Why talk about Internet use with your school-age child?
School-age children are establishing their identities as individuals and becoming socialized with their peers. They are venturing into the world without a parent by their side; personal roles need to be explored and relationships created. Many school-age children are using the Internet for the first time, and they need as much guidance in growing up online as offline. While schools may teach them the mechanics of using this powerful information tool to communicate with teachers, research subjects of interest, or visit specific websites as part of their homework, it is often up to parents to help school-age kids grow up to be responsible online citizens.
What is your role?
You can support and encourage school-aged children in their independent learning, partly by helping them navigate new situations and environments, partly by being the safe place to which they can return. As they begin to use the Internet on their own, you can model focused and safe Internet use, provide guidelines and expectations for navigating it safely and effectively, and provide an open avenue of communication and support if they venture into content for which they aren't ready.
- Have a shared family computer located in a public space.
This allows you to supervise school-age kids' online time without hovering. You can help enforce previously agreed upon time limits, help her navigate the Web, and give her a chance to teach you what she has learned. It also means that you are always present while she is online to guide her if she discovers something troubling or problematic.
- The length of an online session should match his natural attention span.
School-age kids' brains can focus for about 30 minutes at a time, so she won't really get much more from sessions longer than that. You want her to have many kinds of experiences, so switch activities frequently, mixing up strenuous physical activity, reading, and free play.
- Use technological controls thoughtfully to help avoid accidental exposure to content for which they aren't ready.
These tools can search and filter certain types of information. However, no tool is perfect, and there is no control that a determined child can't get around. The best way to prevent exposure is to be present with school-age kids when they use the Internet.
- When she does see something you'd prefer she didn't see, help her process it.
Ask how she feels ("How does that make you feel?"), validate what she says ("Yes, that is confusing"), and let her know that she is safe ("I know that was scary, but I'm glad you told me about it. Here's how we can stay away from things like that."). Approaching it in this way will teach your child to take care of herself online and encourage her to come to you when she sees something confusing or scary.