Internet access can give children an academic edge, help them explore their interests, and stay connected with friends and family. The Internet can also be a dangerous place and if not properly supervised children can be exposed to inappropriate material and even become victims of online predators. However, with proper precautions and supervision your whole family can enjoy the benefits of the Internet.
Place computers with Internet access in a central location in the home. When computers are in a central location they can be easily monitored but if placed in private places such as bedrooms children can quickly close inappropriate websites when they hear their parents coming.
Get rid of the webcam. Webcams can be a great way to communicate with your friends and family, but leaving a teen unsupervised with a webcam can lead to your child’s strip show debut.
Decide what online activities are age appropriate. Chat rooms, instant messaging, and websites such as YouTube, Myspace, and even Yahoo can be particularly dangerous for anybody under the age of 16. Any place where your child can be contacted privately by strangers is a potential lurking ground for predators. However, instant messaging and MySpace has become a popular form of communication. A reasonable compromise may be to allow your child to instant message/MySpace only people that they know in real life, and not new internet friends.
Discuss online behavior rules with your child. Write them down clearly and post them near the computer as a reminder. Instead of threatening your child that breaking the rules will mean that they must go to time-out, tell your child that breaking the rules will mean they lose internet privileges. Be clear about what your child can and cannot do online and be sure to emphasize the importance of keeping personal information private. Children should never tell anyone online their address, phone number, full name, school name or show anyone pictures of themselves.
Invest in monitoring and filtering software. Programs such as NetNanny and Cyberpatrol can help you monitor your child’s activities and block inappropriate websites. However, be aware that these programs do not replace a watchful parent and can easily be disabled by computer savvy teens.
Keep a close eye on behavior. Check your browser history frequently. Finding that the browser history has been cleared may be a sign that your child has been up to something they shouldn’t. Check your child’s favorites. Visit the websites they visit and see what it’s like for yourself.
Be aware of the warning signs that something is wrong. If your child quickly closes programs whenever you walk into the room or becomes very secretive about what they do online they are sending up a huge red flag that they are doing something they shouldn’t. Be especially wary if your child begins receiving phone calls that they are secretive about or starts receiving gifts in the mail from people you don’t know.
Talk to your child. This is probably the most important step. Talk to your child about internet safety and what can happen when people are not careful online. If your child goes online this is just as important as talking about smoking and drug use. Keep talking about it even if you think your child is being safe. Ask them about what they do online, who they talk to, what they saw. Show interest in what they do.
Remember that your job is to keep your kids safe, not be their best friend. They might be angry at your for restricting their actions online, but it’s worth it.
Protecting personal information should be your number one rule online.
Tell your child that they are never to meet someone in real life that they met online.
Remember to give your child more privileges online as they get older and let them prove to you that they are responsible.
Keep things age-appropriate. MySpace isn’t suitable for your 10 year old, but it would be reasonable for your 15 year old to have a private profile.
Some websites voluntarily restrict children’s access of certain features (such as yahoo chat). Children can easily get around this by lying about their birth date when they create an account. Tell your child never to lie about their age when signing up for something.
Computer savvy kids and teens may be able to disable monitoring software and cover their tracks to hide inappropriate behavior.
Internet predators are often smart and can easily manipulate even the smartest child. Just because your child is an honor student or never gets into trouble does not mean that they can not be taken advantage of.
Taking away the Internet privileges of a child or teen who is used to unrestricted access may lead to tantrums and door slamming. Be prepared for this.
Things You'll Need
A computer with access to the Internet
Filtering software such as NetNanny or CyberPatrol, or just the trusty built in Content Advisor or Parental Controls if you have Vista.