard the really bad stories about online gaming or social media. What are the dangers of something like Fortnite that a parent may not know about?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Well, with Fortnite, Minecraft, Roadblocks, any of these games, the fact is, is that you’re playing with strangers and this is not to go off into a tangent about stranger danger. Not at all. But it’s the reality that pedophiles and unsavory characters, they will go where the children are. Where are the children? They’re playing Fortnite. They’re in Club Penguin. They’re in Disney, social media apps as well. So they will go.

The difference is that with games like Fortnite and Minecraft, because it’s a community-building game, it can sometimes be easier for your child to come into contact with someone who will say something like, “Oh, I will be happy to trade you some equipment. This is fine. Oh, I’m watching. What a great gamer you are. You’re doing so well. Maybe you should watch my tutorials.”

They’re able to draw out our children just by using the game and the terminology of the game. What’s also important to remember is that grooming is something that is happening so easily, meaning that there are so many children online that it goes very quickly. So that means that someone who’s interested, an adult who’s trying to groom a child can just be trolling like as in fishing. Just kind of throwing out a lot of bait and it goes by very quick. It’s not like the unsavory character standing at the corner in the park.

This is very fast. They can move on. They can drop the kids. They can keep going. Just throwing out the bait. Who picks it up? Who picks it up? They can throw out a lot of bait very quickly in some of these games. I think that if parents play with their children and they’re able to see in the chat or what other characters, what avatar names are or how the characters are behaving, then they can guide their children. They really, really can. I believe that. I have to believe that. Otherwise, we’re in serious trouble.

Joe Lavelle: Exactly. I love the advice of go play with your children. I learned that some of my son’s friends record the game and then put it on YouTube. Well, some of my son’s friends use very bad language and they’re not in my house. I can’t – and I don’t want to forbid my son totally from playing. I will warn them and tell them they need to have a conversation with their friend, that they can’t play if that happens. But my son is now – he will tell us, “Well, I don’t want that to come back and hurt me if someone said a bad word,” especially a racially-charged word.

Elizabeth Milovidov: Right.

Joe Lavelle: He’s 12 years old. He wants to be a Major League baseball player, play in the NBA and play in the NFL. So he knows that he may not get drafted someday because someone said a bad word when he was 12 years old playing Fortnite. But I would have never known that people were recording these and putting them on YouTube. Just the average Tuesday night game had I not jumped in and I wasn’t playing but I sit in the room and watch. So that’s great advice.

Elizabeth Milovidov: Yeah, and that’s a perfect example because parents, they don’t know. But what’s interesting for your child is that he can ask his friends to take down the video. Of course they’re probably not going to do so. I’ve just had the same situation happen here in Paris, France. But your son can also ask YouTube. They have a fantastic YouTube safety center which is just for these reasons and it’s there for parents, for children. You can ask for the video to be taken down, especially for somebody who’s 12 years old because if you looked at the terms and conditions of using YouTube, it is not for our kids.

YouTube Kids is for children that are under – I want to say under 13 and then creating a YouTube channel is for children between the ages of 13 and 18, but with parental consent. So it’s all in there Joe. It really is. All the different things and age restrictions and limits that parents need to know.

Joe Lavelle: Well, I know parents are really worried about gaming. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization identified something known as gaming disorder and its classifications of diseases. What should parents know about that and how can they prevent their children from going that far to actually having gaming disorder?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Yeah. I think that the World Health Organization, they did something fantastic. But it also kind of created a panic, meaning that any parent who saw their child playing for too long where the child would not get off the game to come to dinner fast enough, they were like, “Oh my goodness. He’s addicted. He has got gaming disorder.”

But I think what a lot of people missed out was that this behavior pattern that they were talking about, it was something that has to last at least 12 months. Twelve months, not by a couple of weeks, et cetera. Also you have to have difficulties with your family, with friends, with socializing, problems in school and just in other areas of functioning and that is the true definition of gaming disorder.

Again, if we sit there and we look at our own children, we will see that this is really not the same sort of behavior pattern. A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being at the London School of Economics with EU Kids Online and they established some guidelines to help parents understand if their child’s use of digital media is problematic.

So really following along the same criteria as the World Health Organization, parents should just ask themselves, “Is my child physically healthy? Is my child sleeping enough? Are they connecting socially with family and friends? Are they engaged and doing well in school? Are they pursuing interests and hobbies? Really are my children having fun?”

