With recent advances in internet technology, we are able to communicate readily and quickly with long-distance friends and relatives; find information through search engines that connect us to multiple sources; and even have access to engaging, child-friendly websites that assist in teaching! The internet also presents possible dangers, however, and parents may find themselves wondering how to balance supporting their child’s access to the benefits internet provides, while ensuring her internet safety.
Below are five tips to help maintain this balance.
1. Set clear guidelines about internet use privileges
- Explain to your child that internet use is a privilege that can be taken away if used in unsafe ways. Ask your child what websites she wants to use to confirm their appropriateness. Be sure to emphasize that this is to keep your child safe.
- Decide on rules for internet use (ex. Time limit, purpose, days of the week, which sites are acceptable/not acceptable, etc.) and post them in a place where everyone in the family can see. You can have both common and separate rules for parents and children to show your child that internet safety is important for everyone.
- Review the rules as a family and sign them as an agreement to commit to fun, appropriate, safe internet use.
2. Talk to your child about the potential dangers and benefits of the internet
- Warn your child about the dangers of giving out personal information (name, age, birthdate, school, address, phone number, etc) on the internet and give her safe options for when she faces situations that ask for personal information. For example, “We cannot give out personal information to people we do not know because we do not know if they are safe. If a website asks for personal information, do not give it and tell mom or dad. If any person you do not know emails/Facebook messages/IMs/etc you, the first thing I want you to do is tell mom or dad so we can figure out a plan to be safe.”
- Keep explanations age-appropriate and give enough information to be clear, but not too much information to provoke anxiety or fear. For example, “There are people or websites on the internet that can try to trick or hurt people. So when we are on a website or hear from someone we do not know, we have to be careful.”
- Discuss cyber-bullying with your child. Ask if your child knows anyone who makes mean comments to other children on the internet or if it has ever happened to her. Let her know that if someone chooses to bully her online, it is not her fault and that she should report it to you so you can keep her safe. For more information about cyber-bullying, click here.
- Talk about the fact that statements and information your child puts on the internet cannot be revoked. Although the internet seems more anonymous, teach your child not to write anything online to someone that she would be embarrassed to say in real life.
- Talk also about the benefits of the internet to teach the difference between fun, appropriate internet use and dangerous internet use. Together, you can come up with a list of safe and non-safe uses and post them by the computer to remind your child of your conversation. You can also introduce your child to new, fun, interactive child-friendly websites that she can use.
3. Monitor internet use
- Contact your internet provider for safeguard features so that you can protect your child from graphic, inappropriate material.
- Put your computer in the family room or some public place in your home so that you can easily check in with your child about her internet use.
4. Join with your child in her internet use
- Support and praise safe internet use by learning about your child’s favorite websites. Visit these websites together to learn about what your child enjoys. Visiting these websites can also help you to determine possible dangers to discuss with your child.
5. Create an open, safe space for your child to talk about any issues or concerns she faces during internet use
- Emphasize to your child that your goal is to make sure she is safe and that if anything happens that makes her feel scared, confused, or upset online, she can talk to you.
- Let your child know that you can problem solve together when something potentially unsafe happens on the internet.
- Talk with your child in an open way by listening to her opinions and encouraging questions so that she feels comfortable and understood.
What are some of your family’s internet rules that have helped keep everyone safe? Please share with us!