daughter is beginning to surf the Web playing with her little stuffed animals
that have a "home" in "cyberspace," and going to websites of her favorite
cartoons where there are games and activities that seem fine for her. However,
she is only 8, and we are worried that she will get an eyeful of porno one of
these days. We have decided not to let her have her own computer until she is
in middle school, since we want her to do more hands-on activities while she is
little. So she uses my husband's computer, up in his home office, when he is
not home. The whole prospect worries me. What are the ground rules for protecting
a child, and yet taking advantage of the good things that the Internet has to
Supervise your child's Internet activity. Remember the
adage, "While the cat's away, the mice will play."
Never put a computer in your child's bedroom. Allow your child
to use a computer in the main part of the house where you can wander by and
check what's going on.
The more time your child spends on the computer, the more
likely he or she will run into problems. Resist the temptation to use the
computer as an electronic babysitter. Most of the uses that children have for
computers outside of school are just for amusement, not for learning. Computer
overuse is common among today's youth and a contributor to the obesity
epidemic. Besides, childhood is for hands-on play with real, live people, not
in cyberspace. Limit your child's computer use to one hour per day, with
homework use first, and fun use after the homework is done.
To reduce the chances that your child will see pornography,
violence or other disturbing content by accident, use a good spam filter,
blocking software, a ratings system, or all of the above.
Regularly check the "History" section to see what websites
your child has visited.
Consider sharing an email account with your child so that
you will have access to your child's incoming and outgoing messages, but be
aware that Instant Messaging is more prevalent among the young than email these
Use Internet safety as a teaching tool, to instruct your
child about family rules protecting privacy and well-being. For example, your
child should know that either in person or on the Internet, one should never
reveal personal information, including age, name of school, home address and
phone number, to anyone that the child and his or her parents don't know in
Make sure you have instructed your child never to bully,
threaten, or tease in a negative way any other person on the Internet. Again,
here's a teaching opportunity: face-to-face contact has the best chance of a
message getting across accurately. Instant Messaging, email and other
electronic communication tools are prone to misunderstandings because you can't
see the other person's face or body gestures, hear the tone of voice and so on.
Teach your child how important it is to be clear when communicating
electronically, along with courtesy and appropriateness.
Another teaching tool: discuss how every time your child
visits a website, it's as if your child has left a calling card that the person
who operates that website might choose to use. For example, sites that siphon
off the email addresses of visitors and sell them to someone else might not
know or care that it was a child visiting, and so might sell your email address
to a nefarious marketer who might send porno images directly to your email
address, that your child might open accidentally. It is very hard to tell which
sites are legitimate and which ones might come back to haunt you, but teaching
your child about the hidden secrets of Internet usage and traffic can only help
your child manage his or her time online better.
Talk, talk, talk about Internet safety, but make it clear
that you want your child to come to you with problems and work them out
together. Their worst nightmare is that you will take it away from them, so
they cover up their concerns rather than alert you to a possible problem. It is
fear of parental overreaction that keeps a lot of children from coming forward
with problems, 'til they get worse and worse and sometimes explode.
Self-control by a child is much better than forceful control
imposed by a parent. It is very common for a child whose parents have banned
Internet usage to sneak to a friend's house to use their computer. Be aware,
and do everything you can to help your child learn responsible and honest
Many authorities suggest that both the parent and the child
sign a family contract guiding Internet use and consequences for infractions.
There's a wealth of more information from the websites www.SafeKids.com, www.ConnectSafely.org and www.SafeTeens.com operated by technology
columnist Larry Magid.
Homework: Here are Internet safety guidelines
for parents from the National Association of School Psychologists: