The Internet is a vast place that invites exploration.
As parents, we want our kids to tread carefully and we count on a community of people—from teachers to coaches, babysitters to watchful neighbors—to help keep our children safe. Online, this community isn’t always so familiar or secure. Here are 10 pointers and suggestions for keeping online time fun, safe and oh-so rewarding:
- Talk about safety. Then talk about it some more.
- Share time online.
- Make the Internet an opportunity for family fun!
- Set limits.
- Select content.
- Become master of passwords.
- Admit you’re not an expert. Then consult the experts.
- Stay away from cyberbullies. Don’t act like one yourself.
- Social network with parents—the old fashioned way.
- Find trusted sources of information. Then relax, as much as any parent can. Common Sense Media is a good source of, well, common sense in a big wide world of questionable entertainment and overblown concerns. Remember, try to ignore the voices of hysteria amidst all of the things to be worried about. And those things you’re worried about? You’re well on your way to deleting them from your desktop.
Just as your child knows to be wary of strangers on the street, he or she needs to be equally careful on the information highway. Keep correspondence among a familiar group of friends known to you and your child both off and online. Sign an Internet Safety Pledge. You may want to create one together with your child, so that he or she feels it is fair. Find a pledge to use or adapt one at netsmartz.org.
Your child may know cool tricks or fun sites that you’ve never heard of. Let him or her show you the ropes, share favorite videos or games—whatever it is that you both find entertaining or interesting. This together time will allow you to see how much he or she knows and will likely lead more naturally to conversations about safety. Stealthy, huh?
First rule of the game: Keep the computer(s) in a high-traffic area. You’re likely thinking, “Duh!” here, but don’t let your child have a computer in his or her room, even if it makes you the most uncool parent in all of town. Let your child know that you’re not going to be peering over his or her shoulder all the time but that you want to be involved in his or her online life—just as you are involved in his or her daily life away from the computer.
You may want to have a signup sheet or schedule for computer time. Keep it by the computer and hold everyone in the family to the same rules—unless of course, a parent works from home or has other reasons to be online for extended periods of time. Include a space on the schedule for each person to write down what he or she will be doing, whether it’s homework or research, playing games or messaging with friends.
Many sites have options for parents to choose what their kids can and can’t see or do. For example, take our sister site, Kideos which features safe kids videos. Parents can register and choose videos by age group and channel—Cute Animals and Dinosaurs may be a go, Elmo and Cats a no (we don’t need to know your reasoning). This way, what your child watches is entirely up to you.
Register all accounts in your name, so that you have access to all the passwords and logins. This will help you stay on top of your child’s comings and goings.
You may want to use filtering or monitoring software on your computer. Most enable you to set pre-approved sites that your child can visit; all others will be off-limits. GetNetWise is a good place to start your search.
Tell your child to avoid getting involved in hurtful communications, whether this means refusing to pass along a cruel e-mail initiated by a friend or reporting offensive online behavior. Behind that computer screen is a living, breathing human being who has feelings. Don’t get involved in verbal attacks against other kids, and tell an adult if the situation seems to be getting out of control.
Talk with other parents about issues or concerns that they’ve had. Share advice and learn from others’ experiences. You may even suggest that you form a group, and that each person become an expert in an agreed area of interest; for example you could stay on top of video game news or new ways of cyberbullying.