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WEB SAFETY - Keeping Your Child Safe Online

Web safety for children.

When we first wrote this article in the 1990s the web was in its infantile stage. Back then, most people did not know what the web was, and there was very little written about the dangers the web. So, we wrote one of the first, online parental guides, about monitoring children's online behavior. It is now nearly twenty years later, and going online is a way of life.

Years ago, online access was limited to the one family computer in the home, but now families have multiple computers, plus smart phones, tablets and other devices that have online access. Children are getting connected at earlier and earlier ages, and the variety of devices to go online continues to grow exponentially. Monitoring a child's online habits are getting harder and harder with each passing day.

It is not easy for a parent, but there are ways to keep your child safe online, and this updated article will discuss the challenges of today's connected world, and how to handle them. 

Kid Safe - A Web Guide for Parents

The Web Is A Way Of Life 

The web is growing by leaps and bounds and will continue growing. It is a terrific resource, but as we all know, the web is not regulated. Being unregulated, children may may come upon sites not suited for kids when surfing the web. It is up to us, as parents, to monitor a young child's time spent on the web, and to set rules for older children surfing online.

Since the web is not regulated by anyone it opens the door to many risks. 

  • Not all information on the web is accurate.
  • Some sites encourage violence.
  • Foul language is commonplace.
  • There are sites which feature pornography.
  • Certain sites embrace lifestyles which you may feel are immoral.
  • Social media sites are often used to harass and bully others.
  • Identity Theft
  • Child Predators
But this does not mean you shouldn't let your child go online. In fact, it is believed that most children go online at least once a week by the time they are eight years old. And in many cases, without even telling their parents.

Therefore, it is very important to teach children at a very young age of the risks associated with going online. If you lay the correct groundwork for children when they are young, they will be able to surf safely on their own when they are older. Thus, it is very important to educate them, and set specific rules, as soon as they express an interest in going online, even if it is to just play a game.

First and foremost, the best way to monitor your child's online activities is to know what they are doing online. Monitoring a younger child is not difficult since they will need your help accessing the web, and assistance surfing from place to place. But children are quick learners, and before long they will they will be able to outpace you!

Based on the many children we know, surfing the web, until a child is a preteen, is going to be limited to playing online games; watching videos; finding information on topics they are learning in school; and searching for information concerning a hobby. But older children present a problem, they will be all over the place doing who knows what. Therefore, it is important to instill rules early on because then it will be more likely your child will be responsible online when they get older.

The best way to begin is to talk to them before they go online. Keep in mind, since they may start going online without your knowledge, at school or at a friend's house without your knowing, it is best to begin explaining the rules as early as possible. Some say no later than 8 years old, but we think the earlier the better.

You need to talk to them about behavior that is appropriate, and not appropriate online, without scaring them. Not only do you want them to embrace the web, which will become a way of life for them, but you also want them to explore with wonder and curiosity. Most importantly, you yourself need to spend time with them online when they start.

It is important to explore the web with your child and discuss with them what you consider off-limits. And it should go without saying, you must keep the lines of communication open with your child. Not only for web exploration, but for everyday life. Children need to know that your interest in what they are doing is real.

Our children are now grown adults. But when they were young, monitoring the 5 year old was easy because we did the surfing for her. We pulled up the sites and then let her play the game or color the picture. And when she was done, we surfed to the next location for her.

But our older daughter (9 years old at the time) had more freedom. She used search engines, jumped the links, and generally browsed herself. But before it came to that, we gave her a set of rules. Some of the rules included:

  • If she came across anything she didn't understand she should call one of her parents.
  • She was not allowed to give out any personal information over the web. And if a web site requested information about her in order to gain access, she had to call one of her parents.
  • If she came across a site that had foul language, sexy pictures, or ads which made her uncomfortable, she should tell one of her parents.
  • She was not allowed to read any e-mail unless a parent was present.
  • And if she broke any of the rules, she lost her surfing privileges.
Today, as a parent you have it much harder than we did years ago. As a modern day parent you must also contend with social media, phishing emails, and the fact that your child can surf from anywhere, not just from the computer in your home.

Therefore you also have to explain that attachments to email  messages should never be opened. Even if they recognize the sender of the email, it may not have come from them.

It has been reported that nearly 30% of children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old have online friends they do not actually know in person. You do not want your child to be in that 30%, therefore you should set a rule that they cannot be friends with people online they don't know in person.

They should never post personal information about themselves online. There is absolutely no reason why a child needs to post their name, address, phone number, email address, and other information about themselves on a site. None what so ever!

They also need to be taught at a very early age to disregard unsolicited comments others make about them online.  And to never get into a verbal exchange with someone it on Facebook, Twitter or whatever new incarnation will be hot next.

Finally, keep in mind, when you or your child loads an application or program on a computer/phone/tablet you may be giving up a lot of privacy rights. Many times the application will be able to monitor your movement, your online habits, read information you have stored on the device...even post things online in your name. It is very important for you to read (and teach your child to read) the privacy disclosure before loading an application on a device.

We can go on and on, but the bottom line is to monitor and teach your child to be cautious and smart at the earliest age possible, and then hope it stays with them the rest of their lives, because technology will only become more pervasive and ingrained as the years go on.

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