As children enter their preteen years (9- to 11-year-olds) most experience an increased desire to belong to a group, club, or a social network of some kind. Your child may be interested in communicating via chat, e-mail, or some other form of online communication with his or her peers. When and how much you allow your preteen to use the Internet as a means of communication is entirely up to you as parents.
Identifying the risks
Many teens do not appear to fully comprehend the public nature of material posted on social networking sites. Even material shared “privately” with one or selected others can easily be made public by the recipient. This lack of sensitivity to the potentially damaging nature of such disclosures is extremely evident on social networking sites, where some teens are posting personal contact information, intimate information, and material that is highly damaging to their reputations and current and future opportunities.
The biggest message that must be imparted to children and teens with respect to privacy and the Internet is this: it’s not private! Anything and everything that is put into electronic form and sent or posted online is public, or could easily be made public. Think before you post.
In the real world, when you share information with your friends, it is primarily just between the people present at the time. In general, the distance that offline information travels is limited, as are the ways in which it can be documented.
In the online world your private information and actions can be documented and made public, often by you. In a sense, everyone who participates in public social networks is suddenly a public figure. You should consider all the implications that status carries.
* Help your child set up his or her profile and account settings so that they are acceptable and as safe as possible.
* Let your child know that you will monitor his or her social networking site or blog, and make it clear to him or her what is acceptable and what will not be allowed.
* Help your child understand the public nature of the Internet. Teach your child to be careful of what he or she divulges through text and photos. Things that he or she wouldn’t feel safe saying to someone you have just met on the street should be considered inappropriate to share online.
* Keep an eye on who your child is connecting with online and how much information is being shared by your child, or by comments his or her friends make.
* Teach your child that the surveys and questionnaires abounding on social networking sites are consumer information techniques that companies use in order to find out what kind of products you’re likely to buy, which then helps them formulate advertising strategies.
Establishing Guidelines for Safe Internet Usage
The end objective of guidelines for Internet usage is not to put countless rules in place, but rather to teach your child to make responsible choices for him- or herself, which will safeguard him or her in later years.
A prime responsibility is to teach your children the value of making the right choices. Your children need to understand why something is right or wrong and from that understanding learn to make decisions. The motivation for making the right decisions online should be based on a clear understanding of what is right and safe and what is dangerous and intellectually unhealthy.
You must teach your children how to responsibly use the Internet because the Internet is part of today’s world and technology, and that’s not about to change. A good working knowledge of the Internet and its uses will prepare your children for the inevitability of their use of it in this age of technology.
Beginner Preparation Tips for Parents
* As much as possible, place the computer your children use in a location where it’s easy to supervise them during their online times. You may want to limit the times of the day when the computer is connected to the Internet, so that all computer time does not equal online time.
* When your preteens use the Internet, teach them to have a purpose for what they’re doing online, so that they’re not distracted by the sheer quantity of information and lures. Children must understand that the Internet is not a well-organized, accurate, and safe environment. The Internet is a huge network of computers that make a wide range of information available. Sometimes the information is good and helpful, but sometimes it’s not, and can be harmful or false.
* You may want to bookmark a couple of reputable educational sites or online encyclopedias and stick with going to those sites for the information you’re looking for, rather than going through a search engine. As a parent you could invest some time into this on behalf of your children, and keep these sites as “Favorites” in your Web browser. This can also be applied to sites on recreational subjects, personal hobbies, or interests.
* As children get older, teach them how to use their time online efficiently. It’s easy for anyone to get pulled into the vast amounts of information, email communications, chats, or simple personal interests online, to the point that the minutes and hours fly by. In this age of technology, teaching your children (and personally learning) to use your online time wisely is important. If you can teach your children these principles during childhood, it will encourage good lifelong habits.
Internet Concerns and Dangers
Though the advantages and benefits of the Internet are obvious, the potential pitfalls cannot be ignored. Being informed of the hazards will help you to safeguard against them, and teach your children to do so as well.
A hazard of browsing is that you or your child might land on a site that has inappropriate content, or be redirected to an inappropriate site.
Identifying the Risks
Data suggests that 90 percent of kids between 8 and 16 have seen inappropriate photos and content while browsing. What kind of browsing practices can have these results? According to one study, kids encountered offensive images most often:
* while surfing,
* when they had misspelled Web addresses,
* when they clicked on a link in a Web site.
* Effective strategies can be used to reduce the possibility of accidental exposure to such materials, such as, teaching effective search, Web access, and email handling techniques.
* Children and teens should know how to rapidly respond to any accidental exposure to limit the potential danger of such exposure (i.e., restart their browser). Help them develop a moral stance that leads them to ignore inappropriate content when they come across it, and move on.
