Raising a child in a digital world can be a daunting task. The Internet is ubiquitous in children's lives and as a parent, you need to set limits and guidelines on what your kids are doing online. Different age groups require different rules. As your child grows older he or she will require more personal freedom online, and it is important that they are prepared for this from responsibility and confidence that has been instilled in them from a young age. Here is a general age-appropriate guideline that you can follow to teach Internet responsibility to your kids.
In this age category kids are usually not familiar with or using instant messaging, social networking, or participating in chat rooms. However, they are still probably online at times, therefore safety measures still must be taken. As a parent, talk to fellow parents and teachers to see what kind of safe-sites there are for kids. As well, make use of directories for kids. Use kid search engines such as 'yahoo kids' or 'ask for kids.' Here are some examples of relevant sites:
http://www.wiredsafety.org - Internet safety and help group
Awesome Library - 14,000 carefully reviewed resources
Berit's Best Sites - Directory of kids' web sites maintained by Berit Erickson
Britannica - Websites, magazines, books and the Encyclopedia Britannica
Dibdabdoo - Metasearch DMOZ - Yahooligans - Kids Click
INFOMINE - Scholarly Internet resources in K-12
KidsWeb - Mid-Continent Public Library kid's directory
SuperKids SuperSearch - Kid friendly search site
http://www.kidsclick.org - Kid friendly search engine
It is also advised to invest in a parental control blocker. This takes the worry out of not knowing whether or not your kids are visiting unpleasant websites, and reduces the risk of them stumbling onto bad sites.
When your kids are at this age it is appropriate for you to know all of their usernames and passwords. Make sure that your children know this, and discuss what sites they like to go to. Do not allow your kids to post any profiles or personal information at this age, and limit their online activity to around an hour per day.
As kids reach this stage in life, cell phones and instant messaging are starting to enter the picture, so the proper precautions must be taken. Kids also may start lying about their age in order to gain access to certain sites and social networks, such as MySpace.com, Facebook.com, etc.
This is also the age where bullying can become prevalent in forums and chat rooms. However, kids may be reluctant to tell their parents because they are not supposed to be on these sites anyways.
Peer-To-Peer (P2P) file-sharing can become a problem at this age when kids start playing games and sharing music online. This can lead to a computer being inundated with spyware and adware.
What should parents do?
First of all if you are not using a parental control filtering device you should get one, and strengthen the filter to your liking. You should also be pre-approving your kids' IM contact list to make sure there aren't any unfamiliar names on it. Make sure you are using anti-spyware, antivirus and pop-up blockers to combat any unwanted, annoyances that may try to attach to your hard drive. You should still be trying to keep your kids on child-safe search engines at this point. Teach them not to respond to strangers online and to notify you immediately if they encounter any. Stick to limiting online activity to about an hour or so a day for this age group.
At this stage, interactive technologies such as instant messaging, email and cell phones are very much a part of most kids' life. Kids are growing socially and are looking to expand their personal network through programs such as Myspace and Facebook.
Parents should further tighten the parental controls filter for this age. Keep an open-dialogue with your kids and make sure that you are still educating them on Internet safety. As well, parents should be looking for signs of cyber-bullying at this age.
Be sure to carefully observe any profiles, screen names and websites that your kids are posting online. Make sure they are aware that they are not allowed to share photos, blogs or webcams without your permission.
It is still a good idea to try to learn your kids' passwords at this age. However, they will begin to resist at this age, so it will most likely end up being quite the communications challenge. However, you should definitely still be pre-approving your kids' contact lists at this point.
Search your computer regularly for any taboo images, pirated music or media files. You can also use Google Alerts to automatically notify you in any online activity attached to your child's screen name turns up in a Google search. This can be very effective.
Limit your kids' time to 1.5-2 hours online.
Kids are at the highest risk of online and offline encounters with strangers at this age. They are becoming very social and curious and are trying new things online. This is also the age where cyber-bullying and sexual harassment are at their peak. Kids are often talking in forums and social networks and are subject to abuse from other people online. From fear of peer-pressure and social ostracization, many kids are unlikely to tell adults if they are being bullied or sexually harassed online.
Parents should still be pre-approving social networking and dating sites at this time. Try to keep your kids off of P2P or pirated software sites. Instead, offer them services such as iTunes or other legitimate media sites.
It is important to teach your kids to guard their passwords and not divulge any personal information that can come back to haunt them. Make sure that your computer is in a central location in order to monitor your kids' online activity. Limit your kids' time online to 2 hours at this age.
16 and up:
This is the age when kids begin to leave the cyber-nest. They will do what they want at this age so it is important that you have already prepared and educated them for anything that they may encounter online. It is time to trust them to do the right thing.
However, you can still give friendly reminders about being responsible online. Enforce conversation about the risks of sharing personal information online and teach them to Google themselves regularly to monitor anything that might be said about them. Make sure they are using antivirus and security firewalls. As well, advise them to check regularly for adware and spyware on their PCs. Also, strongly suggest that your kids refrain from using a webcam. Remind them that once something has been posted online, it is for good, and they will have no control over what will happen to it.
It is important for your kids to know that even though they are now independent, they should still feel comfortable coming to you if anything goes wrong while they are surfing the net.