Then vs. Now: How Involved Should You Be With Your Kid’s Time Online?
1. Don’t take candy from strangers.
2. Look both ways before you cross the street.
3. Be home when the streetlights turn on.
Chances are these were the precautions you were taught before you were sent out to play with your friends when you were a kid. Neighborhoods were full of people who knew each other, and your parents could typically trust that you were safe without being involved in your minute-to-minute activities. Then came the Internet…
When you were growing up, the Internet was as well. It started as a few sites used only by highly trained people and blossomed into a great source of information, entertainment, and communication accessed daily by millions. Currently, 93 percent of children use the Internet, spending an average of 9.2 hours (for 8-11 year olds) to 17 hours (for 12-15 year olds) surfing the Web each week. That’s quite a bit more than what you probably spent as a kid!
You teach your kids not to get into a stranger’s car and how to react if an unfamiliar person approaches them, but how are you supposed to teach them to navigate the online world? The key is being hands-on with your child’s online activities.
• Teach your kids how to keep their information private. They should never give out real names, addresses, phone numbers, the names of their schools, or other identifying information. Show them how easy it is to look someone up on the Internet, and talk about the various ways their personal information could be used to endanger them (i.e. strangers showing up in real life, identify theft, etc.).
• Show your children how to keep their passwords a secret. Teach them to never give out passwords or account information to anyone (except you!)—stress that this means online and in real life.
• Set boundaries. Establish a list of websites and games that are appropriate and let your kids know what is absolutely off-limits. If possible, keep computers and tablets in family areas so you can check in on your children. You can also install computer software to block certain websites or establish time restrictions.
• Play alongside your children. Using the Internet together will help them learn appropriate online behavior firsthand.
• Follow your kids’ social media accounts. If your children are using social media, it’s a good idea to “friend” or “follow” them. This will make you aware of how they are acting online, while keeping them on their best behavior.
Finally, don’t forget to simply talk to your kids! Once isn’t enough. Keeping up an ongoing conversation about their online activities will ensure they are practicing online safety. Remember, times have changed since you were a kid, so ensuring your children are the safest they can be, both online and in real life, is key to your family’s well-being.