For all of the enlightening benefits the Internet has brought into our lives, there is dark side to the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, this dark side is far too easily accessed, or stumbled upon by our children. Given the nature of the Internet, it’s difficult to ensure that our children see only the good and are always shielded from the bad. Take heart, there are many things you can do to exercise some control and protect your children.
1. Play the Role of Cyberworld Monitor
Visiting another one of the multitude of Barbie websites may not be your idea of quality time with your child, but it’s the best way to protect them while they are engaged in the cyber playground. Tim Lordan, staff director of Internet Education Foundation, the nonprofit group that publishes the online safety guide “GetNetWise” advises that, “Parents have to get involved. Just as they know every detail of the playground around the corner – the jungle gym, the swings – they need to know their kids’ online playground as well.” When your child gets older, around seven or so, you may only have to be in the same room with them and check on them periodically.
2. Set Rules for Online Use
First decide what rules you want in place. Begin with how much time a child can spend online. You will also want to create a list of approved sites. Some people even suggest the use of an internet-use contract that you keep next to the computer.
Discuss your online rules frequently with your children. Remind them of the consequences should they break the rules – and of course follow through with the consequences. Some parents allow their children so much time a day online. Others only allow usage on certain days. Don’t forget to include which devices (mp3 players, smartphones) they can use since most can access the Internet.
3. Educate Children of Internet Realities
Make sure your children understand why you set any given Internet rule. Be frank about the dark side of the Internet and why it’s important they not be exposed to certain things. Kids also need to understand that what happens online is not private – and it never disappears. Anything they do online is accessible. Let them know that security and privacy settings won’t protect them 100 percent. This is particularly true with social media, so instruct them to think wisely before they post anything online.
4. Keep the Computer in the Open
Where you place the computer your children use is important. Ensure it is in a location where you can easily monitor its use. Mother of three, Cecilia Mitchell explains, “We have five computers in our house, but only two – mine and the PC in the family room – are hooked up to the Internet. That way I can frequently check up on what they’re looking at.”
5. Emphasize the Importance of Privacy
Stress how important their personal privacy is. They need to understand that they never reveal personal information. Instruct them to:
- Never reveal their name, residential address (including zip code), phone number, email address, school, or picture unless you personally give them permission
- Never respond to cruel or disturbing messages from others
- Never arrange a meeting between themselves and a stranger they meet online
- Never open email from people they don’t know
6. Software and ISP Safety Tools
Your Internet Service Provider may have tools you can engage that include free parental controls that you can use to limit your children’s access to features (chat, instant messaging) and certain websites. Though there is no such thing as software that can effectively block only the bad and allow in only the good, there are programs available that do add another layer of protection. Safe Eyes by McAfee is one such program. Another one to consider is K9 Web Protection. These are worth exploring and installing for extra security.
When it comes to your children and the Internet, the name of the game is their safety. As long as you stay involved, and employ some precautions should be able to keep the keep the cyberwolves at the door.