Keep your computer in a family area such as the living room or kitchen. When your teen has a computer in his room, it's far more difficult to monitor how much time he spends on it. It also prevents your teen from spending hours of unsupervised time surfing the Internet and chatting with friends.
Talk with your teen about why you're going to impose computer limits. Tell him you want him to spend time reading, pursuing hobbies, spending time with friends and getting some exercise. When your child has a variety of activities he's involved in, he has less time to sit in front of a computer screen, according to the book, "Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens." Children who are given concrete reasons for certain rules are also more likely to accept them without complaint.
Decide on a limit for how much time your teen can spend on the computer at one time. Set the timer for whatever amount of time you choose. Tell your teen how much time she has and when the timer beeps, she has to finish her email, game or other activity and turn the computer off immediately. She's less likely to be upset when her time is up if it's not a surprise, such as when you just announce that she needs to get off the computer without any warning.
Give your teen a consequence if he throws a fit or gets angry when you ask him to turn the computer off. Perhaps you could deduct future computer time. When the consequence stings, he's more likely to get off the computer without a fit of anger.
Surprise your teen with a reward every once in awhile. If she's been adhering to her limits without getting rude and upset, surprise her with an extra 15 minutes or so of computer time so she knows that you appreciate her efforts. When you keep it a surprise, your teen is more likely to behave because she'll want a repeat reward in the future.
Monitor what websites your teen is visiting and who he's chatting with online. If you do allow your teen to have a computer in his room, set it up so he can't access the Internet, recommends Vicky R. Bowden and Cindy Smith Greenberg, authors of "Children and Their Families: The Continuum of Care."
Research and download parental control tools onto your computer. These tools can limit the websites that your children can access, ensuring they stay away from pornography websites or other sites with inappropriate images. You can find both free parental control tools and systems that you can buy. Select the one that provides the protection you desire, and follow the tool's installation instructions.
Monitor your kids' web access. Many of these parental control tools will keep a web-based log of your children's Internet activity. Checking this activity regularly has multiple benefits. First, you can ensure that the controls are working properly by preventing access to inappropriate websites. Second, you can monitor use of video-game or social-media websites, ensuring that your kids don't spend too much time on these websites.
Set up your computer in a public location in the home. If your kitchen is the hub of your house, place the family computer in that room so you can monitor your children's Internet use. While the parental control tools are your first line of defense, your watchful eye can ensure that your kids are accessing only child-friendly websites.
Talk to your kids about appropriate Internet behavior. Discuss the importance of never talking to strangers or divulging personal information on the web. Encourage them to stay on the lookout for signs of cyberbullying, such as threatening language, and report it to you immediately. An open dialogue about Internet safety can encourage your kids to come to you should a safety issue arise when they're surfing the web.
Keep parental control tools up to date -- they might require occasional updates, so check the software regularly. If your kids use a tablet or smartphone to access the Internet, download parental control apps so you can monitor their use and protect them on these devices as well.
Toddlers and preschoolers need to learn the basics of computers first. When discussing your home computer, use the appropriate terminology -- don't underestimate your child's ability to learn from and understand you. Show your child how to use the computer as you instruct him. Instead of just saying, "Turn on the power button," point to the button or press it with him. Point out each part of the computer such as the monitor, keyboard and mouse before you move on to more complex tech activities.
Typing is one of the key elements your child must learn to use a computer. She can learn how to use the keyboard with word processing programs or simply by practicing. Write out a paragraph or two, and have your child type it up for you. Include letters, numbers and symbols to help your child learn about all of the keys.
The Internet provides an ideal way for kids to research information for a school history report. Before letting your little one loose online, ensure that he knows how to use the Internet and how to keep safe while surfing. Introduce your child to a kid-friendly search engine such as KidRex. Help your child come up with keywords that match what he is looking for. If he is researching George Washington, have him type in "George Washington," "first president" or "U.S. presidents." Talk to your child about Internet safety issues such as not giving out his personal information and staying out of chat rooms.
Using the Computer for School
As your child moves into the elementary, middle and high school years, she will need to use the computer for school work. This could include doing more than Internet research. Your child might need to type reports, create spreadsheets or make her own PowerPoint presentation. Open the program that she needs to use -- such as Excel or PowerPoint -- and help her to explore its uses. Before your child has to create a formal project for school, allow her to try out different uses for the software. This will give her time to make mistakes, discover facets of the applications and feel comfortable using the computer.
