Teens and Internet Safety

Keeping Your Teens Safe While They Surf the Net

Teenagers crave independence and privacy in every aspect of their lives – and their time on the Internet is no exception. Each new generation is more comfortable with electronic technology than the one before, and today’s teens already know more about computers than their parents ever will. But even the most media-savvy and sophisticated teenager is still a child, and it’s important for parents and kids to be on the same page when it comes to Internet Safety for Teens.

Internet Safety Tips for Parents

No matter how close you are with your teenager, don’t assume that you know all there is to know about his or her online activities. Talk to your teenagers about Internet Safety and how they spend time online. What are their favorite websites? Just like you check out a new friend and location before you let your child go on a playdate, find out about online friends and behavior. Establish an open-door policy and assure your teen that you won’t criticize anything you’re told when Internet Safety is discussed. When teenagers go online at home, don’t leave them on their own for the entire time; check out what’s on the monitor every so often. Limit their online time, especially in chat rooms and on social networking sites. Learn about safe social networking at WiredSafety (www.wiredsafety.org).

Google your teens to see what’s out there about them for the world to see. Consider writing an Internet use contract with specific rules. We all know how difficult (okay, impossible) it can be to get teenagers to follow rules, so include regular incentives and rewards. Rule #1 should be that as a parent you’re allowed access to passwords, email and other online accounts. But you have to follow a rule as well: you’ll only look into their online life when Internet Safety is an issue. No spying or prying. Take an initial look at your teen’s online profile and blogs to make sure there’s no objectionable material there. This isn’t about their right to privacy: anyone online can read this stuff, and as a parent you have rights as well. Remember: You’re the grownup. If your teen refuses to follow your Internet Safety rules, pull the plug. Literally.

Blocking Filtering and Monitoring

Choose an at-home Internet Service Provider (ISP) that offers parental controls, and use them. You can also purchase specially-designed software that will somewhat control your teen’s Internet use. Blocking software prevents access to a pre-set list of websites; some packages can be customized to allow parents to add other sites to the list. Filtering software blocks sites or other online content containing specific keywords, e.g., words relating to sex or drugs.

You can also install software that will filter what you teen can post online, obstructing personal items like name, phone numbers, etc. Monitoring and tracking software enables parents to keep track of all online activity and even control when kids can and can’t use the computer. Keep in mind as well that kids can go often online with mobile phones, and check into privacy and security settings when you buy your teen a new phone.

What Not To Do

Talk to your teen about Internet Safety in a non-judgmental way to illustrate the importance of not doing things online that could put them in any kind of jeopardy. Points to remember include: Don’t give out personal contact information (full name, address, phone number, credit card or Social Security numbers, passwords, etc.) to anyone over the Internet unless it’s been cleared with a parent. This includes registering on websites, entering contests, making purchases or answering surveys.

Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying offline (bad language lives forever in cyberspace). Stay away from online arguments and never be a cyberbully. Don’t believe what people you only know online say about themselves; posting false information on the Internet is easy and rarely checked out. Never agree to meet in person or speak on the phone to someone you’ve only met online. If someone pressures you to do this or tries to contact you outside of the Internet, tell your parents.

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