Although I am a big proponent of Internet filters, throwing more technology at our children and expecting it to solve the problem is not the best way to protect them from the digital dangers in the world today. There are many things you can do, today, to help make a safer environment for your children.
Here are 10 tips you can implement immediatly to help keep your children safe in todays digital world:
1. Educate yourself about your computer and how the Internet works. If parents know the dangers, they cann more easily help their children avoid them. Simply banning a child from certain websites or technologies may only motivate them to become curious, and to seek them out - whereas educating your child on how to keep safe will help them to understand the reasons that we want to limit their digital experiences, and will help them develop their own “internal filter” so they can know on their own when they are venturing too far.
2. Teach children to protect their identity while online. Help your children understand how to safely share photos of themselves on their social networking sites, using the privacy settings to help protect these images from strangers. Teach them not to give out their names, addresses, phone numbers, schools, or other personal information where strangers can find them. Teach children not to share any personal information online without parental knowledge and permission. Help them understand that many predators pose as children to gain access and information that may put them at risk.
3. Install a filtering program, and learn its features and how to use it. Don't simply "set it and forget it" - read the reports, use the features, and know how your computer is being used! Family safety software is becoming extremely advanced and an effective way to filter dangerous content. Additionally, this software usually comes with tools like time management, remote monitoring and reporting, and keystroke recognition. Good filtering programs allow you to view a history of which sites and chat rooms have been visited and when, as well as a record of incoming and outgoing e-mails and chat logs. Educate yourself about the latest filtering/family safety programs at sites such as www.internetfilterreview.com.
4. Know the dangers associated with applications and websites that your children use. Teach family members to never open e-mail from someone they don’t know, and to be wary of attachments to emails. Become familiar with the social networking sites they frequent, and be sure you know what people are doing on your children's favorite sites that could put them in harm's way.
5. Teach family members to tell parents if they encounter any form of inappropriate content online. This may include pornography, sexual solicitations, online bullying, etc. Teaching children to bring this to your attention will help reduce the fear or shame that accompanies accidental exposure. It also serves to open discussion about the dangers of pornography.
6. Manage your children's time on the Internet. Scheduling times when a child can be on the Internet and the amount they can be online ensures that you know when they are on the Internet and how long. By not allowing them to have free reign reduces their chances of being exposed to inappropriate content. Be aware of what your children’s school and public library policies are regarding Internet use and accessibility.
7. Set specific Internet guidelines for your children to live by and consistently enforce consequences if they are not followed. Giving your children specific guidelines to follow ensures they know where they stand when it comes to how they use the Internet as well as the consequences when they breach the rules. If a parent enforces consequences consistently, their children will be more likely to follow the rules.
8. Place computers in high-traffic areas of the home. With PCs in the open, children will be less inclined to view and access material that may not be acceptable. Kitchens, family rooms, and studies tend to be good options, because these rooms usually don’t have doors and they are typically less secluded than bedrooms. Position computer monitors so the screen faces out for public view. If you are having a tough time figuring out where to place the computer, look for where the carpet is the most warn in your home – that is a high-traffic area, and may be an ideal location for a computer.
9. Strive for open relationships with your children that would be conducive to open communication. Open communication and trust is key when dealing with online safety. By letting children know what is expected from them and that their safety is a top priority, they will feel that if something happens--whether they are approached by a cyber stranger or bully or receive an inappropriate email--they can approach a parent to resolve the issue without feeling they are in trouble.
10. Prepare yourself NOW for how you will react when your child comes to you to inform you of something innappriate that they saw or read online. Your reaction will determine how quickly they come to you the next time it happens - don't over react, and remember that statistics show it is only a matter of WHEN, not IF, they come across inappropriate content. It doesn't mean they went looking for it. If you are prepared for how you will handle this conversation, it will go much better, and they will come to you again the nex time it happens.
Remember that we are living in a new, digital world. Our children are looking to us to help them stay safe, both in the physical world and the digital one. Stay informed, and help them stay safe!