NOTE: This advice is for parents of young children. As children get older, especially as they enter their teens, they generally get more freedom. For example, it is now commonplace and usually safe for teens to post (unprovocative)photographs and give out the name of their school, though this of course varies depending upon the situation.
By taking responsibility for your children’s online activities, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:
- If your child is young — say under 7 — consider being with your child when he or she is on the Internet. Children at this age can become confused or upset if they come across content that they don’t understand or that might be inappropriate for their age.
- Warn your child not to give out identifying information– Kids should never give out home address or telephone number or when they are home alone in a public message such as chat or social networking sites, and be sure you’re dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out via E-mail. Teenagers often give out school information on social web sites but kids under 13 should avoid doing so.
- Get to know the services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Find out what types of information it offers and whether there are ways for parents to block out objectionable material.
- Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child.
- Remind your children to never respond to messages that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make them feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounters such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
- Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that’s “too good to be true” probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.
- Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see “Kids Rules for Online Safety“). Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager’s excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
- Consider using parental controls but know their limitations
There are software tools available that can limit what your child can see or say online. Some block objectionable websites and others will attempt to prevent your child from revealing personal information. Still others will monitor what your child does online and report back to you. Some controls are inlcuded with Microsoft Vista and Macintosh OS X. These tools can be useful, especially for younger children but before you rely on such tools, know their limitations. They only protect your child on the computer(s) where they’re installed — not on other computers or cell phones. And older kids can often get around these filters.
- Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their “online friends” just as you get to know all of their other friends.
- Remember there are many ways to access the Internet. It’s not just computers, but mobile phones and game machines too.