Monitoring your child's Internet use can help to lower the odds that he or she will find him or herself in harmful or dangerous situations. Unsupervised children on the Internet, like anywhere else, have greater opportunity to experiment with risky behaviors. This is becoming more and more difficult as our connections to the web are more portable. It was once relatively simple to ensure that internet-connected computers were in an open, common area of the house. But now that most cell phones are also wired for the Internet and many game consoles like the Wii, PlayStation, Nintendo, and X-Box as well as most on-line games are also social networking platforms, we need to be more aware of the times that young people are on-line, in contact with others and help them to keep in mind that the Internet is an inherently public medium.

Educate Yourself

Learn about the digital devices that your teen uses: computer, cell phone, game consoles, etc. Learn about what each device does, how it works, and how your teen uses it. Consider using the same technology that your kids use so that you can better understand what they are doing and how you might effectively teach and/or monitor their behavior. For example, you might set up your own account on a social networking site that your teen uses or communicate with them over text messaging to check in. Remember that kids can access the Internet in locations outside your home, in locations such as school, the library, or the homes of friends. Find out the safeguards used in these locations. But mostly, empower your child with the tools s/he needs to make good decisions no matter where s/he is using the web.

Set Rules

Establish and communicate clear and consistent rules about computer and Internet use - no matter whether it is at home or away. Set consequences for breaking the rules and make sure your child understands them. Explain which sites are inappropriate and off-limits, amount of time and times of day computer use is allowed, and which information cannot be shared online. Other possible rules to consider:

  • Never agree to meet an online friend.
  • Do not download music, programs or other files without permission (this can be illegal and may place your computer at risk of viruses or other dangers).
  • Do not give out email addresses online, do not respond to junk mail, and use email filters, to protect users from spam.
  • Do not make any financial transactions online (buying, selling, ordering, auction bidding) without permission.
  • Do not gamble online. Online gambling is illegal and risky.
  • When communicating online, act responsibly and ethically. The Internet should not be used for gossip, bullying, or threats.

Always maintain access to your child's online account and randomly check his/her email. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why. Encourage your children to tell you if something or someone online makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Stay calm and remind your kids they are not in trouble for bringing something to your attention. Praise their behavior and encourage them to come to you again if the same thing happens. Talk to your teenagers about online adult content and pornography, and direct them to positive sites about health and sexuality.

Technology

There is a wide range of software available to parents and guardians that hold themselves our as helping to monitor Internet use. Remember that no filtering or blocking system is fool-proof. And since children can access the Internet outside of your home, you can never monitor what they are doing 100 percent of the time. Parents will always need to remain involved in their child's online life. Children and teens will always need to know what their families' rules are and how to stay safe. Different software can:

  • Filter inappropriate content (content that is sexually explicit, hateful or intolerant, graphic and violent, illegal, or any other content you define as inappropriate);
  • Monitor computer activity (with or without your child's knowledge) without necessarily limiting access, such as recording the addresses of websites visited or providing warning messages for visiting inappropriate sites;
  • Set limits on the times of day and lengths of time that children can go online or use the computer; and
  • Block content being sent from your computer, such as personal information, to help supervise kids' behavior in online communication.

Many operating systems will include filtering or similar software within their packages. The Internet Education Foundation, through its website GetNetWise.org, maintains databases of software tools available to help parents guide their children to safe and rewarding online experiences.