Children engage in online shopping, social media, mobile web, and computers just like adults do. Many parents feel a bit overwhelmed by technology and often throw their hands in the air and give up. Unfortunately, that’s not an option. It is essential that parents educate themselves on safe, secure online practices in order to set a positive example and provide guidance for their children as they navigate the web.
Parents who lack experience with the Internet, computers, or mobile phones must learn the basics before they can adequately monitor their children’s habits. A parent’s discomfort or unfamiliarity with technology is no excuse to let a child run wild on the Internet.
As with any task, one should start with the fundamentals. Spend as much time as possible with kids in their online world. Learn about the people with whom they interact, the places they visit, and the information they encounter. Be prepared to respond appropriately, regardless of what sort of content they find. Remember, this is family time.
- Narrow down devices: Many parents set up the family computer in a high-traffic family area, and limit the time children may spend using it. This is still good advice, but it becomes less feasible as more children have their own laptops and mobile phones, which can’t be so easily monitored.
- Recognize predatory behavior: Teach children to recognize inappropriate behavior. Kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say mean things, send racy pictures, make rude requests, or suggest illegal behavior. If it isn’t okay in the physical world, it isn’t okay on the Internet.
- Use parental controls: Consider investing in computer security software with parental controls, which limit the sites kids can access.
- Discuss right from wrong: Decide exactly what is and is not okay with regards to the kinds of websites kids should visit. This dialogue helps parents and children develop a process for determining appropriate online behavior.
- Clamp down: Children should be restricted to monitored, age-appropriate chat rooms. Spend time with your children to get a feel for the language and discussion occurring on the websites they wish to visit.
- Stay anonymous: Do not allow children to create usernames that reveal their true identities or are provocative.
- Be secretive: Children should be reminded never to reveal passwords, addresses, phone numbers, or other personal information.
- Limit exposure: Kids should not be permitted to post inappropriate photos or photos that may reveal their identities. (For example, a photo in which a t-shirt bears the name of the child’s city or school.)
- No strangers: Never allow a child to meet an online stranger in person.
- No attachments: Children should be taught not to open online attachments from strangers.