All of us have heard the news stories, read the pamphlets, and listened to experts warn about the dangers to children and teens lurking on the Internet.
The truth is, however, that these risks are largely overhyped and happen extremely rarely. A 2008 PBS documentary entitled “Growing Up Online” examines each danger of the Internet and reveals which threats pose the greatest risks to kids – and which ones don’t (you may be surprised!). The entire episode can be viewed online at http://tinyurl.com/2y29qb.
Although the dangers aren’t as common as we may believe, parents shouldn’t simply throw caution to the wind. It is critically important for parents to stay actively involved in their children’s or teens’ lives, including their online activities.
CHALLENGES PARENTS FACE
Parents face several challenges when it comes to their kids’ online lives:
1) Staying current is difficult. The Internet is constantly changing. New websites appear every day. Keeping up with these changes can be challenging.
2) Kids are smarter than adults – technologically. They have grown up with computers and the Internet, so their level of experience and knowledge is much greater.
3) They go online without adults being present. Parents can’t be around their kids 24/7.
4) Their desire for independence creates a struggle. They want freedom and privacy; parents want to know what their kids are doing online, which comes across as intrusive.
So how do parents overcome these challenges?
KEEPING THEM SAFE
A balanced, common-sense, level-headed approach is the best. Overreaction and extreme measures seldom have the desired effect.
First, parents must be aware and actively involved in their adolescent’s lives. Taking a hands-off approach hurts the children in the long term.
Second, educate yourself about the Internet. Learn what the popular sites are. Investigate the parental control and privacy tools available to help you monitor your child’s online activities.
Third, communicate. Honest and open dialog between parents and their kids eliminates a myriad of problems. Asking questions about what they do online and who their online friends are. Teach them how to stay safe online. Encourage them to come to you if they ever experience something bad online, such as bullying, threats, or unwanted sexual advances.
Finally, set age-appropriate rules for their Internet usage – and enforce them. Discuss with your kids the expectations you have. Let them know that you will be monitoring their online behavior and activity. Consistently enforce the rules and punish inappropriate behavior.
Understand that the Internet is a significant part of kids’ lives today. Following these simple guidelines can help you safely navigate your children through the World Wide Web.