How to keep their children safe online is a constant question from parents at my school. They ask about firewalls, filters, kidsafe desktops, nannycams. Should they keep their children away from computers or just off the internet? Do they have to sit with them while they work?
No. No. and No. What parents need to do is teach children to take care of themselves while visiting this vast, anonymous, addictive neighborhood called ‘the internet’. Just as they come to understand that they stay at your side in large busy stores, that they don’t talk to strangers, that they don’t open the door to people they don’t know, they will learn to be safe in the digital world. Because it’s part of our genome–to do what keeps us safe.
While they’re getting to that epiphany, here are some ideas you can employ:
- Teach your children how to use the internet. They are digital citizens. They have rights and responsibilities. Just as in their neighborhood, they must learn to do it right. They aren’t born with that knowledge. Teach them to avoid ads, about online relationships, tell them again, and again. Sooner than you think, they will own it. Just as they don’t cross the street without looking both ways, they won’t cross the ‘digital street’ unless it’s safe.
- Discuss with your child what they can and cannot do online. Discuss why. Help them to understand. They feel invincible. You want them to feel safe, but able to take care of themselves. Part of taking care of themselves is not putting themselves in harm’s way.
- Use a parental control filter. Only you know the password which makes it your perogative what types of activities are available. Start by blocking ‘pornography’ because few little boys can resist the urge to type that whispered three letter word heard on the playground. From there, block everything you worry about–chicks, Minecraft, girls, Facebook, xxx, murder. It’s easy to unblock if your child needs a site that won’t come up. More importantly, it leads to a conversation with your child about what they’re researching, why they need it. You want your child comfortable with you involved in their lives–not as an arbiter of right and wrong, but as an interested loving party.
- Do not assume parental controls are perfect. Assume they aren’t. Stay vigilant. Be aware when your child is too quiet or too noisy at the computer. Ask questions. Pop in unexpectedly.
- Enforce rules. Don’t decide you’re too tired one night to go check a website your child tells you they need to visit. Always always always follow your own rules.
- Check ‘history’ on your child’s computer. Do it with them so they understand you’re not hiding anything. This is part of the plan to keep them safe.
- Know what their school does to keep your child safe online. Follow the same rules, or follow your own. Do explain the differences to your child. Children are flexible. They will be fine with varied rules.