At the click of a button, today’s children have instant access to the information highway. Although much that is available on the Internet is appropriate, parents cannot always be aware of what sites their children are visiting. Kids may stumble on explicit content by misspelling a Web address or mixing up a search term. An innocent visit to a gaming site or chat room can result in inadvertent contact with a creepy stranger. Social networking also presents the opportunity to give out too much information. Being aware of your options allows you to show trust while still erring on the side of caution.
Make note of all the devices available to your child that have Internet access. This includes smartphones, tablets and computers. In addition to social networking, online gaming and Internet surfing, many devices have the capability of downloading movies, including adult content.
Communicate with your kids about acceptable use of devices. Come to a family agreement about time restraints. Let them know what sites are appropriate for them to visit and which ones to avoid. Keep in mind that different restrictions may be appropriate for different family members.
Ask your kids what sites they like and why they like them. Then, do your homework and check out the sites for yourself.
Caution your children that under no circumstances should they give out identifying information about themselves, their friends or family members. Make sure they understand that includes names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers, as well as Social Security numbers and credit card information.
Set up the computer in the kitchen, den or living room, if possible, so you can keep an eye on what your kids are doing.
Keep communication pathways open with your kids so they feel free to let you know if they are bullied, harassed or made to feel uncomfortable on social networking sites. Advise them to talk to you, their teachers or other trusted adults about such situations.
Set up parental controls through your Internet service provider. Most companies offer a free service allowing you access to a Web activity report showing the sites your child visits.
Set time limits for individual users through the parental control service. If you have kids of varying ages, you can establish different time limits.
Block access to specific sites and various web tools -- instant messaging, gaming, chat rooms and message boards -- when appropriate.
Set parental controls on Internet browsers to restrict access to certain sites. The service is free on most browsers, but parental control software is available if you require additional solutions.
As children gain independence, they may resent limits and controls you set on Internet use. To avoid confrontation with your child, discuss safety concerns before issues arise and maintain an open dialogue concerning Internet use. It is also helpful to explain to children that limiting Internet time gives them the opportunity to engage in social and physical activities with family and friends.