For kids, the internet can be a potentially hazardous environment. While it is close to impossible to completely control what a kid will see and hear throughout his/her childhood, there are a few ways to limit the impact of harmful material on the net. Here are some ground rules that can be adopted to maximize the safety for your child while online.
Internet is not a right
Reinforce the idea that the internet is a benefit and not a right. The internet is optional, something that can be used if the kid is trustworthy and responsible. Using the internet is a benefit of good behavior and is not an automatic right. Just because there is a computer in the house does not mean that it is fair game for kids to use. This idea is important to drive home in the mind of the child. Preventing a problem from arising is easier than fixing the problem.
The "grandma" Rule
This is a heavy duty tactic. Using empathy to influence the decision making process is effective. Talk to the kid and explain this concept. "If grandma was watching, would she be OK with it?". When the child starts thinking of this situation the conscious might kick in. This would be effective in deterring any harmful behavior.
Make sure that the time spent on the computer is mostly work-related. Idle time can be spent on potentially harmful sites with inappropriate content. By driving home the idea that the computer time is work time, the child will learn to use the internet for homework, reports, projects etc. Being productive online keeps the kids away from the ugly under-belly of the web.
Internet is a tool not a toy
Games and entertainment online are huge wastes of time. It is very easy to become hooked to a video or Flash game. Kids are susceptible to all distractions. As the saying goes, it's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. This is especially true for gaming sites. Many of these exist to make money. They can do this through email scamming and other harmful methods. There are respectable gaming sites out there but educate the kids about the shady looking ones.
"Do you want that in real life?"
The internet is interesting in the fact that it almost acts as an environment for a double life. It is important that the kids understand that there is no disconnect between the "real" world and the virtual one. By asking that question, this gives the kids an opportunity to second-guess their impulse and improve their critical thinking skills. An example of this would be talking to strangers. Most children have a natural aversion to people they don't know. It is a survival mechanism that can serve them well. A kid most likely would strike up a conversation with a creepy individual in a dark alley at night. What makes an unmonitored chat room any different? Make the kids imagine how their life would be if whatever they are doing online is real and in front of them. If its harmless then it should be OK if not stay away.
Limit computer time
If you can limit the time spent online you can effectively limit the chances of harm. Make sure that the computer and internet usages do not go unchecked. There should be in place a system that can limit the time that the child spends online. This will help the child develop a sense of respect for his or her time and the resources available on the computer. There is the old saying- idle hands are the devil's tools.
Regulate time of day
It is easy to come home from school or work and camp out in front of the computer for hours. We do this to unwind or get distracted from daily life. Rules can be put in place that can make the internet available at certain times of the day. This helps to cultivate a sense of time management. Another bad habit is to stay on the computer late into the night. This has detrimental impacts on the children. Sleep is very critical to healthy growth and should not be compromised. No computer after lights out.
Talk about what the kid did
The biggest defense is involvement. By actively asking the kid about what he or she did online can create pressure to avoid harmful behavior. Repeated over a period of time, the kid will become accustomed to being drilled after they go offline. Kids do best when the parents are involved and the internet is no exception.
So take these tips and try them out. Remember they are meant to have a positive impact on the kids' life. The internet can be a great experience and it is important that the children have ground rules so they can use it properly.