Computers and the Internet are so much a part of our day-to-day lives that it’s challenging to figure out effective Internet Guidelines for children. Every time there’s a news story about online bullying or Internet sexual predators it’s natural to worry about how to safeguard kids. It’s impossible keep up with the fast-paced changes in the electronic world, and after a certain age it’s also impossible to totally control children’s Internet use, especially since computer access is essential for school work and available in many public places. Bear in mind that despite shocking media reports, most children will never find themselves in a potentially dangerous online situation. Nevertheless, it’s important to set guidelines and ground rules for your children’s Internet use to ensure their safety online.
Internet Safety Tips
Once your children are old enough to spend independent time on the computer, you can and should still monitor their Internet use at home. Establish rules and time limits for Internet use. Set up the computer your children are using in a common area, so you can supervise their “surfing”. Talk about appropriate online behavior and let your kids know that Internet bullying is unacceptable. Discuss specific stories that may have been in the news lately and use these as examples on what to do – and not do – online. Tell your children that they must think before they post - how would they feel about a particular message that was out there for the whole world to see? Instruct your children to always check with you if they’re asked to share personal information, phone numbers, addresses or digital photos online. Make sure they check with you before signing on to any chat rooms or online meeting, bulletin or social networking boards. Familiarize yourself with these venues to see if they’re appropriate. Younger children should not be allowed to spend unsupervised time in a chat room or networking board. Ask questions about online friends, just as you would about other kids from school. Most importantly, children should never under any circumstances set up an in-person meeting with anyone they have “met” online. If they’ve been approached about doing this, they must let you know right away. Tell your kids that you’re doing this out of concern for their safety, not to intrude on their privacy. Spend time with your children on the Internet and encourage them to show you what they like to do when they’re online. Remember, it’s easy to post false information on the Internet; when your children are checking out a new website, work together to make sure it’s reliable.
Internet Monitoring: Other Steps Parents Can Take
Your Internet service provider should have an option for parental controls, which can limit sites that your children can access. You can also purchase specially-designed blocking software, some of which is age-specific (one level for a grade school child and another for a teenager). Also check with your Internet provider about “spam” filters, which can reduce the amount of potentially inappropriate email advertisements and notices your children receive. Limit the number of email accounts your child has (this is easier to do with younger children) and make sure you know the username, service provider and password to each of them. You should also insist on access to any chat room, bulletin board or social networking page your child has set up. Check their email and networking page from time to time, but try to do this in a way that doesn’t seem like a total invasion of their privacy – for example, don’t read emails from close friends whose names you recognize. You don’t want to create a non-trusting environment between you and your children that will foster more secrecy about their online activities.