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How to Keep an Eye on Your Kids Online

May 6, 2008
Children today learn to use the Internet very young. My 3 year old loves watching funny cat videos on YouTube, and my 5 year old loves to play games online. Their habits are easy to control right now, but as they get older, I'll have to help them use it appropriately.

What are the hazards?

The hazards facing children on the Internet vary widely. There's the chance they'll find inappropriate content. They might make friends with people who aren't who they claim to be. They may face cyber bullying.

While not every child will encounter all of these problems, they are very real. It's important that parents help their children know how to cope.

What can parents do?

The most important thing for a parent to do is to simply be aware of what your child is doing online. This can start by having computers with Internet access be used in areas of the house where you can keep an eye on the kids. But as laptops and wireless Internet connections become more common, this becomes more difficult to control.

You should have age appropriate discussions about the Internet with your kids. For my 3 year old, he's limited by what I type into the computer. It's pretty easy. For my 5 year old I have a page set up with links to all the sites she likes. At these ages it's pretty easy to keep things under control.

It gets more challenging as children get older and more independent online.

With older children you need to talk to them first about the potential issues they may face. They should know what kind of problems they should report to you. But that's rarely enough.

You should also talk to them regularly about what they are doing. Find out the real names of their online friends. For a long time their only online friends should be people they know in real life. This limits the chances of befriending a predator.

A major challenge as children get old enough to use sites such as MySpace or Facebook. Children have been known to share far too much personal information online, and these kinds of sites make it very easy to do just that. Help them to understand that giving out their full names, phone number, address, vacation plans, school location and so forth really should not be done online.

One of your biggest challenges will be balancing your need to know with your child's privacy. It's important that you have a generally trusting relationship. Your child may or may not mind having you on a friend's list for the sites they go to, but this can be a big help.

If there's not the degree of trust you would like to have, you will need to decide what to do. There are a variety of monitoring softwares that will keep a log for you of all activity on the computer. I don't like the idea myself, but if there's a problem it is your duty as a parent to take the steps necessary.

While keeping your child safe online is important, you will also need to make sure your computer is kept safe. You will want current antivirus and antispyware software installed on your computer, and have it scan regularly. You will want your child to understand the conditions under which programs may or may not be downloaded. The ads can make things look very appealing, and it's all too easy to end up with an infected computer. Make sure they understand about how these things can travel through email too.

You can also engage your children's friends' parents. Make sure you're all discussing online experiences. If anyone is going through a problem it can be discussed as appropriate with the other families. This can help with the awareness of how easily problems can happen.
About the Author
Stephanie Foster runs http://www.homewiththekids.com/ as a resource for stay at home moms. Get more parenting tips at her site.
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