Kids are going online at younger and younger ages—in fact, the fastest growing segment of Internet users is now pre-schoolers. Many kids use the Internet at school by the time they are six years old, so they’ll probably want to go online at home around this age as well.
The Internet is an amazing tool for our youth. It makes information accessible in ways we as children could not have dreamed of. Kids can use the Internet to do research for homework, learn new skills and explore new cultures, and build relationships with other kids. Kids who are shy in-person may feel more comfortable initially connecting with people over the Internet.
Given the many reasons that kids use the Internet today and the amount of time they spend on it, parents have a big responsibility to ensure that their kids are using the Internet appropriately and that their kids’ safety and social and emotional well-being are protected in the process.
What are the risks involved with my child using the Internet?
Invasion of Privacy: Kids have the right not to give out private information to anyone, including reputable companies, for any reason without the expressed permission of their parents. This information includes, but is not limited to name, email, address, age, and school they attend.
Exposure to Inappropriate Material: The Internet is a vast information resource of all types of information. Sites that contain explicit sexual, violent, and hateful information can be found with little and sometimes no effort. There are also sites on how to build bombs, make designer drugs, etc. Kid-friendly search engines do exist and can be helpful at avoiding inappropriate material. Try using one of the following search engines when your child needs to search the Internet for a homework assignment.
Being Harassed: Chat rooms and message boards are chuck full of people who are just plain nasty. This can hurt a kids’ self esteem. Also, there are those on the net that will harass in email. If someone sends you messages or images that are obscene, lewd, filthy, or indecent with the intent to harass, abuse, annoy, or threaten you, report it to your Internet service provider and the CyberTipline online or by calling 1-800-843-5678.
Financial: A teenager with a credit card can do major damage to their credit, or yours. You should not allow any purchases for anything on the Internet without your permission. Then it should only be done on a secure server and never through email.
What do I need to teach my child about Internet safety?
Before you allow your child to go online without your supervision, make sure you establish a set of rules that you can all agree on. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas on what to discuss with your kids to teach them about using the Internet more safely.
- Encourage your kids to share their Internet experiences with you. Enjoy the Internet along with your child.
- Teach your kids to trust their instincts. If they feel nervous about anything online, they should tell you about it.
- If your kids visit chat rooms, use instant messaging (IM) programs, online video games, or other activities on the Internet that require a login name to identify themselves, help them choose that name and make sure it doesn’t reveal any personal information about them.
- Insist that your kids never give out your address, phone number, or other personal information, including where they go to school or where they like to play.
- Do not allow your kids to use your Internet Service Provider (ISP) email account for message boards, chat, or anything really. Obtain a free email account for them from a place like “Hotmail” or “Gmail”. These types of accounts keep the SPAM level down and do not point out where your child lives, like a local ISP can.
- Teach your kids that the difference between right and wrong is the same on the Internet as it is in real life.
- Show your kids how to respect others online. Make sure they know that rules for good behavior don’t change just because they’re on a computer.
- Insist that your kids respect the property of others online. Explain that making illegal copies of other people’s work—music, video games, and other programs—is just like stealing it from a store.
- Tell your kids that they should never meet online friends in person. Explain that online friends may not be who they say they are.
- Teach your kids that not everything they read or see online is true. Encourage them to ask you if they’re not sure.
- Control your children’s online activity with advanced Internet software. Parental controls can help you filter out harmful content, monitor the sites your child visits, and find out what they do there. You can purchase 3rd‐party tools that restrict and monitor Internet usage.
Here are the most popular:
- Make a behavior contract with your kids. This will enable them to know what you expect of their behavior while online.
- For information on how to talk to your kids about social media and sexting, click here.
How much is too much? Is my child becoming addicted to the Internet?
Excessive computer use might isolate shy kids from their family members or peers. Or it can take away from other activities such as homework, exercise, sleep, or spending time with others. To support healthy Internet use in your family:
- Limit screen time. The less time your child spends online, the less chance he has of finding inappropriate material, predators, and other dangers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day of total screen time (which includes computer and television, as well as video games).
- Establish rules around home computer use.
- Balance computer time with physical and social activities.
- Make sure your Internet-connected computer is in a public space in the home, not in your child’s room.
For tips on how to help your kids establish a healthy balance between Internet use and other activities, click here.