You don't need special skills to keep your kids safe online. To get started, just ask the same kinds of questions about the internet that you'd ask about the playground or the mall:
When you start thinking about these questions for online spaces, you are already well on the road to internet safety for your children. Here are some more tips for bringing your offline parenting skills to your online parenting.
Provide supervision. You wouldn't leave your preschooler alone on the playground, so don't leave her alone online, either. Make sure that either you or another trusted adult is present with her any time she's online. Whoever is there can help her navigate and keep her focused on content that you've selected for her.
Model safe, effective use of the internet. Your child sees you put on your seatbelt when you get in the car - let her see how you keep yourself safe online, too. For example, if you land on a page you don't like, narrate what you're doing to leave that page while she watches ("I don't like this page, so I'm clicking on the home button so we can go back to a page I know."). She'll learn that she has the power to change what she's looking at, and she'll learn what to do if she ends up somewhere unsettling.
Make public computer use the easiest option. School-age kids can start to visit trusted websites on their own, but they should still be in the living room or dining room, with the screen facing the room, so you can see what they're up to. That way, you can answer questions and guide them elsewhere if they end up on a questionable page.
Teach them to use the technology. Set up bookmarks to sites you approve, and teach your child how to get to those sites. Show her how use the back button so she can leave a page, how to stop downloads that have started, and how to close a browser if she needs to. When she's ready to do some searching on their own, come up with good keywords to use - and turn on the parental controls to filter out unwanted results.
Keep the computer in a common space. Just as you give them more freedom when they're with their friends, tweens need less supervision online. But keeping the computer in a public area can help you help them manage how long they spend on it and can remind them that everything they do online is public. That will help them stick to the household guidelines for computer use, too.
Teach them to use the technology to explore effectively. They will want to look up interesting websites or funny videos they've heard about from their friends, and they'll also want to find information on particular topics that are no longer covered by the bookmarked pages. Help them learn to do effective searches for what they hope to find.
Ask about what they're doing online. Tweens may be more receptive to questions that focus on media instead of on themselves, so take advantage of that openness. Ask them what sites they're interested in, and ask them to teach you how they search - you may learn a thing or two, and you will also open the door for continued communication about what's happening in this part of their world.
Let them know that the door is open for communication. Teens are ready to talk when they're ready to talk, so when they're asking questions, pay attention - and engage as fully as you can. The moment may pass quickly, so take advantage of it. Also, ask them to think about who they can talk to when they aren't comfortable coming to you.
Talk about what's happening online - one step removed. For example, ask them what their friends are finding. Are there strange or upsetting videos they've heard of? What do they do when they see those? How do they avoid them, and how do they find the things they're looking for? These questions can help them think about the fact that they have choices about what they see online.
This guide was created by Ask the Mediatrician®, a service of the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Boston Children's Hospital. A non-profit research center, CMCH is dedicated to understanding and responding to the effects of media - tv, movies, music, video games, cell phones and the internet - on the physical, mental and social health through research, translation and education. If you have a question about the research behind these guides, go to www.cmch.tv or if you have a question about media and child's health, go ahead and ask at it www.askthemediatrician.org. The work of CMCH is made possible by Comcast and other generous donors.