The Internet is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind, but it still largely unregulated and, often times, quite dangerous to children who may not understand that there are bad people out there with computers. There are several steps you can take to ensure the safety of your children online, however. The following list is far from complete, but it is a good place to start if you have a young child and a computer in your home.
1. Install monitoring software
No home that has a computer and a child should be without monitoring software. These programs allow you to create restrictions on various users who access the Internet in your home. You, as the administrator, would simply set up an account for yourself and a second one for your child. You can have the software forbid access to adult sites or any other sites that you don’t approve of. These software programs can also restrict access to things like chat programs or any other program that accesses the Internet. No home should be without one if you are concerned about your child accessing the Internet.
2. Forbid Internet Usage When Not at Home
Since it is impossible for you to monitor the Internet usage of your children when they aren’t at home, it is important for you to make a rule forbidding web surfing when not at home or in a classroom environment. This can include surfing alone at a friend’s house or even using the computer at the library. It may seem a bit draconian at first, and you can always lessen the restrictions as your child grows into a teenager, but while they are young, it is important for tight rules to be in place to keep your kids safe online.
3. No Instant Messaging Software
One of the most common ways Internet predators access their victims is with instant messaging software like Yahoo, AIM or MSN. Teens love these programs because it allows them to stay connected to friends, but preteens really have no use for them. Forbid access to these programs until they reach a certain age. No preteen needs a social life that requires a program like this to be in use, anyway.
4. Ask Permission Before Visiting a New Site Alone
It is a good idea to create a list of acceptable websites your child can access. You can even set up the monitoring software you have to only allow access to those websites when your child is logged in. You can also have your child specifically request access to new sites, that way, you always know what groups of websites they are visiting at all times. Again, as your child grows older, you can lessen these restrictions somewhat and still keep your kids safe online.
5. Use the Internet With Your Kids
If your child has a report do to for school and they will need to access to numerous new websites that they haven’t visited before, it may be a good idea to simply surf the web together. This can be even more helpful if your child’s report has to do with a somewhat controversial topic like the Holocaust or breast cancer. The chances of your child stumbling upon material that they may not be ready to see is high, so surfing together can help answer any questions that might come up.
6. Closely monitor social networking sites
Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are all the rage now on the Internet and, often times, even preteens have their own pages. These sites can also be an easy place for children to be contacted by people wishing to do them hard. Thankfully, these websites have special settings specifically designed for underage users that turns off the chat feature and limits the number of people who can access their page. You could always forbid these sites altogether, but if you do choose to allow them, there are safeguards in place to help protect your kids. Either way, closely monitoring their page is always a good idea to keep your kids safe online.
7. Keep computer out in the open
While your teenage son or daughter may not like the idea, keeping your computer out in the open is always a good idea. This will automatically help to curtail any unauthorized usage, especially if your child thinks they are a budding hacker. You don’t have to sit over your child’s shoulder the entire time online, but by having the computer out in the open, you are taking away the temptation to surf places they aren’t supposed to.
8. Separate account for teenagers, fewer restrictions
As your kids grow up, they are going to have different online needs. The websites your teenage children want to look at are going to be quite different than the ones your preteen kids want to look at. Monitoring software allows for multiple accounts with different levels of restrictions for different people so don’t be afraid to let your teen have a bit more leniency. If you should happen to find adult content on your computer, take the opportunity to talk to your teen about sex and staying safe online.
9. Install functioning anti virus and firewall software
Since kids aren’t always aware of the threats that are posed online, you can help to keep them, and your computer, safe by always having anti virus software and a functioning firewall up and working at all times. There is no telling when your child may download a piece of rogue software or click on a suspicious pop up window. If your computer isn’t prepared, you could lose everything in seconds.
10. Time limits
Many parents have taken to setting time limits for the amount of television their kids can watch during a day or the amount of time spent playing video games. The same can be done for the computer, which will likely teach your child to budget their online time in a productive way instead of possibly looking for trouble. Time limits can be a great way to keep your kids safe online.
Finally, the best way you can keep your child safe is with the right education. You don’t need to explain how sexual predators track down innocent kids to your 8 year old, but telling them to alert you if someone were to message them or that it is OK to alert you if they find a disturbing picture online is a great first step. By the time they are teens, they will likely know almost as much about the Internet as you do and the lessons can get a little more adult.