Have Internet rules, but not an Internet blackout

Q: I am not comfortable with the Internet and don’t allow my kids to have e-mail or join social networks even though they are old enough. Is this wrong?

A: Some families don’t allow their children to have cell phones. Others do not have TVs or video games. Still others forbid kids from accessing the Internet. Each family develops rules and boundaries for their family based on many variables-religious beliefs, a child’s maturity level and a parent’s readiness to supervise, to name a few.

It is important to accept the fact that today’s children need strong technology skills to be successful students and pursue their career goals. Participating and communicating effectively online is critical for future success, and the more supervised practice and guidance children get, the better.

When it comes to creating tech rules and boundaries for your family, it is important to consider these factors as you make your decisions:

  1. Kids will have access eventually. Whether you allow them to surf online at home or not, your child will experience the Internet. School, a friend’s house, the library, a caregiver or a friend’s cell phone can allow any child access to the Internet. Public Wi-Fi and mobile devices make access easy and will become even more available as his age increases.
  2. Kids need Internet guidance, even when they are offline. You’ll need to talk to kids about how to behave, stay safe and be smart online even if they aren’t accessing the Internet in your home. If you’re not sure what points to make, talk to your child’s teacher or guidance counselor. Or visit GetNetWise.org for some basic points to get started.
  3. Kids need to know why. A child will be more likely to follow your rules and respect boundaries if you offer up an honest explanation for your decision. Base your explanation on fact (“I don’t have Internet security in place yet”) not fear (“I’m afraid you’ll be abducted by a child predator.”). Be honest without being too critical and avoid sounding fearful or expressing distrust in your child.
  4. Kids need your knowledge. Parents should have some understanding of the Internet and insights into what their child’s peer group is accessing online so they can uphold their decision and respond as a child continues to question and debate the family boundaries.

Let your kids know you are in touch with what’s happening in school, have explored social networks and have visited websites that seem to be getting a lot of attention from kids. Find reliable resources for keeping up with current trends such as PluggedInParent.com or BeNetSavvy.org, which offer updated news and tips on kids, technology and education.

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