Family Development - A Caregiver's Guide

Keeping Kids Safe Online

The Internet is valuable for information, entertainment and communication. While much of the information found online is accurate and helpful, some information may be misleading, offensive or even dangerous. Education and parent involvement allow kids to benefit from technology while protecting them from danger. Here are some ideas you can use to help your child stay safe online, followed by a few Web sites you can visit for more ideas and information.

  1. Set Ground Rules.
    Agree on what is reasonable for each child, from the amount of time they can spend online each week, to which sites they can visit without permission. If kids are searching for information, it is a good idea to assist them during the search process and then let them navigate the sites once you are sure they are safe.
  2. Explain Safety Rules.
    When children know what you expect of them and have clear, consistent consequences for not following rules, they are more likely to follow rules and avoid dangerous situations.
    1. Personal Information Let your children know that it is dangerous to reveal any personal information about themselves to someone they meet online. This includes their names, where they live, their ages, the school they attend or where their parents work. Tell them to let you know if someone is asking for this information while they are online. Be sure to praise them when they follow through with this rule. Also, tell your children it is never a good idea to share user names, logins or passwords with friends or people they chat with online. This is personal information and should not be shared.
    2. Pictures Do not allow your children to send any pictures of themselves to someone online without your permission.
    3. Meeting in Real Life Tell your children never to get together with someone they meet online without your permission. If your children make a friend online they wish to meet in person, go with them to a public place to meet the person.
    4. Cyber Bullying Have your child agree never to post anything that is mean toward another person online. If someone sends your children a nasty message, tell them to let you know so that you can report it to the website.
  3. Keep the Computer in a Common Room.
    When everyone in the house can see the screen, there is a better chance kids will follow the rules of online safety. Children who have computers with Internet access in their bedrooms are more likely to come across inappropriate content online.
  4. Supervise.
    Just as we want to know where our children are physically, who they are with and what they are doing, we need to know where they are going on the Internet and whom they are meeting there. When kids are first learning about the Internet, use the Internet with them.
  5. Respectfully Monitor Online Activity.
    Online activities are unrestricted and open for your review. Checking up on children online for their safety is very different from looking through their rooms for their private diaries. What is available about your children online could place them at risk, while personal thoughts they journal and keep to themselves allow for healthy self-expression and reflection.
    1. Online Profiles If you want to see if your children have online profiles, such as MySpace or Facebook, you can search the Internet by inserting your children’s names, or their friend’s names, into a search engine like Google. If your children have online profiles, let them know you need to see them, perhaps tomorrow. Give them a chance to look at their profiles and think about the content.
    2. Web site History Check your computer’s history. This will tell you what websites were viewed recently. However, many children and adolescents know how to clear a browser history or delete records of certain web sites. Fewer children will clear cookie files. If the history is consistently empty, your computer may be set to automatically delete the history each time you exit out of the Internet. This is a feature that you can easily disable.
    3. Filtering and Monitoring Software Check with your Internet service provider to see what free filtering and monitoring options are available. Software can track how much time kids spend online, allow them to access the Internet during only certain times of day when you know you will be home, and filter content so children aren’t accidentally exposed to inappropriate content while doing a search on the Internet. Software programs can be a big help, but there is no substitute for adult supervision.
  6. Talk to Your Children.
    Music, television, magazines, and the Internet are all sending messages to your children. Balance these messages with what YOU want them to know about different issues. If your children tell you about something they found online that is a concern, DO NOT OVERREACT. Talk to your child about what you know and believe about the issue. Remember to praise your child for coming to you with this information!

By establishing clear expectations with your children, and supervising and monitoring their online activity, you are being a responsible parent. If you feel your children are hiding their online activities from you, or you believe they might be in danger, it is up to you to find out what is going on.

Websites with additional information about keeping kids safe online:

Web Safety Guides

Safe Sites for Kids & Tools for Adults

Supervision Tools