The internet is a moving target and changing as we speak with new tools and access everyday. It’s arguably the most amazing technological advancement of this century. And yet, there is this great dichotomy because it is both the most wonderful and dangerous place for our children. The old question, “Do you know where your kids are?” might have a slightly different context these days. So seriously, do you know where your kids have been online? Here are 5 simple things you can do to help keep your children safer on the internet.
1. Keep Your Computer in a High Traffic Area
The reason for this is obvious and common sense. When your computer is out in the open and not hidden behind the closed doors of your child’s room you can monitor things better. For our family this means keeping the computer in the family room. Everyone is walking in and out of the room all the time and there’s no place to hide or discover inappropriate content without being noticed. Since we have 4 children, 3 of whom need and use the computer for homework daily, we have 4 computers in our house. 2 of the computers are desktops and we’ve set up stations in the family room where the kids can work on the internet in plain site.
2. Teach Your Kids About the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I’m a moderately conservative person, not a prude, but not a crazy free spirit either like my dad was in the 60′s living in San Francisco…I personally feel that straight, honest talk works best with my kids. Let’s be real. At the very least, kids are exposed to a barrage of sexual innuendo, bad language and other crap on TV, in the movies and on the internet daily. If you have older kids ages 8 and up, they are likely already talking about sex with their peers at school in some form or another. I’ve talked candidly and openly about the good, bad and ugly of what my kids can find on the internet. I’ve taught them about Google searches and how a simple innocent search for something like, “mermaids” (my 12 year old daughter really used to love the Disney movie “Little Mermaid”) can go horribly wrong in a hurry.
3. Filtering Software
I think special filtering software can be a good thing, but honestly I don’t use it. You can format your internet settings to filter internet content and that’s about the extent that we do. For me, education with my kids has been the best preventative measure.
4. Keep the Passwords Public
One rule of using the internet and other social media sites like Facebook in our house is that the kids must tell us their passwords and log in info. We want them to know that we have access. This goes for email and text message too. We tell them that nothing online is private for them and that it’s for their safety based on the above mentioned Good, Bad and Ugly talk. We tell them that private thoughts and feelings can be shared in a diary, journal or with friends they know well in person. But anything shared online is public domain.
I think this policy will also keep them from posting pictures or videos that might hurt their chances of getting a job later. For example, my daughter makes bank as a babysitter. I’ve taught her that if she posts pictures that don’t make her look like a competent, trustworthy babysitter on Facebook she might stop getting calls. Same goes for my older son. Anything we post online is permanent and public. If we think of it that way we will all use a bit more discretion, right?
Early on we discovered that some of our kids’ friends (and likely our kids followed like sheep too) were creating secret secondary Facebook profiles to talk and share the “real” stuff. Be careful of this. Teenagers are smart and resourceful. In our house, lying is a big deal. The penalty for creating a secret Facebook profile would mean our kids would not just lose Facebook privileges, but lose the internet all together. The thought of having to go the library all the time to check out and read books for reports seemed to put the kibosh on that.
At any given time or day we are welcome to log in and peruse their Facebook page (we promise never to write or embarrass them with dorky parental comments). We tell them that we are allowed to read their email and text messages too. This open system seems to be working pretty well. For Facebook specifically, my wife become friends with all our kids’ friends. This way she can keep tabs on who they’re talking to, the plans they make and what they share. Since she is what the kids would call a “cool” mom, this works well.
5. Set Time Limits
It’s amazing how much homework kids have these days. Facebook is a great social sharing tool but it’s also a time suck. Limit kids’ time for social stuff and games to an appropriate amount. It might also be a good rule for the parents!
Have a great weekend!