For most adults, the internet is an environment that can be explored without the need for much in the way of restriction. It has its unsavory places and characters but most adults can quickly spot when they are straying into areas that may be distasteful, illegal, or dangerous.
However, even the most innocent keyword search can return unexpected results making it imperative that children are supervised in some way when using the internet. This may seem a difficult thing to do in this day and age but there are a few simple steps you can take as a parent to make sure your children are safer than they would be if you allowed them to surf without restrictions.
Don’t leave the computer in their bedroom.
There is an ever-increasing trend for allowing kids to have computers in their own bedrooms or playrooms. Given that on the net, despite every child’s best intentions, they may only ever be one inquisitive click away from unregulated obscenity, it’s unwise to allow children to be alone in their room with the PC. If your child is surfing the internet from the privacy of their own bedroom, how can you be sure that the sites they visit and the people they communicate with are appropriate for them?
Children are naturally inquisitive and even rebellious. They’ll go wherever they can on the internet, not just the places their parents think they should. The only way to be confident that you’re keeping them safe online is to control the environment within which they use the internet. Move the computer to a communal space like the living room, family room, or even the dining room if you have the space. You need to ensure that it’s a room used all the time and that it’s a place you, as the responsible adult, will be in regularly when the kids are using the computer. Using the PC where anyone can see the screen becomes a form of self regulation, even if you’re not looking at the screen every time you pass by. It also allows you to quickly intervene if necessary.
Make sure you understand just as much about the web and the technology as they do.
Much of the stress that parents feel regarding their children’s use of the internet stems from a lack of knowledge of the web and technology in general. If you have a PC at home, use it more often yourself. Start using the internet and get some practical experience with the computer, what you can do with it, and how the internet works. There are many sites online that will help explain the technology to you in simple terms if that’s what is needed.
Knowing how the computer and the internet works will get you onto the same, if not a higher, level of understanding as your kids. This is important for checking that they understand what they are doing and what potential dangers they may encounter on the web as a result. Start in the search engines and look for basic information using phrases like “how the internet works” and improve your knowledge before looking for advice on setting parental controls for your computer.
Share intelligence and experience with other parents.
Team up with other parents to gain intelligence. Do you talk to your children’s friends’ parents? If not, maybe you should. Bear in mind that most parents these days are encountering the same issues and some will welcome the opportunity to discuss it with you and bounce ideas around to make sure they understand what their children are up to. Sign up for some online parenting discussion forums and do what the kids are doing: chat with like-minded people trying to find ways to keep their kids safe.
In general terms, children are very technologically aware and capable these days. Parents need to support one another wherever possible just to keep up with the pace of development on the internet, what’s popular with children, and what sites they are likely to be visiting.
Know where your kids go online and make sure you can go there too.
Try taking an active interest in what they do online. If you can, find something to do online together. This will ensure you know what site your child is on for at least part of their surfing time and it will help you develop your skills and knowledge at the same time. Even if you’re not doing something together, make sure you know what sites your child visits and make sure they give you a note of any usernames and passwords they create. Whether you use them occasionally to see what’s going on is up to you, but the child has to know that this is a very real possibility.
Spend more time offline.
The best and simplest way to keep kids safe from the web is to reduce the amount of time they spend on the computer. Spending long periods in chat rooms, forums, or instant messaging can be as destructive for a child’s social skills as endlessly playing video games can be. Find something else for them to do, preferably offline. There is a wonderful world out there and the less time children spend on the internet, the less chance there is that that they could become exposed to any element of its darker side. It’s all too easy for parents to see the computer as a cyber baby-sitter that gives them a chance to get on with the things you need to do, but the benefit is outweighed by the risk of not knowing what the kids could be doing online, what they might be looking at, or who they may be speaking to.