Q: Our children are only 3 and 5. We have a personal computer and we do searches, use e-mail and write letters, but are not into chat rooms. We are already afraid that our kids will know more than we do about the computer in a few years. How are we going to protect them from the dangers of email from strangers and bad chat rooms?
A: You are aware parents; you are already taking the first step. At school the children will learn how to use the computer, but the school cannot teach them to make wise, safe choices or ensure that they will come to you if they have a problem.
What your kids do online in a few years will depend a lot on what you are doing right now. Do you listen (as well as talk) to your kids, and can you have conversations about ANYthing the child wants to know? Do you enjoy each other's company and do things together as a family? Do your children understand that you have safety rules about many things because you love them and want them to be safe? The same safety rules need to be applied in using the computer.
Experts in online safety for children say that good parent-child communication is absolutely your very best tool for preventing problems. If your children have always been able to come to you with problems, and if they know you will listen and help them, even when they make a mistake, they will probably continue to do so. While your kids are young, develop and keep using the best parent child communication possible.
• Talk about stranger danger on the Internet and tell children why they should never to give out any personal information online. Do NOT allow your kids to do online profiles; they attract predators.
• Use the computer and Internet together. Think of the computer as a household appliance that you all need to use and share, just like other appliances in your home. If you make a habit of using the computer together from the beginning, your children will not think it strange for you to talk about their online activities or friends they are talking with.
• Place the computer in an area of the house where everyone can use it, and see each other using it.
• Find and enjoy good sites for fun and learning together. Try www.Nickjr.com, www.TheIdeaBox.com, www.Smarterkids.com, www.kidscom.com, www.kidspsych.org and www.webwisekids.com. There are wonderful new sites all the time.
• Use an Internet service provider filter system instead of a software filter to keep porn out of your home.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and child and family advocate who lives in Traverse City. E-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more columns from Evelyn Petersen, visit record-eagle.com/askevelyn.