My 11 year old is learning to navigate the internet. My husband and I have been extraordinarily cautious with how much we have let our kids be online, but the internet is here to stay and it’s an essential part of how our culture operates, so it’s key that she learns to be safe and smart online in this strange new world. Here are a few things we are doing and teaching her. Feel free to jump in with your thoughts and ideas! I know you all have lots of wisdom to share!
Use an internet filter. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to protect your kids from things they may stumble across (or search for) while online. No internet filter is perfect, but we’ve been very pleased with Net Nanny. Not much gets through. We also take advantage of all the safe search and security settings available on other devices. Our home computers, handheld devices, and Netflix on the Wii all must be accessed with passwords. Our kids are not allowed to be on a device that has unfiltered, unrestricted internet. There’s too much perversion too readily available.
Keep your computer in a public place—no internet access in bedrooms or other hidden places.
Don’t share personal info. We tell our kids, “Don’t sign up for things without Dad and Mom’s permission, don’t give your real name, don’t tell where you live, where you are, where you go, when you are going on vacation, what your personal habits and routines are,” and so forth. The kids know that they can’t post their picture publicly. It’s easy for a predator to piece together personal info and figure out who you are and where you live.
Don’t mistake online interaction for real friendship. Recently I joined a forum using all my normal caution. Most of the people on this particular forum were my age and younger—many of them in their late teens and early 20’s. I was blown away by how much personal, personal info they shared with total strangers, how quickly they trusted each other, and how few inhibitions they have about meeting in person. I guess I have been naïve, but apparently this is part of today’s internet culture. These people grew up with the internet and this is how it’s done. I believe genuine friendships can spring from online encounters, but more often I think it promotes a false sense of intimacy. Personally, I can think of 3 people I have “met” online that I have one-on-one contact with after 10 years of internet use, and then only after YEARS of very cautious and careful online observation.
Remember, anything you put online is there forever. Even if you delete it, it’s cached or archived somewhere.
No secrecy. My husband and I have all passwords to any accounts our children have. We also have each other’s user names and passwords for all accounts. We have access to each other’s accounts, whether email, forums, or Facebook whenever we like, although truthfully we rarely do—the point is that we are free, honest, and open with each other about our online lives. We don’t hide our internet histories from each other. We discuss the sites we visit and what we read. We don’t have secrets. Secrets destroy lives, families, and relationships.
What about you? How do you teach your children about internet safety? How do you keep yourself safe online?