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School is back in full swing, and Chromebooks are replacing textbooks in a big way. With technology in and out of the classroom on the rise, it’s more and more likely that your children will be using the internet for school, even at the elementary level. Technology can open up new worlds of information and connection for our kids, but it’s important to make sure they’re doing it safely. This means open communication from parents about both dangers and expectations that go with internet use.
Internet Safety and My Child: Where to Start
While the rules and level of parental supervision are different based on your child’s age, there are a few basic practices that are important at every age level. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics and education consultant Matthew Lynch who runs the Tech Edvocate website for starting and continuing an internet safety dialog with your child:
- Keep the computer your child is using in a central location in your home. This makes it easier to communicate with your child about what they’re doing online.
- Monitor and be clear about what sites they can visit and which ones are off-limits.
- Tell your child never to reveal their name, age, sex or location online.
- Just as you’d want to know who your children’s friends are in real life, get to know who they’re hanging out with online.
- Encourage digital literacy: help children understand from an early age that not everything they read online is true and help them evaluate information critically. This is a great chance for a productive conversation at the family level.
- Encourage digital citizenship: help them focus on their own behavior and behaving responsibly online.
- Encourage your child to come to you if something they see online or in a message makes them uncomfortable at any age.
Internet Safety Conversations for Younger Kids
With children accessing the internet at earlier ages, it’s important to lay the groundwork for safety and open communication from the start. The internet safety non-profit Enough is Enough also has suggestions specifically designed for younger kids:
- Sit with your child when they’re working online and create a list of approved sites.
- Set parental controls on their devices and computers.
- Use kid-friendly search engines.
- Make sure children know to come to you before giving out personal information.
- Get to know your child’s online activity and friends.
Internet Safety Conversations for Middle Schoolers
As your child moves from using the internet for games and school to connecting with friends online, Enough is Enough offers tips for tweens and young teens:
- Talk with your tween about their online activities and friends just as you would offline activities and friends.
- Remind them never to give out personal information without your permission.
- Make sure you have passwords to their email accounts, social media accounts and devices.
- Do periodic spot checks on their devices and browser history.
Internet Conversations for Teens
For older teens, the situation can become more challenging as families look to balance the need for trust and independence with safety concerns. Remember that the internet itself is not the enemy, and it’s okay for your teen to spend time online. As the AAP puts it, internet use is a normal part of adolescent development in the 21st Century. There are also plenty of upsides for teens, including connection with peers who share interests. That said, parental monitoring still matters, and building a sense of trust and open communication is essential. Enough is Enough’s guidelines for teens include:
- Create internet house rules with your teen.
- Talk to teens about their IM lists and make sure they don’t include strangers
- Focus on ethical behavior and make sure they don’t engage in or tolerate online bullying or harassment.
- Monitor their financial transactions online.
- Continue periodic spot checks on accounts and devices.
Remember to make it clear to them that your door and mind are open if they have concerns. Keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes, including on the internet, and be available if your teen comes to you with a problem.
How Can I Help My Child Use the Internet Safely for School?
More and more, technology and the internet are becoming the way things get done in the classroom and at home, especially for middle and high schoolers but also for older elementary students. Technology can be a valuable tool, giving children access to a host of new resources. But it can also put your child in danger without parental checks and balances. Here are some important ways you can help:
- Work with your child’s school: talk with your child’s teachers and administrators about internet safety policies in school and resources available to boost students’ online safety.
- Check out research sites and search engines designed with children in mind. These include search engines like Kiddle and KidzSearch that filter sites and give results designed for children.
- Do your homework: use sites like Common Sense Media to research apps and games that your child is accessing online. Common Sense offers objective reviews on a range of media and is a valuable resource for parents at every stage along the way.
Struggling with Technology and Your Child? Your Pediatrician Can Help
At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, our priority is keeping children healthy and safe from birth through the teen years. More and more, this means helping families negotiate screen time, technology and internet use, from preschool through adolescence. We’ve seen so many families struggle with appropriate use and boundaries and need help getting the conversation started. If you have concerns about your child’s internet use or screen time in general, remember you’re not alone. Your pediatrician is a resource for helping you set up those all-important boundaries and launching a healthy and productive dialog.