If your tweens and teens are anything like mine, then they know the ins and outs of the computer better than most adults I know! Because of that, we as parents have to be extra diligent about protecting our children in their online activities. Here are my top ten tips for safeguarding your children on the internet:
1. It’s no longer acceptable for parents not to understand the internet. Our children pick up computer skills through early exposure, often using computers and the internet effectively by kindergarten and early elementary school. If you don’t know the basics of the World Wide Web by then, then you will start with a disadvantage to being able to protect their safety online. If this is something you struggle with, a great resource for learning all you need to know about the internet is the book Internet for Dummies. Not that you’re a dummy of course, but reading this book will certainly help you feel like less of one!
2. The first time your child uses the internet (and then periodically thereafter), talk with them about online safety rules. For example, don’t give out your personal information online, never meet someone in real life that you know only from the internet, and tell your parents if something you have seen online makes you uncomfortable. If you need help in having this discussion, consider using resources like the FBI’s Safety Tips for Kids or the Internet Survival Tips for Kids and Teens. Another idea is to develop an Internet Safety Contract with your child that spells out your family rules for online activities. Keeping the lines of communication open about internet use is one of the best ways that parents can teach their children about staying safe online.
3. Keep your home computer out in the open. It’s much harder for kids to get into secretive and potentially dangerous situations when their only computer use is in the kitchen or family room with their parents frequently looking over their shoulder.
4. Put time limits and a curfew on your computer! We set up guidelines for our children about television, video games, and talking on the phone, and time on the computer should be no different. For example, on weeknights my kids cannot be on the computer after 8 pm. Period. Whatever is happening online at 3 am is not something I want my children involved in while I am fast asleep!
5. Set up an internet protection program on the computers your children use. My family uses the K9 Web Protection program, and we love it! I take that back, my husband and I love it, and our tween-age daughter is thoroughly annoyed by it! So to me, that means that it’s doing its job. When she was younger, we used Kidzui, an internet browser for children. There are lots of choices for internet protection and if you have children, it’s a must have.
6. We have a “there’s no such thing as password privacy if you’re under eighteen rule” at our house. That means, if one of my kids has an account online, whether it be email, social sites, games, whatever, then I am going to have access to the password. Sorry, those are the rules! If you don’t like the rules, then you don’t get to use the internet. It’s a privilege, not a right, and if you want access to it then your mom and dad get to have access to your passwords!
7. Consider teaching your elementary school aged child about safe social networking through the use of a monitored site developed just for kids. Gaming and social sites that my children have used and enjoyed that I give a safety thumbs up to include Club Penguin and KidZui.
8. Once children are old enough for more grown-up social networking sites like Facebook, then guess who is going to be their “friend”? Me! And their dad! And any of my fellow watchdog mom friends who want to spy on them and make sure they are behaving properly online! And to make matters worse, I am likely to comment on their status updates and pictures. I might back off a little when they get older, like eighteen. Maybe.
9. I also advise that you set some ground rules about who your children can have as “friends” on social networking sites. Don’t allow your kids to be “friends” with anyone that they don’t actually know in real life. Always keep a close eye on their “friend” list to make sure that you know who they are interacting with online. A mom I know makes her teenager “un-friend” anyone immediately who uses bad language or talks inappropriately online. Not a bad idea!
10. Last, but certainly not least, if you allow your child to be on a social networking site, then you need to manage their privacy settings carefully. For Facebook, log in as your child (see why you need the password?) and go to Privacy Settings (located in the drop down menu in the upper right corner). There you should pay attention to two things, Control Your Default Privacy and How You Connect. For Privacy Settings, choose “Friends.” For How You Connect, select Edit Settings. Be as restrictive as possible, selecting “Friends Only” with one exception. For who can “Send you Friend Requests” I’d choose “Friends of Friends.” On your timeline Facebook now allows you to select who gets to view your status updates and pictures as you post them. Make sure your children always choose “Friends” and never choose “Public.”
Follow some or all of these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to protecting your child in their online activities. If you have ideas that you’d like to share about how you safeguard your child on the internet or have other useful websites or programs you’d like to recommend, please comment below! Learning what works and what doesn’t for others is always one of my favorite parenting resources.