If the answers to some of those are no, then that can be a problem. If the majority of it is yes, then parents can consider where their fears over digital media use are well-founded. But I think again parents have to just – just because something is in the media and it sounds awfully scary, really we have to just think about what are the true implications.

Joe Lavelle: All the people I know raising kids today are totally over-programmed. We’re so busy. How difficult is it for parents to keep up to speed and get up to speed as a digital parent?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Again, it is difficult because there are so many things and people do feel overwhelmed by the technology or they feel as if they’re a digital dinosaur and they just don’t want to go there. I think the easiest way to get up to speed is what you were doing Joe and it’s just to be in the room with your child when they’re on internet, social media, gaming. I know that it’s a bit harder for the teenagers, for parents of teenagers. But still, I think that they can talk to their children.

If they are unable to, then see if there’s another trusted adult who can help out. But the important thing is that our children need guidance. They do need support on the digital highway. This is not a place where they should just be hanging out alone on their own. They really shouldn’t.

It’s not because it’s dangerous and such a horrible place and that everything is like the dark net. No, that’s not what I’m saying. But it’s because they need the support of parents to help our children grow to become resilient. So that way, they can take risks and they will be able to bounce back because let’s face it, there are risks when being online.

Joe Lavelle: Elizabeth, what’s the one quick tip you could give to parents?

Elizabeth Milovidov: Don’t panic, parent. That’s it.

Joe Lavelle: I love it.

Elizabeth Milovidov: That’s it. That’s my favorite sound bite. I say it all the time. Even to my husband and to myself.

Joe Lavelle: I love it. Your website has just this wealth of great information. Can you talk us through what resources you have available and how people engage you and what’s some of the most popular things you do are, just so parents can – I think that will help them learn how to get and stay smart at Digital Parenting.

Elizabeth Milovidov: Sure. My website is and there are lots of free resources and there are free guides. But I think what’s more important for the parents who are a little bit Facebook-savvy is for them to hop on over to my private Facebook group, which is called “The Digital Parenting Community” and there we are about 1400 parents. We’re child protection experts, cyber security experts, psychologists, grandparents. We even have a few babysitters thrown in there and we’re all just trying to work it out.

For me, I always say that – there’s that old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a digital parenting community to raise a digital citizen.

So I think that if people come over, they can ask questions. Perhaps they don’t feel so comfortable about asking in their immediate community and to know that we are all over the world. Then it’s kind of easy to do.

The other thing I would suggest is that even on my press page for Digital Parenting Coach, there are just little sound bites of information from different television interviews that I’ve done. I try to keep everything available and up-to-date on my website. But if someone doesn’t find it again inside the digital parenting community, all of the files are there, all of the free goodies for parents because I do think that it’s important to share the resources, especially the resources that I have created for the Council of Europe or for the UK Safer Internet Centre, even the blog posts that I’ve written for the Family Online Safety Center in the United States or some of the goodies that I think are particularly interesting for Common Sense Media, which I believe should be every parent’s best friend.

Common Sense Media is the place to go to find out if an app or a game or even a movie is appropriate for your child and at your child’s age. So those are some of my favorite go-tos.

Joe Lavelle: Perfect. Just while we have everybody listening and got your attention, I want to reiterate. Go right now, Bookmark that site. Also on Facebook, it’s the Digital Parenting Community. Join that group and keep up with all the great information that Elizabeth continues to share.

Elizabeth, it was so great to have you on the show. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your great wisdom with us.

Elizabeth Milovidov: Absolutely my pleasure and I will be happy to come back in a few months if I have some other goodies to share with you.

Joe Lavelle: Oh, that would be so awesome. Thank you so much.

Elizabeth Milovidov: Thanks.

Joe Lavelle: That wraps this broadcast. On behalf of our guests, Elizabeth Milovidov. I’m Joe Lavelle and we’ll see you soon on intrepidNOW Lifestyle.

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JOE LAVELLE is a Healthcare Management and Technology Consultant with a record of successfully meeting the business and technology challenges of diverse organizations including health plans, health delivery networks, and health care companies for 25 years. Joe worked his way up through Cap Gemini and Andersen Consulting to the partner/VP level of at First Consulting Group, Technology Solutions Group and Santa Rosa Consulting. After running his own company, Results First Consulting, for 12 years Joe Co-Founded intrepidNow with Todd Schnick to create incredible content to dramatically improve the sales and marketing efforts of their clients.