For many children, time spent outdoors running around with friends has been replaced by playing video games, chatting or surfing online. The Internet is an effective learning tool, if used properly and in moderation. If you're worried your child is spending too much time online, there are several ways to monitor, limit and control his access to and usage of the family computer.
Insist your child sign an Internet contract to ensure he not only spends an appropriate time on the Internet, but also remains on age-appropriate sites. The details on the contract will vary depending on the family's beliefs, but in general, it should set down time limits for Internet usage and include parent-approved websites the child is allowed to visit. Spell out that your child is only allowed to surf the web or play computer games after his homework or chores are completed. If your child follows the rules during the week, provide him with extra time on the Internet during the weekend. Also include a list of websites and video games your child is allowed access to, such as his favorite MMORPG or age-appropriate learning or entertainment sites. If your child follows the rules laid out in the contract, his reward is continued access to the computer. However, if he disregards rules, the punishment is loss of Internet privileges. Sign the contract, and instruct your child to do the same. Hang the contract near the computer and refer to it as needed.
Aside from the traditional parental controls, including hardware and software that enables parents to monitor their child's usage, block potentially malicious sites and even only allow access to the computer and Internet during set times, there are a variety of other specialized parental control options, according to PCMag.com. If you're concerned with your child's safety on Internet-enabled devices besides the family computer -- such as a mobile phone or gaming system -- there are routers and other hardware available that allow parents to control their children's Internet usage throughout the home. There are also downloadable apps available for smart phones. If you're concerned about your child's vulnerability on social networking sites, there are programs available that alert parents to potentially malicious posts or pictures uploaded to social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter.
Make it a Family Affair
Aside from installing potentially expensive hardware or software to monitor your child's Internet usage, one of the most effective ways to ensure your family remains safe online is to create an open dialogue about the potential dangers associated with the Internet. Sit your children down and inform them that although most of the people they'll contact on the Internet are friendly, there are predators whose main objective is to harm children and families. To ensure your child remains safe, insist on keeping the computer in a shared family space. Limit or completely block your child's access to the Internet while alone, such as in his bedroom. Don't allow him to use gaming consoles or smart phones in his bedroom or while alone.
Set a Timer
If finances are tight, one of the simplest ways to control your child's Internet access and usage is to set a timer. For example, only allow your child to access the Internet for entertainment purposes for 20 to 30 minutes each day. Allow your child some privacy, but don't hesitate to poke your head over his shoulder periodically to ensure he's not looking at inappropriate websites. Once the timer rings, your child's access to the Internet is limited to homework-related searches.