Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace by Donna Rice
While going online together is a wonderful opportunity to instill
cautious and responsible use of the Internet into your child,
I realize that this may not be a realistic option for many parents.
So let me just suggest that whenever possible, join your child
as he or she explores the valuable resources on online. If your
child knows more about getting around the Internet than you do,
ask him or her to be your guide! This is a great way for you to
empower and build self-confidence in your child. Sharing the experience
of surfing the Net is an effective, proactive parenting technique.
Very little formal research has been done to identify how information
technology affects children of different ages and when is the
best time to start various activities, such as computer usage.
But common sense tells us that younger children need more supervision
than older ones.
Ages Four to Seven
Children at this age begin to make greater use of computer games
and educational products. Older children in this age range, with
their parents, may also begin exploring online children's areas.
Children learn intuitively and quickly, but at this age they still
depend on parents for reading and interpreting directions.
Between the ages of four and seven, children begin to form their
first friendships, grasp the basics of gender differences, and
acquire morally relevant rules and behaviors. This is a good time
to begin talking about rules for using the computer and going
Spend as much time as you can with your child while he or she
uses the computer. Print work your child has done on the computer
or resources he or she has found on the Internet. You and your
child should have the same address, so you can oversee his or
her mail and discuss correspondence. Check with your child's teachers
and librarians for suggestions for good online activities.
Ages Eight to Eleven
At eight to eleven years of age most children begin to directly
encounter and appreciate more fully the potential of online experiences.
For example, they can begin to use online encyclopedias to do research
and download graphics and photos for school reports. They may correspond
via e-mail with pen pals around the world. They may also be exchanging
information with faraway relatives and online friends. Be aware
of your child's e-mail habits and do not allow correspondence with
strangers. Get to know your children's online friends just as you
would get to know their friends at school or in the neighborhood.
Remember, even in cyberspace, the most vulnerable children are those
with low self-esteem. Encourage your children to find friends and
interests outside of the Internet.
Set clear guidelines as to how much time is spent online. Even
if a child's online experience is educational, recreational, and
enriching, relating to a machine will never offer the benefits
of relating to other people face-to-face.
Children between the ages of nine and eleven are the most likely
victims of child sexual abuse. Make sure that your child is aware
that not all "friends" whom he or she meets on the Internet will
be well meaning. Teach your child to end any experience online
when he or she feels uncomfortable or scared by logging off and
telling you or a trusted adult as soon as possible. Discuss the
unique aspect of anonymous behavior in cyberspace and what it
means for your child and others. Explain to your child that many
of the people that he or she will meet on the Internet do not
use their real identities. For example, a man may identify himself
as a woman, or, in some cases, adults may attempt to pass themselves
off as children. Explain that while these actions may seem funny
and harmless, many children are often seduced and lured into dangerous
situations by such predators.
As your child moves toward independence, you need to stay "hands-on"
and help guide him or her to appropriate online content. Children
of this age are also prime targets for programmers and advertisers.
Help your child evaluate content and understand what's behind
advertising. Discuss the difference between advertising and educational
or entertainment content. Show your child examples of each. Begin
to show your child the difference between sources of information
that are credible and those that are not.
Ages Twelve to Fourteen
Adolescents are capable of using the sophisticated research resources
of the Internet, accessing everything from the Library of Congress's
collection of magazines and newspapers to letters and archives from
around the world.
Just as most teenagers are interested in chatting on the phone,
many will want to be involved in chatting online. However, these
areas are often the playgrounds of pedophiles, criminals, and
unscrupulous marketers who may target your child.
According to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children, thirteen- to fifteen-year-old
teenagers are at the greatest risk of sexual exploitation by Internet
While you (and your teen!) may feel that he or she doesn't need
the same restrictions that are placed on younger children, I want
to encourage you to consider the risks of allowing your teenager
unlimited Internet freedom. This age group is more likely to explore
the Internet and reach out to people outside their peer groups,
which increases the likelihood of being preyed upon by sexual
Parents must set up clear rules for teenagers. This means agreements
about Internet access at and away from home, time limits, and
periodic check-ins. Help your child understand the laws governing
online behavior (including pornography, predators, and stalking)
and the consequences to them or anyone else for breaking them.
Remind your son or daughter that possession, distribution, and
production of some pornographic material is illegal. Ask your
teenager very specific questions like:
- Have you seen any pornographic pictures?
- Has anyone online talked dirty to you?
- Have you met anyone online whom you don't know?
- Has anyone asked you for personal information?
- Has anyone asked to meet you in person?
Ages Fifteen to Nineteen
Teenagers often want to have a computer in their bedroom. In spite
of a teenager's need for privacy and independence, I do not recommend
that a computer with Internet access be placed in his or her bedroom.
It's very difficult for a parent to monitor a teen's online activities
when the computer is behind a closed door. Some parents have reported
seeing a blue glow coming from under their teen's door in the middle
of the night. Later when they received their phone bill, they put
the puzzle together and discovered unauthorized computer use. When
it comes to Internet access, keeping the computer in a common area
of the home is the safest option.
Older teens can use the Internet to search for information about
job opportunities, internships, and colleges or universities.
With their increased skills, curiosity, and freedom come more
ways to run into undesirable and even dangerous experiences. Parents
must find creative ways to stay in touch with their teenage children
about online activities. I highly recommend following the above
guidelines (for the 12-14 preteen) for your older teenager.
( Adapted in part from Parents' Guide to the Information Superhighway,
The Children's Partnership)