Personal and Family Safety are Prime Concerns as Kids Hop Online
What age is appropriate for children to use the internet? Better Business Bureau recommends parents have a discussion about parameters for use of computers and smart phones before allowing youngsters to go online.
Children are drawn to the internet by exposure to popular culture and peer pressure. They may know how to open and operate a browser, but lack the experience and judgment to avoid security and safety problems. These include disclosing personal and family information, exposure to inappropriate content, attempted contact by adults and bullying.
Parents should clearly explain to their children what they should and should not be doing online, and make certain they are comfortable with their children's computer habits before allowing them to use the internet unattended.
Ideally, the computer should be situated in a common area where parents can monitor their child's activities and answer any questions. Parents also can install software that monitors computer usage, websites being visited and even block certain content.
Smart phones present the same risks as any other internet access point but also provide children an opportunity to get online while evading monitoring at home. However, wireless carriers offer various services that can restrict what time of day the phone can be used for mobile web browsing and texting, limit downloadable purchases and even block telephone numbers and texts.
BBB recommends parents make a plan to help guide their children in the right direction if they have already established an online presence:
Establish reasons for Internet access -- Ask children what they intend to do on the internet. If they are required to go online for a school project, find out the details from teachers and determine whether personal information is required to sign up online.
Teach the basics -- Set up an email account for them to use, explain not to answer emails from anyone they don't know and not to give out personal information. Show how a browser works and teach them not to click on unfamiliar links, pop-ups or social media solicitations.
Emphasize safety issues -- That means reporting any bullying and not posting personal or family information online. Explain what conduct is appropriate and inappropriate. Encourage them ask if they have any questions, and report any activity with which they feel uncomfortable.
Explain the limits -- Even though their friends might have their own social media pages and are permitted to text freely, consider whether you think it is appropriate for your child to have a social media profile and ensure they check with you before posting any photos or comments on a friend's, their school's or any other site.
Secure and update -- Make sure your computer's security software is up to date, scan for malware weekly, and install operating system and program updates, as these often patch security vulnerabilities.
It is very difficult -- if not impossible -- to block kids' access to the internet, but close monitoring and an open dialogue can help your children avoid problems that can touch them and your family directly.
Better Business Bureau