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Jan 10, 2009

Keep up With Your Internet Savvy Kids

Kids sometimes want to hide the fact that they are doing things online of which their parents don't approve. Here's how to stay on top of what your kids are up to online. Kids don't say savvy anymore. That's so old.

    Learn to use the computer. If you don't understand at least the basics of using your computer and internet programs, your kids will be able to take advantage of your lack of knowledge. Look for community courses, online tutorials, or read help manuals for the programs your kids use. Don't count on your kids to show you everything; they may leave out information that would allow you to control their internet experience. Of course, if you found this, you obviously know at least a little bit already.
    Research your programs' parental controls. Many programs that allow you to access the internet also let you exercise some control over what your kids can and can't do. Certain programs will let you block questionable sites, keep kids from talking to strangers, or conceal passwords so they don't give them out to anyone. Many even allow you to customize settings to be age appropriate for each child in your family. Find out what parental controls are offered with your current software and what additional programs you can purchase. Choose a password for yourself that your kids are unlikely to guess and don't tell them what it is. Check the parental control settings from time to time to make sure they haven't been changed.
    Limit your kids' computer time. If your kids are constantly online, they're more likely to sneak onto sites you don't want them visiting. Set a limit for their daily computer time and stick to it. If they tell you they need to use the computer for homework, ask them what the assignment is and check in on them to make sure they're staying on task. Watch the time here too. A child who spends hours doing research for a one page paper on worms is probably up to something.
    Learn the tricks. The original intent of this article was to alert parents on this site how to tell kids to keep parents from being fully aware of the sites their children are visiting. The bad news is that these articles are unlikely to go away. The good news is that they're just as available to you as they are to your kids. Check wikiHow and other sites for such tips and tricks and you'll know how your kids may try to conceal a visit to a website you don't approve of. (A list of some of these how-tos is provided below.)
    Talk to your kids. As your children get older, you will have less and less control over their internet access. Schools, libraries, and many other places offer computers for the public to use. Your best bet, for older kids especially, is to sit down and discuss your concerns about the internet and explain why you don't want them going on certain sites. Do your own research; don't just repeat what you heard from a fear inspiring news story. Kids probably know a lot about the sites you'll be discussing, either from friends or from personal experience, so make sure you have your facts accurate. Be prepared to listen and discuss, and have realistic expectations. Older kids will more than likely talk to people online who they do not know in real life. As long as you discuss ground rules about acceptable conversation and information that should not be shared, this should not be a problem. Talking to kids about your expectations helps them to understand your concerns and gives them an opportunity to use the internet responsibly on their own. Keeping the lines of communication about internet use open will also help you to keep tabs on what your kids are up to without constantly having to micromanage them.

     If you use parental control features or programs to block certain web content, you may be inadvertently blocking sites that could be useful to your child. Blocking all images of nudity may seem like a good idea, but what happens when your child needs to do a report on Michelangelo's "David"? Look for parental controls that offer customizing options to suit you family's needs.
     Here is a passive way to monitor your children's Internet usage: put their computer in a common area, such as the family room, with the screen facing out into the room. They will be much more careful about where they go online if someone could walk in and see the screen at any time. If your children have laptops, turn off wireless and make them plug into the router to connect. (Make sure your neighbors don't have open wireless networks your children can connect to or this won't work.)

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