Our children spend a lot of time in another world – the internet. It isn’t science fiction or even a fantasy tale. The internet supplies – along with information, research tools, and daily news – a vast variety of virtual realities and more possible connections with people all around the world than you could imagine. We don’t allow our children to go out of the house without certain precautions and protective measures. Why would we release them into another “world” without appropriate precautions and safety measures?
I remember when my mother was first introduced to computers. “They are for you young people,” she said to me. “I will never be computer literate.” The days are long gone when parents can afford to not be computer literate. The number one rule, at least in my opinion, for a child’s internet usage is that the child’s parents understand the internet and its uses. You need to familiarize yourself with the computer, the internet, its search tools and all the features (chat rooms, IM, blogs, search engines and popular sites such as MySpace and Facebook) that your child will at least consider using when they are surfing the net. It is time to learn how to check behind your child to see what sites he/she visits and what they do when they are there. The internet is not a place where a parent can afford to think, “I really don’t want to know EVERYTHING my child does.” It is time for parents to get internet-savvy. And that should be your first rule – for your instead of your child/teen: Get to know your computer and the “ins and outs” of the internet.
The second most important “rule” – in my opinion – is that the computer a child/teen uses should never be located in their bedroom. The computer should be located in a family room where there is no privacy in using the computer. You should be able to check on your child at all times – see what sites they visit and who they interact with – when they are on the computer. Web cams should not be allowed, except under your supervision. You need to know to whom your child is broadcasting at all times. Many people will think that this is too strict and too confining, but the truth is that even the smartest child with the most common sense can be persuaded to give out information, send photos, or broadcast live through some of the most underhanded means from people with the worst intent. It is not only the stranger with candy or a lost puppy that we need to protect our children from anymore. Parents have to wise-up. If protecting your child means invading their privacy, so be it.
Make sure your child knows to never give out any personal information. Not their name, their address, their phone number, their parents’ names, names of friends or relatives, the name of their school, their school address, their church, the city in which they live – NOTHING! When they are on-line, they are subject to interaction with literally anyone from their Sunday School teachers to pedophiles or worse. Grown men and women have been seduced (I do not use that term loosely) into believe the most extravagant lies over the internet and have paid extravagant prices for their belief – from financial devastation to death. Why would we ever believe that a child could out-wit the kinds of people to whom adults fall prey?
Make sure your child/teen knows which sites are off limits. Better yet, invest in parental controls or a safety filter so that you can control the sites they can access. Parental controls with some of the larger service providers restrict usage considerably even when you set the controls to the “seventeen year old” setting. I have found that there are legitimate sites that your children may need for school research that are eliminated on this setting. It will not be the end of the world if your child has to have you access them for their use, when needed.
Which brings me full circle to the most important aspect of safe internet usage for children and teens – parent must be involved. There are lots of different sites that will give you lists of do’s and don’t’s to follow for keeping your child safe on the internet, but nothing works as effectively as parental involvement. The internet is not a safe place for your child/teen. Why would you ever consider them traversing its many worlds along?
I found a “pledge” on-line that address both the parent’s and the child/teen’s responsibilities for safe internet usage. Personally, I would make the child/teen’s pledge more strict than this indicates, so when you read any pledge you decide to use with your child, know that you have the responsibility to alter it to suit your standards, not lower your standards to meet the pledge.
Keeping our children safe is even harder for single parents, so do not hesitate to put strict guidelines in place to keep your child/teen safe on the internet.