Safely Guiding your Child through the Internet

 

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By Michael Lang on March 04, 2014

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Internet was sprung upon us in the mid-90's with the invention of the graphical web browser, which led to a flourishing online ecosystem of online stores, news outlets, and incredible information resources like Wikipedia. It wasn't until the next decade that broad band access to the Internet reached critical mass and entered the majority of the U.S. homes. Today, we have an incredibly connected world of social sharing where anyone can share both their deepest and shallowest thoughts in an instant. Kids are becoming technically savvy at an earlier age than ever before. However, technological knowledge does not equate to wisdom about their personal safety and managing that risk effectively. Children have a knack for pushing the boundaries and thwarting our attempts to keep them safe, both online and offline, so Parents should never assume just one solution can solve all safety concerns.

Up to Age 7:

At this very early age, monitoring kids' online activities is critical. Your child's online activity should be supervised at all times. Daily computer use should be limited to about thirty minutes a day on age-appropriate sites.

Age 7 to 9:

For kids older than seven, Internet activity drastically changes. This is the dawn of greater Web independence where kids will want to explore the web, email, video chat and text each other. You still need to supervise your child closely while allowing more freedom and regularly review your child's web history. Remember that talking and working with your child constantly is better than spying and admonishing.

Regularly talk to you child about being safe online and teach him to think through all aspects of safety, including content (what is seen), contact with strangers (who is met), and conduct (how he behaves). Set rules around netiquette and help your child develop and understanding of digital communication and especially how to appropriately handle negative situations.

Keep a content filter switched on, but be aware that kids can often change its settings and hide their web history through deleting their history and using the browser's incognito/private browsing features. In addition to local content filter controls, search engines have a safe search setting that can be turned on (its usually off by default), so turn this on and check periodically that it is still set.

Don't let kids onto chat rooms and social media sites or online gaming sites at this age without talking to you first.

Age 10 to 12:

At the age of 10, kids begin to explore the digital world much more, on their own for fun and also for schoolwork. Social interaction via texting and posting pictures and videos becomes very popular for kids at this age. Kids also are naturally drawn to online gaming and online humor sites, which may be age inappropriate. You should continue to supervise your kid's online activity and even share in exploring together. If your child enjoys creating content, discuss boundaries and guidelines for what's safe and appropriate and ensure your child is not posting personal details in that content.

Remember that most social sharing sites have minimum age restrictions set at thirteen. If your child is insistent on joining a social network, look for age appropriate networks that are kid-oriented and provide strong parental oversight controls.

Teach your child not to give out private details or personal information on the Internet and especially never to agree to meet up with someone they met online. Explain how that stranger might not be telling the truth about themselves and how easy it is to mask true identities online. For any websites your child sets up some sort of profile, teach them to provide the minimum identifying details about themselves for the express purpose of keeping away unwanted contact from strangers. Also, teach your children to alert you or any trusted adult when they encounter someone online who insists on gaining their personal information. Finally, empower your child to self-govern by blocking communication from people they don't know or no longer want to communicate with.

At this age, net etiquette (a.k.a. "netiquette") should receive a lot of attention. Teach your child the basics of communicating with others, regardless of whether its online or offline. Here are some basic rules to share with him:

  • Never type anything to anyone unless you would be happy to receive it yourself. Not seeing someone’s face can take away the ability for you to see how upset he or she is, and being mean then becomes more of a game.
  • Never open an email if you don’t know who it is from. It might be spam and could lead to problems for you because it could contain a virus, or pictures or words that are nasty and upsetting.
  • Never give out personal details to someone who has emailed you. If in doubt, ask a trusted adult to look at the email first.
  • Never send photos of yourself to someone you don’t know—even if this person is saying that he or she wants to be your friend.
  • Delete and block emails from people you don’t know.
  • If you are upset by or unsure about anything emailed to you, tell a trusted grown-up.

When it comes to online gaming, check the age classification for the games to ensure its age-appropriate for your child. Teach your child not to lie about age in order to access adult online games. Use the consequence of terminating such gaming accounts and curtailing computer use when your child breaks these rules. Make sure your child is only chatting with people he knows and likes when he's playing online games that have chat features. If anyone he doesn’t know tries to chat or says nasty things, report it on the game site.

Age 13 to 16

As a young teenager, it is entirely age-appropriate to surf the Internet, communicate with friends online via popular social sharing mediums and download and play games. This is the age when kids want independence and privacy as they try different identities and challenge boundaries. To manage children at this stage, continue to teach and encourage critical thinking skills and a sense of morality built around concerns for safety and the feelings and needs of others. Also, teach your about issues that have potentially strong negative repercussions, such as hacking, illegal downloads of music and software.

At this age, trust becomes the driving force to keep your child largely in check and to be a responsible online citizen. Respect your child's need for privacy, but be upfront about your expectations of behavior and appropriate consequences should trust be lost.

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