What can parents do to keep their children safe on the Internet? Here are some actions parents should take to protect their children from online threats and ensure that their kids have healthy experiences in cyberspace:
Parent Internet safety tip #1: Ways to monitor what your children see online
If you’re worried about what your children might be exposed to online, invest in web-filtering software such as NetNanny, KidsWatch or one of the many other parental control software programs available. Although these programs are not foolproof and can often be bypassed by skilled teens, they are an effective way to keep the Internet PG-rated when it comes to younger kids.
You should also monitor the email account of your preteen, if they have one, so that you can prune away spam or potentially explicit/virus-infected emails before your kids get to them. The purpose of this is not to spy on your child’s legitimate communications, but to get rid of junk before an unaware youngster accidentally clicks to download that virus.
Parent Internet safety tip #2: Monitor your child’s moods
More important than trying to spy on kids by monitoring everything they do online is to simply pay attention to their moods and emotions when they’re on the Internet. If your child seems to be withdrawn, upset, frustrated or angry while online or after using the Internet, this is a warning sign that something is wrong. It’s possible they are being bullied, blackmailed, or are caught up in other problems. If you notice such emotional patterns you should inquire about what’s wrong, and continue to press the issue until they tell you.
Parent Internet safety tip #3: Offer your support ahead of time
Be sure to inform your kids that if they ever do find themselves in trouble with something online, you want them to tell you about it. This offer of support should come with a few reassurances and promises on your part:
- I promise not to freak out and go completely insane, and will handle the situation rationally.
- I promise not to blame the technology if something goes wrong. There may be consequences for mistakes, but I will not permanently boot you from using these tools.
- I promise that if you are honest with me in admitting to mistakes, I will take this into account and be less severe in the consequences than if you hide it from me.
- I promise not to penalize you for the mistakes of others. (For example, keeping kids away from Facebook because they are being bullied online.)
Many kids get trapped because they get themselves into trouble, often of their own volition, and then are afraid to seek help for fear of their parents’ response. Other surveys show most kids would not talk to their parents if they were being cyberbullied, because they don’t trust parents to take the news without overreacting and barring them from their social networking sites. This is the worst case scenario that you don’t want. You want your kids coming to you if they make mistakes or have problems, and the way you build this trust is by building your reputation as a calm, rational parent. Unfortunately, most parents DO NOT have such a reputation with their kids. But you can vastly improve your stock by making them these promises ahead of time.
Parent Internet safety tip #4: Clearly state your rules and expectations
Most parents expect their kids to know what they expect without ever having a conversation about it. It pays to briefly sit down and go over your expectations about their online behavior. Here are some suggestions:
- I expect you to conduct arguments and disagreements offline. Just as parents shouldn’t fight in front of their kids, everyone should conduct their disputes privately, not in cyberspace.
- Online bullying will not be tolerated. (Clearly state what qualifies as bullying).
- I would like to know about any contacts you meet online and have the opportunity to chat with them.
- I expect you to avoid foul words and use the same language online that you would use in a church whenever speaking in a public forum.
- I expect you not to download pirated music or otherwise engage in illegal activities, even if all your friends are doing it.
Outline any additional guidelines you may want to cover, and be sure to explain why you want them adhering to these rules. You should also ask for their input in establishing these guidelines, so that it doesn’t feel like such a one-sided process.