There’s no doubt that most kids and teenagers love the Internet. They are the first generation of digital natives. Although children may understand the workings of the Internet better than their parents and sometimes claim it as their own exclusive territory, we cannot remain passive observers. At its best, the Internet is a fantastic resource for learning, entertainment and communication. But it can also be addictive, anti-social and downright dangerous. At its worst, the Internet can seriously harm children’s emotional development and lead to situations that put them in physical danger. In short: Parents need to know what they are doing online.
The parental control feature on software like F-Secure Internet Security 2009 is an easy way to enforce your Internet policies and enables you to set specific time limits. Without basic ground rules, kids can become addicted to the screen and neglect other activities that involve physical play, normal socializing and being outdoors.
Open Communication: Talking openly with children about the positive and negative aspects of the Internet and how to use it safely. We need to make it normal and easy for children to discuss their favorite web sites and whatever else they encounter on the web, including unpleasant or disturbing content.
Introduce them to safe websites: With younger kids, the aim is to shield them from exposure to harmful content and to set rules that keep their online enthusiasm within reasonable bounds. Parents can take the initiative by introducing kids to fun but safe web sites. Recommendations from other parents or teachers are a good starting point.
Keep the computer visible: Locating the computer in a place where you can keep an eye on your child’s Internet activity gives you more control. It’s also important to set clear limits on the amount of time children spend online and what web sites they can visit.
Make it a family activity: Most kids enjoy taking on the teacher role, so if your web-savviness is already light years behind your children, ask them to show you where they are going and what they are doing online.
Downloading rules: Warn against downloading anything from the Internet without your permission. Programs, plug-ins or games, threatens your own privacy and the security of your computer. Viruses and spyware often spread through the hugely popular peer-to-peer networks where teens share digital content for free instead of buying it from the shops.
Explain online shopping: It’s essential to discuss the use of credit cards with teens to avoid online financial disasters. And unless you want porn web sites to be the main source of sex education for your children, then make yourself a more meaningful source of information. Pornography and gambling addictions are some of the most common problems linked to the Internet.
Establishing trust: Reach an agreement on safe Internet use requires two-way communication between parents and kids. To be credible and effective, parents need to get informed and have a plan of action for dealing with the Internet.
As kids start receiving spam e-mail and join in chat rooms, they inevitably run into the nasty side of the Internet. It’s our job to prepare them for this by instilling a code of conduct for online behavior. The rules are simple: never reveal your real name, phone numbers, e-mail or school addresses on the Internet, or post photos to people they don’t know.
Encourage your child to talk about any threatening or upsetting messages he or she may receive. It’s worth learning some of the frequent acronyms used in online chat rooms. For example, ASL stands for ‘Age, Sex, Location’ and LMIRL means ‘Let’s meet in real life’.
Parents need to work with schools and other authorities to counteract these trends. We need to make sure our kids don’t become perpetrators of online harassment and crime, and explain how to cope if they become targets of unpleasant attention on the Web.
Behind any online ‘friend’ in a chat room there could be a predator attempting to ‘befriend’ your child. Children should never go to meet someone in person if they have only communicated with them online, unless accompanied by you.
Online bullying and shock videos are other disturbing Web trends on the rise. Posting cruel messages, embarrassing photographs and extreme content on the Internet has become a common pastime among some teenagers. There is a sense that ‘anything goes’ in the online world. Doing things for a laugh or a few minutes of fame on YouTube, young people are often not thinking about the privacy and legal consequences of their actions, which can be very serious. Once the damaging material is on the net, it’s not possible to stop it from spreading.