How to keep children safe online is the most popular question parents ask at my school. They want to know about firewalls, filters, kidsafe desktops, nannycams, cyberbullying, internet privacy, and everything in between. Should they keep their children away from computers or just off the internet? Do they have to sit with them while they work? Is there an age when it’s OK to let them on their own?
No. No. and No. Parents must teach children to take care of themselves while visiting the vast, anonymous, addictive neighborhood called ‘the internet’. Just as they stay at your side in large busy stores, don’t talk to strangers, and 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 ideas you can employ to support them on the way:
- Teach your children to use the internet. They are digital citizens which includes rights and responsibilities they probably aren’t aware of. Just as in their neighborhood, they must learn them. Don’t hope school teaches them. They may, or might teach them wrong. Teach your kids to avoid ads, that anonymous isn’t innocent, and online relationships aren’t always friendly. 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 what they can and cannot do online. Discuss why so they understand. You want them able to take care of themselves which means not putting themselves in harm’s way.
- Use a parental control filter. 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 and why a particular site is relevant. You want your child comfortable with you involved in their lives–not as an arbiter of right and wrong, but an interested loving party.
- Do not assume parental controls are perfect. In fact, 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 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.
But one solution works best: Pay attention to what’s going on. Always. Don’t get tired. Don’t skip it ‘just this once’. Once becomes habit and habit becomes a problem. Trust but verify (from President Reagan).
What do you do to keep the internet safe?
–image credit to Deposit Photo
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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.