As our children grow into teens and become more and more a part of the world — including a part of the Internet — we have our work cut out for us. We must teach them about safety and privacy issues in balance with encouraging exploration and learning in both the “real world” and online world. Teaching our kids Internet safety can feel particularly daunting when we’re still learning it ourselves! But in the growing world of social networking and online communities, it’s more important than ever.
Managing Internet access for our kids is a tricky thing. The ‘net is still expanding quickly and what is available “out there” is vast and sometimes scary. But it’s also a wonderful resource. Using a variety of tools and strategies in combination with one another, we can make a good start at maintaining website safety for our kids.
A first line of defense when protecting kids online is the parental controls that are now integrated with many operating systems and anti-virus software. But it’s only a first line of defense and you have to use the tools properly. Don’t just assume that your parental control settings are fine and doing their job! Check them every now and again to be sure.
Make sure you understand what each of the parental control setting means and apply them appropriately. Adjust them as your kids grow. What is an appropriate set of controls for a nine year old is probably too restrictive for a teenager. Your kids will vary, of course, so choose your parental control settings carefully.
Another element of parental control is simple access to a computer. Where does your child use the Internet? Keeping the family/kid computer in a public, well-trafficked area in your home helps encourage regular checking of Internet activity and kids are less likely to try to get to a questionable site if Mom is right there.
Family rules and communication
Consider having some basic family rules about Internet access. For younger kids, you can set up bookmarks of allowed sites, but for older kids, it’s harder. Talk with your kids regularly about your expectations of their Internet access and why you think it’s important to be careful. The understanding that computer and Internet access is a privilege and your child must clear new sites with you may be challenging to enforce, but it’s a worthwhile effort.
Your own research
New websites pop up faster than parental control software can gather data on them. You still need to keep an eye on what your child is accessing, even if it’s getting through the parental controls. Be prepared to do your own research on sites your child wants to access.
Use search engines, talk to other parents and visit the sites yourself to see what they are all about. Keep your ear out at school events and if you hear about a site, whether good or bad, investigate it yourself so you are prepared before your child wants to access it.
These tools and strategies aren’t foolproof, but they are a start. Keeping kids safe online and helping them understand the online world is an important part of raising responsible digital citizens.