You've talked to your child about strangers with candy, and about dealing with mean classmates. The sex topic, too, has probably come up by now. Talking about Internet safety will simply be an extension of these conversations, and talking is a necessity.
Talk About It.
Start with questions. Ask what your child has seen online, whom he or she has talked to and which sites he or she visits most often. Ask if any online experience has been weird or troubling or just caused a bad feeling in his or her stomach, and explain why you want to know: The Web can be a dangerous place, and here's why.
And try not to sugar-coat it.
Listen closely, ask follow-up questions, and whatever you do, remain calm. You probably won't get far if the look on your face says punishment is coming, and getting upset or overly emphatic will discourage future discussion on the topic.
Lay the Ground Rules
Talking isn't enough, though. It's important to explain how to avoid these dangers, and set clear rules to that effect, such as:
- Internet will only be accessed in shared parts of the house.
- Never fill out a profile or a personal-information form (name, age, address, etc.) without permission.
- Never enter a public chat room.
- Never post photos where strangers can see them.
- Never use a webcam without supervision.
- Always use the privacy settings on social-networking sites.
- Your parents will be among your "friends."
Insisting (if necessary) on being "friended" is just one way you can know what your child is doing on the Web. Internet privacy is for adults, not third-graders, and there are some simple steps you can take to make your child's Internet activity apparent. These include regularly checking the browser history, which shows you which Web sites have been visited, and the browser downloads to see exactly which files have been pulled from the Web. It's also good idea to maintain a list of your child's online passwords, should you need them.
In the end, while talking, setting rules and nosing around will get you a lot of the way to keeping your child safe online, the tech folks have given you a method that's more foolproof. Just as technology can provide access, it can also limit it.
Internet browsers have security and safety settings, so why not use them? You can easily block certain types of downloads, Web sites or categories of content. Advertising can, to some extent, be controlled this way, as well. And those tools are already on your computer right now. You can also download software, some of it for free, that gives you even more control and knowledge of your child's activities online. These types of programs can do things like track, block and notify, and they were invented exactly for the purpose of making children safer online (see How Internet Censorship Works for more information).
There is, of course, an even simpler way to be sure your tech-savvy child is practicing good Internet habits and that everyone is playing nice: Surf together. Sitting next to your child while he or she navigates can create a safe, open space for exploration and let you know what's happening in invaluable real-time.
And, by the end of third grade, your child might know more than you about what the Web really can do, so you might even end up learning a thing or two.
For more information on Internet safety for kids, signs of trouble, and how you can help, check out the links on the next page.