For Parents: Steps to Keep Your Child Safe Online

Talk with your child about online dangers. Explain identity theft, cyberbullying, the dangers of meeting someone he or she meets online, and the warning signs that an online “friend” may be an Internet predator interested in sexually abusing a child or teenager.

1. Never underestimate an Internet predator’s persistence.

2. Do not allow your child’s picture to be used without your permission.

3. Teach your children to keep personal information, along with passwords and photos, private.

4. Keep computers in common family areas of your home. Do not allow your child unlimited access to a computer with Internet access, especially in a bedroom or a secluded area of your home.

5. Do not allow your child to use:

  • a webcam in a private location
  • a digital camera without discussing acceptable use with them
  • an evidence eraser, Internet washer or drive scrubber that deletes all traces of what the computer accessed or was used for. An Internet predator may ask the child to use these programs to keep from getting caught.

Regularly search your computer’s Internet history.

1. Let your child teach you what they know about computers. This will help to open up communication and empower your child.

2. Visit your child’s favorite websites with them.

3. Create clear, simple and easy-to-read Internet Safety rules and post near your computer. For an excellent resource, see the Netsmartz Safety Pledges.

Beware:

  • Child-friendly websites can have links that take a child to a different site with inappropriate material, games or chat.
  • Many handheld devices connect to the Internet.
  • Kids are not only accessing the Internet from the family computer.
  • Those apps that your child downloaded to his Smartphone may not be appropriate and filters don’t catch everything.
  • One app may open up access to additional apps.

Not Appropriate:

  • A new form of social networking takes connecting with friends and family to a whole new level.
  • New social mapping applications for cell phones allow users to meet in person. Common applications are Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla. These applications track every movement the user makes.
  • Do you know what apps your teenager has on her Smartphone?

Distracted Drivers:

  • 25% of teens say they text while driving.
  • 48% have been a passenger when a driver texted while driving.
  • Teens say their parents are texting fanatics too.
  • Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project (2009)

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4. Make the effort to be informed about computers and the Internet.

5. Have your children log onto the family computer with a single family account that will not restrict your access.

6. Establish limits on phone use, video download time, social networking, instant messaging and other computer pastimes. Some examples of possible limits follow:

  • Place cell phones in family charger by bedtime.
  • Practice safe texting. Never text while driving or walking.
  • Turn off cell phones during family time.
  • Complete homework before using computer, cell phone, MP3 player, etc.
  • Limit social networking to one hour per week.
  • Limit online video viewing/downloading/uploading to one hour per week.
  • Limit gaming to one hour per week.
  • Access only parent-approved websites/social network sites (depending on age of child).
  • Always ask for permission before downloading anything, including apps for handheld devices.
  • Report cyberbullying to parents or caregiver.
  • Report to parents or caregiver anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or scared.

7. Model good behavior. Follow the same technology-use limits that you establish for your children.

8. Make kids accountable. Technology use is a privilege, not a right.  Make sure they earn it.

  • Give kids plenty of opportunities to be successful.
  • Catch them making good choices.

9. Enforce appropriate consequences if rules are broken.

  • Work with your kids to develop a computer/Internet use contract that outlines their privileges, what will happen if those privileges are exploited and what they can expect from you. Sign the contract along with your child and post it near your family computer (see the sample contract (PDF) from the Cyberbullying Research Center)
  • Be reasonable when enforcing consequences. Completely banning the technology is not a realistic solution. Youth will find ways to access the technology elsewhere (for example, at a friend’s house, library or coffee shop).
  • Effective consequences must help the child make better choices next time.
  • Be consistent and follow through.

10. Explain what’s at stake. Let kids know that what they do today may be used against them in the future.

  • Talk with your children about sexting.  Many children are unaware of the legal ramifications and behave in this risky manner thinking it will stay between friends.

11. Find ways to say “yes” That means doing your homework and knowing the sites they visit, the songs they download, etc. — and finding ways to use technology that lets us say “yes” more often than we say “no.”

12. It’s not rocket science. If our children can do it, so can we. Learn to text, send a mobile photo, set up a Facebook page, upload a video. Or have your kids show you how. It’s impossible to guide what you don’t understand. Not only that, but think of all the anxiety you can avoid by knowing how things work.

13. Embrace their world and enjoy the possibilities together. None of us want digital divides in our relationships with our kids. It’s up to us to join the fun and help them seize the potential.

Remember, technology is here to stay.  It is an integral part of our lives today and tomorrow.

Source: Common Sense Media (2009). (Common Sense Rules of the Road for Parents).

Kid-friendly Social Networking Sites:

Please note, the age limits listed below are based on the site’s limits and may not be appropriate for all children in these age ranges.  Do your homework and use discretion when allowing children to set up their own online social-networking profiles.

My Secret Circle
A secure social networking site for girls limited to real-life friends.  Ages 8 and up.

Yoursphere
A social networking site for kids and teens that promises to block adults.  Ages 9 and up.

FaceChipz
Kid version of adult social networking.  Ages 7 and up.

Think MTV
Safe, smart, socially conscious networking site.  Ages 14 and up.

Additional Resources