Every day hundreds of parents ask how to protect kids online. Questions range from “should I even let them use the Internet” to ” How can I supervise children when I don’t know how to turn on the computer?”
Second, know that the greatest single risk our children face in connection with the Internet is being denied access. I have a solution for everything else.
Third, you won’t be able to scrutinize everything they do, control every place they visit, or screen everyone they communicate with online. While you might be able to do that for kids under the age of 8, it no longer works when the children become preteens. By then, you have to rely on the filter between their ears.
While parents often ask about the latest software to block and filter websites (check out wirekids.org), block annoying communications (instant-messaging security settings) or check on what your children are doing and who they are talking to online (spectorsoft.com) and while they worry about cracking the chat lingo code (teenangels.org’s chat translator) to learn their children’s secrets, they are missing the point.
It’s not about technology at all. It’s about parenting.
Everything you need to know about keeping your children safe online you have learned from your parents, and they learned from theirs. While you may need me to point out the latest abuses and tricks of the trade, the basics remain unchanged.
“Come straight home after school” – this kept us from hanging around with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. It’s no different online. The longer the kids spend online (other than for homework purposes), the more likely they are to engage in high-risk activities, such as sharing personal information, meeting strangers offline, and engaging in other cyber activities.
“Don’t take candy from strangers” – you never know what that candy could be laced with. And when you accept anything from strangers online, it may include spyware, hacking programs, and viruses among other tech advances.
“Don’t get into a car with strangers” – or meet them offline (at least not without you in attendance). A stranger is a stranger, but when our kids chat with them for a week, or longer, they don’t feel like a stranger any more. That’s when the real dangers arise.
“Do unto others the way you would have them do unto you”. Adapted for cyberspace, it means never do anything online that you wouldn’t do offline, and never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to the person face-to-face.
“Don’t take anything that isn’t yours” – having our kids download music for free is tempting. But it’s still stealing. It shouldn’t make any difference that other kids are doing it.
If parents teach kids these things, they don’t have to learn about the latest technologies. The list of those is quite extensive and changes constantly anyway. If parents teach kids to come to you when things go wrong online and off, and you can promise not to overreact if they do, children will make it through this in one piece, and so will the parents.