Monday, April 16, 2007

7 Easy tips to help ensure your child's internet safety

I have a couple of teenagers and another child about to become one. I am a caring father and a professional in the field of information security. Naturally I am concerned about the well-being of my kids when the use the Internet.

These are few tips based on my own experiences with my own children.

1. Talk to them
I have talked to many parents that claim to have an open dialog with their kids. There are basically three types of relationships with respect to parent-child dialog as I see it.

There are parents that have an open dialog with their kids, there are parents who think they have an open dialog with their kids but don't, and lastly there are parents that don't have an open dialog with their kids and they know it. The best method to approach your child will largely depend on which group you are in.

I like to consider myself as having an open dialog with my children but I am not naïve enough to think I know everything of what they do. Make attempts on a regular basis to sit down and learn how your kids use the computer. Get involved with them. Ask them to teach you about MySpace, instant messaging or the newest online game. I know my kids enjoy my involvement.

Parents who do not have an open dialog with their children need to start NOW. It may be difficult at first and your child may wonder “what’s the catch”. I urge you to stay consistent and build a habit out of demonstrating interest. Of course, counseling is always an option too.

Whatever you do as a parent, do NOT ignore the risks or think that they won’t affect your children. A false sense of security is no security at all.

2. Set boundaries
My children are not allowed to use the computer any time they wish. There are rules and boundaries to their usage. If I did not set boundaries, I am sure my kids would use the computer until their fingers bled. Your rules depend on your household and/or your beliefs, but set rules and communicate them effectively.

Just some of my boundaries:
- No computer usage until homework is done. (I do follow-up with teachers)
- There are only certain sites that I approve off.
- Very limited computer usage during nice days
- You must ask me before using the computer
And others…

If it helps, write your boundaries down on a piece of paper to share.

3) Work with them (will they let you particpate too?)
My teenage son loves to play games online, and I am not one to miss out on the fun. Last year we were talking about the games he plays online. He got me hooked on an online role playing game called Runescape. I am a game addict, so I have to be sure I follow some boundaries of my own! It's fun to share what we do and brag about our accomplishments.

My teenage daughter is more of a socialite, so her choice of Internet locations are MySpace, YouTube and blog sites. When she finds something interesting, she will share with me. When I find something interesting, I will share with her. We have a great time laughing about what we find.

IMPORTANT: Give some semblence of privacy. This is especially true with my daughter. She needs her space, so I do not hound her constantly about what she does. I realize that she needs to have private conversations from time-to-time with her peers. This is a balancing act. Allow her to have her space, but keep tabs too.

4) Stay consistent
My children don’t think twice when we talk about our Internet usage or safety. I don’t change the rules and I don’t spring things on them. There is an understanding built on trust and consistent clear communication. Stay consistent in the message and rules.

Equally important is to stay consistent in the punishment. Recently my teenage daughter broke one of my rules. Not a major rule, but a rule nonetheless. She lost computer privileges for two weeks. She knows why she was punished and she knows I care.

5) Understand the risks
Do some research and speak with facts. Don’t expect your children to take you at your word, especially if they are told differently by their peers. Once you are armed with facts, share them with you kids. Ask them how they feel about it.

Good resources for the facts:
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
FBI: A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety
MySpace: Safety Tips

Do some searches. There is much to learn!

6) Observe
This is a very simple tip. Have your children use the computer in an easily viewable location. Explain to them the reasons why.

7) Install controls
There are plenty of parental control software options on the market. I have used and can recommend Net Nanny. Install the software per the manufacturer’s specifications and check the access logs regularly. Follow-up with you children on any unusual changes in Internet access behavior.

None of these tips alone or in combination will guarantee your child’s Internet safety, they will only reduce the likelihood of something bad happening. I feel much better about my children’s safety since following these seven tips and our relationship has only become stronger.

Take an active role and don’t be intimidated by the technology or your children’s perceived mastery of it!

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