The Internet is an excellent teaching tool for children. While children once had to rely on books, the Internet now offers more with a few clicks of a button than anyone could have ever imagined. With the Internet, a child can travel to foreign lands, read the classics, and find out facts from the comfort of his living room. The bad news is that the Internet can also be a dangerous place for children. Knowledge may be overflowing on the information superhighway but so are pornography, pedophiles, and trouble if you are not monitoring your children's Internet usage.
Every day you hear about children who were able to use the Internet and were placed in harm's way as a result. Some of these children were kidnapped and harmed while others were introduced to things that children do not need to see. Things like this make it sound as if children should not be anywhere near the Internet. This is not necessarily true. While a child should not have full access to the Internet, with monitored access a child can still gain a ton of knowledge and none of the harmful material that is also readily available.
The following tips are things you should discuss with or implement for your children to make sure they understand that as fun as the Internet seems, it is not a play area.
- Before allowing your children online, make sure they understand the rules. The most important rule should be to never, ever give out information of any kind about themselves. This means no first or last names, no age, no address, or anything that could help a person on the Internet locate your children or your family.
You should also stress the importance of never sending photographs of themselves or the family over the Internet to people they do not know.
Any other rules you set will be up to you to decide. You might say that they are only allowed to use the Internet for educational purposes. You might even want to place a time restraint on the Internet and say they can only use it for a specific number of minutes or hours before they have to get offline.
- Communicate with your child so you have an idea of what they are doing. As a parent, you should stress how uncomfortable you are with the thought of your children speaking with people on the Internet they do not know. However, if they do speak to strangers and they begin to feel threatened or funny in that person's presence you want them to be able to come to you.
Make it clear to your child that you would rather be prepared for any potential danger that could come to the family instead of being lied to and seeing something bad happen to someone. In this case, an open door policy is best.
Inform them that they may lose some of their Internet usage, but that you will not punish them further, nor will you be angry. The safety of your children and family come first and that is the point you must make when explaining to them why you will be monitoring their Internet usage.
- Make sure your children know what sites they can visit. Obviously, a parent is not going to want their children visiting adult sites. However, many sites offer social networking and allow teenagers to be a part of the site. Unfortunately, this allows many children to have access to thousands of possible predators all over the world. It is your choice, as their parent, as to whether you want to allow your child to use the Internet at all. If your children complain, you can always remind them that you do not have to let them use the Internet. To them, the Internet should be a privilege, not a necessity.
- Create system profiles. One of the best ways to monitor your children on the Internet is going to be through system profiles. If the computer is your child's computer, create two accounts. One account is for you, which should be the administrator account. The second account is for your child. Make sure that once you do this, you remove guest access. Do not tell your child his password or yours. This allows you to be the person to sign your child in and out of the computer. Ultimately, in this situation, you have complete control over when the child uses the system. Of course, when you put in the password, make sure that it is something entirely random that your child could not guess. Otherwise, this is not going to be so helpful.
- Use parental blockers. Most of the top Internet service providers offer parental controls. These controls allow you to set which sites your child can view based on the site's rating or the content that you are comfortable with them seeing. Parental controls range from blocking sites that are not good for small children all the way up to teenagers. In fact, as you create your blocks, many of the ISPs will allow you to choose specific sites you do not want your children to be able to visit.
If your ISP does not offer a parental block program, you can find plenty of commercial software programs that offer just as much protection if not more. Just type the term "parental block software" into your favorite search engine and more than one program should pop up with reviews, prices, features and advice on which program will be the best for your specific situation.
- Monitor their email usage. Thanks to the threat of viruses, spyware, keyloggers, and other malicious content, you should stress the importance of not opening email attachments. Some children will open attachments anyway so you need to stress how dangerous for them it can be. While it will not actually hurt them, these things could destroy their computer and they would not want that. If you know your child is one for opening attachments even though you have asked them not to, you may want to watch them check and answer their email to make sure they are following the rules.