One Couple’s Approach to Keeping Their Child Safe Online

Most parents these days worry about their children’s safety and their behavior while on the Internet. Some common sense, attention, and unbreakable rules can provide the structure a child needs, whether he or she knows it or not, and some peace of mind for every parent.

Start Training Early

We parents start talking with our kids about talking with strangers, inappropriate touching, drugs, drinking, looking both ways across the street and a whole list of safety issues when our kids can barely walk. Use that same early introduction and rules for using the computer. The earlier we start teaching them, the earlier they learn and the safer they are later.

Always reinforce courtesy, do’s and dont’s. Clearly outline at each advancement what is and is not acceptable from the child and from others your child may encounter. Always let your child know that he or she can come to you with problems, even if he isn’t sure a situation actually is a problem.

As kids get older, they’ll probably rebel, but it’s up to us “responsible adults” to keep them safe, and that always starts when they’re young and continues far into adulthood, much to their later chagrin, I’m sure.

Tiered Use Allowances

Encourage your child to ask questions about what you are doing on the computer and when time allows, show them. Until they are old enough to operate a computer on their own, though, keep its use a tandem event until at least your child starts primary school if not a few years after that. (Many schools use computers to aid learning, and having him familiar with them already helped both him and his teacher.)

My husband and I started the introduction process to our ten-year-old son, David, when he was only three. One of us sat with him and played learning games on it. Davie loved Sesame Street and a few other kids programs on TV, so between those programs and our own interaction, he already knew some of the alphabet and counting. Joseph and I made sure that anything David did on the computer was with him either on a lap or in the chair next to us, but the adult handled all the keyboard and mouse actions.

He’d point to or say an answer then tell us where it was on the screen. We’d click, and he got praised for the action and the answer.

By the time he was five, he could operate the PC himself, but he had to ask to use it. He couldn’t sneak and do it: We disconnected the keyboard and kept it up high somewhere in the master bedroom. He could turn on the machine but couldn’t do anything with it without permission. And when he did use it, he was never without direct supervision until his eighth birthday. An adult still had to be at home and awake, though.

He said the “bestest” birthday present he got (that year) was his very own log-on. My husband and I had set up the user account, complete with easy password protection, so David would feel “grown up,” but we had severe access limitations, and the Internet was on that prohibited list.

David knew about it, but his judgment wasn’t refined enough for either his father or me. He wasn’t allowed to use the computer without even indirect supervision, though, just in case something went wrong. He wasn’t thrilled, but rules are rules, and he learned pretty quickly not to gripe about it when he couldn’t use the computer at all for a while.

It isn’t going to be until David is old enough to get a part-time job with an employer that we’ll grant him unsupervised Internet access. If he’s responsible enough to get and hold a job that’s not a paper route or something like it, then he’s responsible enough to know Internet use rules and, hopefully, abide by them.

Joe and I almost constantly quiz David with online scenarios. He might wave to someone on the street, and we always ask him what he’d do about a stranger on the Internet. “Hey, Dave. If you greeted someone online, and you two started talking, what would you do if the other person asked you to meet him or her somewhere?” We review Dave’s answer and praise for a “right” answer or explain what’s “off” about the answer he gives. We have to be quite creative in our phrasing now, because the boy was finishing our scenario introductions! We just smiled when that happened because it proved David was actually listening all those times!

We don’t plan on letting David access the Internet at all at home until he’s in middle school, and then it will be only under direct supervision  at first. He’ll get indirectly supervised access—when an adult is home but not necessarily in the same room—only when he proves he can use the Internet responsibly. When that might be will be up to him to prove.

Independent Use

Keep your child’s computer use completely supervised, either directly or indirectly, with or without Internet access until you are positive he probably won’t accidentally crash it or head somewhere that he could get into trouble.

He could still become a predator’s target, but at least we’ll have taught him as best we can, and Joe and I will still monitor Dave’s use—and David knows it.

Should he be granted full independent access to the Internet, it won’t be until he’s in high school. He knows we’ll still monitor his activity as it applies to his own behavior while online, to make sure he hasn’t bypassed any security lock-out, and to spot predatory behavior from others that he might not have recognized.

Until he’s in college or lives elsewhere, it’s an “Our house—our rules” standard.

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