8 fundamental Internet lessons to teach your kids
Besides built-in precautions like Google SafeSearch, what should parents teach their children about the Internet, and when’s the right time to start?
According to Amy Morin, About.com’s child discipline expert and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, these lessons should start “right from the get-go.”
“The overall lesson is that the Internet can be a wonderful tool and doesn’t necessarily have to be dangerous, but that bad things can happen,” Morin says.
Chronological age and developmental age — a child’s psychological maturity — can differ from one another, so Morin emphasizes having continual conversations according to “whatever conversation is developmentally appropriate.”
As a grade-schooler, that means acknowledging the Internet has adult content and not to open up sites that Mom or Dad hasn’t opened already, while middle schoolers should know how to handle cyberbullying and pornography, as well as how much information about themselves should be kept off the Internet or hidden under privacy settings.
According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 69% of parents in 2012 were concerned about how their child’s online activity might affect their future academic or employment opportunities.
See list below for the eight Internet lessons you should cover with your kids.
1. ‘You don’t have to please everyone on the Internet.’
The most important lesson, Morin says, is that kids “don’t have to please everybody, that when they get approached by a predator or a friend is peer pressuring them into something, they should know they don’t have to do that.”
This advice is one way to set boundaries without policing too hard, by making sure your child is comfortable before telling him he can log off. You should also reiterate this lesson to your kids no matter how old they are, because it applies to children of all ages — both when they begin to encounter other Internet users and when they start messaging their friends on social networks.
2. ‘We’ll recover from mistakes together.’
Told my 7yo that there are things on the internet that aren’t
appropriate for children. “So, like, pictures of poop and stuff?” she said.
“Kids work hard to cover their tracks,” Morin says. Before they can start making mistakes — such as accidentally opening an inappropriate website or sending a picture they shouldn’t have — parents should make it clear that honesty is always preferable over hiding an accident.Morin suggests letting them know that “things can happen whether you mean to or not, and maybe it’s not even your fault.” The key is to plan ahead for these mistakes.
3. ‘Start simple.’
As children watch their friends or older siblings join social networks, they’ll want to follow along. This moment is when you should make compromises for the simpler social sites, especially at a young age.
Instead of allowing them to join Facebook and Twitter, where privacy settings can be complicated and private information is more readily available, Morin says that platforms like Pinterest, where they can share content about things they like in a private space, are a good gradual step to more complicated social sites.
4. ‘Rules still apply on the Internet.’
Jax Blunt @liveotherwise
Best way for our children to learn about the Internet is to keep them off it?
Please. Apply that to rest of world, it’s nonsense #blogfest
While some kids below 13 may be mature enough to join these websites, Morin says, “Plenty of them aren’t prepared to handle it. They’re impulsive, so they’re much more apt to saying inappropriate things.”
Parents should determine whether their child can handle peer pressure and refrain from saying rude or mean things.
5. ‘Stick to what’s comfortable.’
On content sites such as YouTube, Morin recommends that parents set specific guidelines based on what their child enjoys.
“If you’ve got a child that likes One Direction, [tell her] you can look up One Direction videos,” Morin says.
However, parents should supervise nonetheless, because a video that looks age-appropriate at the outset could still have mature content.
6. ‘Don’t try to set privacy settings by yourself.’
Dear Jesus, help me to raise children who don’t comment on the internet.
Privacy settings are often too difficult for kids to understand, so parents should set a time to talk about privacy settings when their children start joining social media websites.
7. ‘Time online is a reward.’
Many parents treat time on the Internet as a reward for their child, even when he or she gets older and has a laptop for the first time. Morin agrees with the use of this policy, because it prevents bad habits from forming in adulthood.
“Teach kids that it’s OK to have time without constant screens. It’s OK for them to be alone with their thoughts,” she says.
8. ‘Certain activities will be supervised.’
Personal information, such as the password for the family computer or credit card information, should be entered by a parent as the situation permits.
Morin recommends letting your kids have online freedom gradually. For example, tell them they can only use the computer alone while in a common area. In terms of using retail websites like Amazon, “insist on some type of rule that if they shop online, [you have to] approve of what they’re going to buy until they’re in high school, and they have their own money,” Morin says.