Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Protecting your children online.

Digital technology is so much a part of everyday life, it isn't surprising that children would grab on to the newest trends and want to experience all that the Internet has to offer. While there are clearly benefits that children derive from Internet use, such as becoming more technologically savvy, learning to find information, being able to quickly share files with friends and having to read more because online communication is mostly written, there are also significant disadvantages to allowing children the freedom to use computers and access the Internet at will. As a proactive parent, there are many apps, as well as services and features within your computer's operating system that will allow you to monitor your child's Internet activity or take advantage of controls that will prevent them from accessing sites you deem unsuitable.

Households that use computers with Windows Vista or Windows 7 operating systems have built in parental controls that should be used. Microsoft enlisted the assistance of the American Academy of Pediatricians to develop age-based guidelines for Internet use, along with the parental controls. Their Age-Based Guidelines are divided into three age groups: one for children between the ages of two and 10, another for children between the ages of 11 and 14, and the last one for children between the ages of 15 and 18.

Children between the ages of two and 10 shouldn’t be allowed to use the Internet without supervision. Establish clear rules regarding their Internet use, such as how much time they can spend online, how often they can use the computer, sites that are age-appropriate for them to visit and revealing information. Make sure that they know that they should never reveal any personal information about themselves, their family members, where they live or anything that a resourceful person could use to find out more about them.

For children between the ages of 11 and 14, you need to be aware that they probably already know a lot about accessing the Internet, so although it may not be necessary for you to sit with them when they use the computer, they should know that you will monitor their activity, the sites they visit and what they do. Stress the importance to them of not sharing information or posting pictures that could allow anyone surfing the Internet to figure out where you live. If you intend to allow your tween to join any social networking sites, make sure he/she creates an online profile with you, and that they feel comfortable enough to talk to you about their online activities.

By age 15, children are even more familiar with things they can do on the Internet, and they are likely using it a lot for their schoolwork. One way to protect your teens and to ensure that you are able to monitor their online activity is by not allowing them to have a computer in their room. By having a computer in the common areas of the home, and requiring that they use it there, you are able to maintain a semblance of control over what they do and how they handle themselves in the scary world of cyberspace. Help them understand that you want them to feel free to come to you about anything that concerns them, bothers them, frightens them or confuses them. Make sure they know they won't be punished, regardless of what happens, as long as they communicate with you.

Create a Digital Toolbox
A digital toolbox generally consists of tools that are available in the form of protective software. One of the tools is a white list that parents can create after choosing websites that they think are appropriate for their children to see or use. As a parent, you can also create filters within those white lists to limit access your child has to certain sites, domains or programs when you aren't present.

Take advantage of warning tools that are designed to warn you when your child tries to access certain types of content. These warning tools may also allow you to tracks the history of your child's Internet activity so you can monitor their behavior more closely. The most extreme types of digital tools are software programs that allow parents to decide what websites and content they want to block so their child cannot access it at all.

Setting Limits
Parents need to set limits as to what their children can and cannot do on the Internet. If you're going to allow your child to join Facebook, make sure that they don't upload or publish their profile until you approve it. Monitor the way your child interacts with people when they are on Facebook. The Wall Street Journal warns parents about some of the very real problems that children may encounter while using the Internet.

As a parent, it’s important that children know, understand and accept that you have control over their Internet use. The same goes for their smartphone use. Use filters to prevent your children from accessing inappropriate and potentially dangerous sites. Talk to them about spam and phishing so they understand that there are people who try to take advantage of innocent, unsuspecting people. Make sure that your children understand that they should never give out personal information to anyone on the Internet, and they should be cautious about posting images as well.

Most importantly, however, despite all the rules, your children need to feel comfortable enough with you and trust you to come to you with their concerns. By monitoring their Internet activity, you ensure that they still get to enjoy their childhood because they have a loving family that cares for them.

This is a guest post from Cameron Tyler, a regular contributor to yousendit.com and big proponent of technology and internet security. 

"Growing up with younger siblings, I've always felt the need to protect the ones that I care about. I wanted to be able to combine my love of technology and security to help parents protect their children online. I hope parents can take this information and apply it to their own lives to help monitor their child's digital life."

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