Today's younger generations are highly engaged with computing. Gaming, web surfing, social networking, Internet research, texting and online chatting are all activities children these days have grown up with and consider a vital part of their lives. Kids today don't remember a time where playing outside was the center of after school fun and rainy days were truly a bummer. Weather is hardly an issue for children these days. Since the advent of computers, rain or shine, there's always a time to go online. Mobile has further made tech even more accessible for kids.
Limiting and Monitoring Online Activities
Computer activities can be so engrossing that time passes quickly during play. Television used to be the big thorn in the foot of many parents, leading experts to suggest it is up to parents to provide the monitoring for "screen time". 1 Fast-forward to today and, while TV is still an issue parents face other factors have complicated the "screen" issue.
Time spent in front of TV screens is not the only thing parents need to monitor - Internet activities should also be carefully supervised. Not unlike television, chances are children will not be able to regulate their own computer time either. Not to mention potentially finding themselves landing on inappropriate websites.
If left to make their own decisions, chances are most kids will gravitate towards some form of screen.
As valuable as the Internet can be, unfortunately, it clearly has its drawbacks too. Traditionally, anonymity on the web can be a recipe for disaster when kids begin interacting with other people online. However, in the age of Facebook where people are using real identities, it further increases safety issues for kids.
This is especially true in more recent years as more Internet-ready gadgets come on the market. In recent years, due to the rapid development of mobile, in addition to traditional computers and laptops, kids can interact online using tablets, phones and even hand-held video games.
Internet socialization activities are a virtual playground for predators and, as parents, it is our responsibility to take care so children are safe online. Much like the way kids are supervised in the offline environment, adults also must guide children to understanding the safety rules of the Internet in this massive "playground". It is inevitable a child will be exposed to Internet access. Years ago the philosophy was to just restrict them from it until they were old enough, however, that philosophy over the years has changed. Many experts suggest the best way to approach web connectivity is to not completely prevent them from exposure but teach kids strategies and ways to protect themselves.
Today's playground borders extend far beyond the traditional playground - the Internet has added an entirely new dynamic to the spaces children routinely play in.
There are many ways parents can effectively monitor their child's and reduce the risks of him or her falling prey to the dangers lurking online.
Talk to Your Child(ren)
Discuss the dangers of predators online. Teaching kids about strangers is nothing new. It's important to educate them of the extra risks the Internet is in addition to traditional stranger-danger rules. Many children are feel their online buddies are trustworthy because they believe these "pals" are the people they say they are. Take the time to explain to your children that people are not always honest online and, since you can't see them, they can easily lie about their identity, age and use fake photos.
Also, kids need to understand what type of information is OK and not OK to share online. Also photos should be shared with caution. Even if his or her face is shielded by sunglasses or a hat, the type of clothing he or she is wearing can give strangers a lot of information (think school spirit gear, local sports teams, etc.). Privacy controls can be used on social networks, but these are not infallible, glitches can and do happen. It's important both parents and their children understand these tools are good, but are also not a guarantee. It's better to be proactive about what's being shared.
Get Educated and Use Parental Controls
Give yourself time to develop a full understanding about everything there is to know about the online environment that kids these days are tapping into. It's changed a lot over the past decade. Get familiarized about common social networking sites and keep up to date on these latest trends (teens will especially flock to networks where their parents aren't - this happened when Facebook spread in popularity and adults joined the networks too). Know about any other areas that appeal to children so you can effectively assess the suitability of these websites.
Additionally, it is a good idea to learn about parental controls and other tools available. These tools can offer an extra layer of protection; they are not meant to replace parental eyes, but rather enhance monitoring.
Set Time Limits
If your family uses a desktop, hooking up the computer in a prominent place will allow you to keep ears and eyes on what is happening. Years ago, this was easy, but not so much in the age of mobile. Let your child know you will be monitoring activity, but allow him or her a level of privacy too, in a safe way.
While chances are kids can't be monitored 100 percent of the time, set reasonable time limits from the time they are young. This way they grow up learning these habits as they grow into tweens and teens. Discuss any rule(s) with your child and use the parental controls as an extra safety net.
For instance, applications can be programmed to shut down after a designated time and/or Wi-Fi settings can be set to turn off access for devices during certain times/hours of the day. Or simply cut the Wi-Fi off at night. Parents also might want to limit the amount of time their children spend on social networking sites. This ensures he/she will still maintain "offline" relationships and not favor the virtual ones.
Monitoring your child's computer time does not have to be stressful or domineering. Make it fun - take an interest in chat buddies, ask to see your child's profile and comment on its creativity, show an interest in the games your child likes - maybe even play one with him or her from time to time. If your child sees you are truly interested in his or her online activities, he or she will be more inclusive towards you and be less likely to complain about any restrictions you've set. After all, open communication nurtures understanding and your children will know you have their best interests at heart because you love them.
While the dangers are very real, there are a lot of rewarding benefits which come from technology use as well. When your children first discover the wonderment of the Internet, teach them the differences and they will grow up with the knowledge of how to stay safe and protect themselves. The reality is kids will need to have a full understanding of computing and the Internet. It's going to be an active part of their future - in school and beyond. Parents today can no longer effectively shield their kids from being online in today's world like they could a decade ago. They will be exposed to it at some point, whether it is at school or at a friend's house. Parents need to be both prepared and proactive.