* Set up the search preferences of the search engine you use to implement the “safe search” features, which may provide some level of protection against accidental access.
* Explain to your child that when he or she searches for information using a perfectly appropriate term, the search results could lead to inappropriate sites. To avoid this, your child should carefully read the site description and only click on a link if he or she absolutely sure it will be okay to go to this site. If your child can’t tell for sure, he or she should either not click on it or seek parental guidance.
Dealing with the Fallout
At some point in your preteen’s life he/she will encounter inappropriate material, whether online, through magazines, TV, etc. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Do not overreact when this happens. Such occurrences should be viewed as opportunities to address these issues and teach your children the values and reasoning behind your safeguards against inappropriate material.
Children need explanations, counsel, and direction, tailored to their particular needs and age. If you are uncomfortable discussing these matters with your child or teen, there is information online or from other sources (books, professionals) that can provide further guidance as to how to go about it.
The Internet has become integrated into daily living, making accessible information that was previously difficult or costly to obtain. From researching educational topics to playing online educational games, looking up reference material, researching how-to aids, finding useful resources, watching video clips, etc., the Internet has increased and enhanced learning opportunities, as well as provided a means to stay in touch with family and friends.
It would be unreasonable to ignore the ways that the Internet can be used for good. At the same time, there is not only great potential for it to be an avenue for ungodly influences, but there are also many practical security and safety issues to consider.
Your children are inexperienced, which is why they need your guidance to instill in them the right set of values to apply to their online times. This set of values that you instill in your children, rather than specific rules, will in the long run provide them with the greatest safety measure. One day you will not be there peering over their shoulders checking what they do; before long they will be teenagers and adults and will have to make the choices to do right and to steer away from danger based on personal conviction rather than fear of punishment. You have the privilege of shaping your children’s values and morals; do so wisely.
Socially, the Web can become a world of its own, representing a wealth of possibility and discovery for children and young people who engage in online activities. Shy children who have a hard time expressing themselves in face-to-face communications may have little difficulty doing so online—or to the contrary the Internet can encourage such shyness, insecurity, and low self-esteem, because it does not provide opportunities for them to grow in their verbal communication and presentation.
There is also the danger of Internet addiction, and the concerns of providing your child with a balanced array of experiences and activities to ensure healthy development in all areas of his or her life. It’s important to realize that children need time experiencing life away from the computer and Internet, where they can partake in practical life skills, develop social skills, enjoy outdoor recreation, etc. The computer and the Internet should never replace the fundamentals of a child’s upbringing that provide experience and perspective on life and living it to the full.
How Much Time?
Aside from safety issues and practical concerns, another area of your child’s Internet usage that you, as parents, should monitor and evaluate is the amount of time that your child spends at a computer. Inordinate or unnecessary exposure to computers at a young age can create an appetite for continual visual stimulation, which can hinder your child’s desire for a physically active lifestyle or your child’s social development.
Providing your child with a wide range of real-life activities is in itself one of the most important safeguarding strategies to not only keeping the aforementioned Internet concerns and dangers at bay, but ensuring your child’s healthy development in all areas of his or her life.
Childhood is meant to be an active time, filled with fun, activities, adventure, challenges, and thrills—not the lethargy-inducing pull of computers.
When children are young, they are forming their mindsets. They are deciding how they will approach life, what they’ll do with their lives, and spending hours in front of a computer is really sad.
You have to instill that desire for an active lifestyle by doing activities that keep them stirred up. They’ll balk and want to sit down at the computer, but it’s up to you to find ways to energize their lives, to make them want to go outside and have fun rather than sit in the house all day and waste away.
One of the best methods for controlling what your child is exposed to on the Internet is old-fashioned parental guidance. You know what is appropriate for your child to view and what isn’t.
There are a variety of programs available to help parents control the access their children have to the Internet. This type of software is designed for a range of actions, from filtering out sites that are not child friendly to restricting the amount of time that a child spends online. Any filtering systems that you consider for your situation should be in addition to your supervision and the guidelines concerning length of time, purpose of use, etc., that you’ve instituted with your child.
The Internet can be a wonderful education and reference tool, and installing software that will filter out inappropriate material will enhance the quality of your Internet searches and online time.
If you do decide to install filtering software on the computer your children have access to, you could use this opportunity to teach your child why you are doing so.
A danger lies in thinking that after installing such software that your preteens are now safe and no longer need supervision and instruction from you. The software will only do a measure of safeguarding. So while the filtering software will alleviate some concerns, as the parent it is your ultimate responsibility to ensure that your children learn how to protect themselves from inappropriate material later on in life when they may not have filtering or other forms of external constraints. At such times they will also need to have a good understanding and personal conviction as to why inappropriate sites should be avoided.