The Internet can be a wonderful place for children to learn and play. Websites such as Starfall.com help teach basic literacy concepts. PBS and The Disney Channel both have websites where children can interact with their favorite characters. However, any adult who has ever accidentally turned off the Safe Search setting on Google knows that the Internet has a darker underside. This includes adult content like pornography, but it also includes racism, violence and other content from which many parents wish to protect their children.
Whether parents should censor the Internet for their children is a personal decision that each individual family must make. Some families may be comfortable with children having unlimited Internet access, while other families restrict children to a list of pre-approved websites. The “rules” for acceptable Internet usage will be different from family to family, depending on multiple factors, including the ages of the children in the home. All of the adults in a home or family should come to an agreement about what types of Internet usage are acceptable for children and what rules will help keep everyone in the home safe online. If your children are older, they should participate in discussions about Internet rules and how they apply to your household.
Even if you choose to allow your children unlimited Internet access, it is still advisable to monitor their online activities. Malicious adults find it relatively easy to obtain personal information about children, including names, addresses and birth dates, and can use this information to cause harm. Child development experts at the Kids Health website recommend that families place computers in a public area of the home, like the family room or den. Knowing that family members walking by can see his Internet activity will discourage your child from revealing information that he should keep to himself.
Almost everyone has had the experience of sitting down to check an email inbox and looking up to find that an hour or more has passed. The structure of the Internet makes it easy to lose track of time. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to one or two hours per day, you may want to place limits on your children’s computer time. You can use something as simple as a kitchen timer or as concrete as a program that shuts down Internet access at a predetermined time. Limiting your children’s computer time will help to assure that they do not get so engrossed that they miss the world outside of the screen.
Many software designers and Internet service providers offer software intended to help parents limit or censor their children’s Internet usage. For parents who choose this route, software can make it easier for them to control what their children see and do online. Software can restrict children from entering public chat rooms, keep a log of children’s online activities, restrict Internet access after a certain time of night, limit the amount of time that a child spends online or limit what websites a child can visit. If you choose to use monitoring software to restrict your children’s Internet access, choose a very strong password so that your child will be unable to simply defeat the software.