The Internet is an amazing resource that offers our children unlimited opportunities for learning, constructive entertainment and personal growth. Any child who is old enough to select a letter on a keyboard can access the world. New technologies offer many ways to communicate, and youth today have fully embraced these technologies. They have become a major part of our children's social environment. The world of computers, cell phones, gaming systems and the Internet are constantly expanding and changing, and it is not uncommon today that children are more knowledgeable than adults. Parents and caregivers have a responsibility to help keep children safe online and to educate themselves about the technologies children use to communicate. You need to be aware of your child's online activities and teach him or her about cyber-ethics and how to interact positively in cyberspace.
Internet risks can be effectively managed through education and careful parental attention. By taking responsibility for your child's online computer use, you can greatly minimize your child's potential risk of exposure to online danger.
Tips and Strategies for Parents
- Educate yourself on the latest threats facing kids online. The websites listed below are a good place to start.
- Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch and monitor your child online.
- Take a hands-on approach. Be involved and aware of what your child sees and hears on the Internet, who your child meets and what information they share about themselves.
- Create a family agreement that supports a fun, safe online environment with rules on acceptable time of day for computer use, length of time online, and appropriate websites to visit. Have your child sign the agreement. Some of the sites below provide sample agreements for you to use.
- Internet accounts should be in the parent's name with parents having the primary screen name and controlling passwords.
- Get to know the services your child uses, from IM to Text and social networking to online games. Learn how they work and what tools they offer to protect your child's privacy.
- Consider blocking, filtering, monitoring and rating software for your computer. Check with your Internet service provider (ISP) as some have software for purchase or for free. Remember, though, that software can't take the place of a caring adult.
- Talk to your child about the things he or she may encounter online. If your child is in an uncomfortable situation direct him or her to exit the program, turn off the computer and notify you or a trusted adult immediately. You should then notify your ISP and law enforcement if appropriate.
- Balance your child's online activities with other important life activities. Set limits on the amount of time they are "plugged in". Creating a technology curfew can help.
Real Life Rules Apply
Golden rules of behavior are passed down from generation to generation. Parents should apply these same rules to regulate their child's behavior in cyberspace.
- Rules from real life apply: always use courtesy, kindness, dignity and respect.
- Don't talk to strangers. Teach your child that talking to a stranger online is no different from talking to a stranger in the street. Remind him or her that it's not easy to spot a stranger online, as anyone can masquerade as someone else on the Internet.
- Come right home after school. You don't want your child roaming around the streets, and wandering online is no different. Allowing your child to spend unlimited time surfing aimlessly is asking for trouble.
- We need to know your friends. Parents want to know who their child's friends are in everyday life. The same should apply to the Internet. Take note of where he or she goes online and who he or she talks to. Remind your child never to agree to meet an online friend without a parent, and do it often. That being said, children are more often abused by their peers than they are by an unknown predator. Sit down with your child and discuss who their online friends are and whether or not they belong on their "friends" list.
- Don't provoke a fight. Provoking a fight under any circumstances isn't smart. Trying to provoke someone online is called flaming and it is often a violation of the terms of service with your ISP. If your child feels someone is flaming him or her, he or she should tell you right away.
- Don't tell anyone your personal information. You never know who you're talking to online. Even if you think you know, there could be strangers lurking. Remind your child that there is no guarantee that what is said or posted on the Internet is private, and information including photos and videos posted on the Internet can last forever.
- Don't steal. Parents must make it clear to their child that downloading music without paying for it or copying a friend's computer game, although common, is wrong. You could be sued or charged with a crime.