Positioning the computer in an open location that allows your family a view of the computer monitor is a good Internet security practice, according to the FBI, which recommends avoiding computer use in bedrooms or study nooks. These private locations give your children opportunities to talk secretly with anyone in the world. Open Internet use helps curb potential problems such as adults approaching children in chat rooms.
Parent Security Practices
Parents want to create strong levels of trust with children, and the best security practices for Internet use requires expanding this trust to talk about the technology use in the family. Creating a climate of open discussion about potential problems gives children the confidence to approach parents with questions about Internet security issues, including inappropriate personal messaging and requests to meet offline. Parents should also model best security practices by setting family rules about such practices as using a password to access email, rules for accepting instant messages or sending and receiving texts on computers and hours of use.
Operating programs have built-in security features that give adults the ability to set various passwords to log on to various devices. Safety filters block children from accessing the basic operating system to use the equipment. Apple operating systems, for example, allow parents to restrict access to various built-in software programs, including Safari, the company's Internet browsing software. Adults can use the restrictions on all types of computers to automatically block online TV shows, movies, podcasts, music and books from young eyes.
Software and Internet Provider Security
Software passwords limit access to the Internet, even when children have the correct passwords to log on to the computer, cell phone or other digital device. Software controls, including Microsoft, allow parents to monitor and track a child's use of the Internet using the browser history feature on the software toolbar. This feature tracks Internet website visits and offers parents a record of the viewed sites and online searches. The software browser also gives parents the ability to block websites and provide children limited access to select sites. After-market security involves purchasing software that gives expanded controls for adults to block specifically named sites and to limit access to the Internet to users logging on with a new daily special password or code.
Install tracking software on your computer. Tracking software records actions such as websites visited and keystrokes, and allows you to toggle access to various websites. It's important to rely on something other than your Internet browser history. The National Academy of Sciences warns that smart kids know how to delete their Internet history after visiting forbidden websites.
Join the websites that your child is a member of. He might be too young for the 13-year-old age restriction on Facebook, but he might be a member of gaming or kid's club sites. If your child has his own log-in, set an account up for yourself so you can see what he's posting and how he's interacting with others online.
Bookmark your child's favorite websites on the sidebar of your Internet browser, suggests KidsHealth.org. This allows you to first ask your child about his favorite websites and see how he spends his time online, but also makes his favorite websites easily accessible so he's less likely to surf around on his own. In fact, you could institute a rule that he can only access bookmarked sites that have been approved by you.
Ask your child about the sites he likes the best. If you have a few spare minutes, sit down with him and ask him to show you the various websites he visits and how he usually spends time online. This is an ideal opportunity to talk about Internet safety, your house rules regarding websites and to see your child's online interests.
Move your family computer to a common area of the home. While you can install software, check your child's online history and join his favorite websites, one of the best ways to know his online whereabouts is proper supervision. A computer in the kitchen or family room means your child can't hide access to certain sites like he might were he to have a computer in his room. Keep an eye on your child and you'll know which sites he visits the most frequently.
The child development experts at the Kids Health website recommend that parents use online tools to protect their children's safety while using the Internet. While these tools don't guarantee a completely safe online environment, they can restrict what sites your child visits and also monitor her surfing habits. This can help keep your child from accidentally stumbling upon a website that features adult content. Additionally, monitoring programs and tools can allow you to keep track of where your child is going while online and with whom she is making connections.
Nothing can take the place of you. Just like you wouldn't allow your young child to go swimming, walk across town or go to the mall by himself, you shouldn't allow him to interact with technology completely alone. According to the professionals at the Kids Health website, parents should keep the computer in a common room and spend time online with their children. Going online with your child not only helps you to see what he is doing on the Internet, it also allows you the chance to educate him on safe practices.
As your child grows and develops, so do her social skills. Kids near or in the teen years may enjoy using social networking media to connect with friends from school or other peers. Before you let your child loose online, make sure that she knows the rules of social safety while online and during any technology use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents learn about social media technologies to better understand the risks to their children, ask children daily about their computer use and educate children on the dangers of sharing too much information either online or via text and email.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' stopbullying.com website defines cyberbullying as using electronic technology to intimidate or cause harm to another person. This may include making mean-spirited posts on a social media site, sending rumor-filled text messages or writing threatening emails. Parents should educate children on what cyberbullying is and how to respond to it. This should entail communicating with your child and letting him know that he should come to you, or another trusted adult such as a teacher, if he feels threatened or bullied via technology. Additionally, monitoring your child's technology use can help you to become more aware of potential cyberbully threats even if your child doesn't always come out and tell you.