The Internet May Be Ready for Your Kids … But Are They Ready for It?
Like so many other modern conveniences, the internet is a powerful tool that can be harnessed for good intentions or abused for darker purposes.
10:25 25 May 2021
Parents of small children should begin formulating their approach to internet access long before the kids start asking about it. By the time your kids raise the topic, several virtual horses are likely to have already left the barn.
Parental responsibility in an increasingly online world brings with it a dizzying array of devices, online experiences, and precautions. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by your tech-related duties, whether it’s getting a safe phone for your kids or implementing parental controls.
The best approach for concerned parents is to start by accepting that every home is different, and your family’s guidelines will be unique. After that, it’s helpful to acknowledge up front that you’re not going to handle this (or any other) parental responsibility perfectly. Instead, you’ll want to discuss and write down your family’s guidelines and treat them as a living document.
As new situations arise, edits will need to be made. The one constant to keep in mind is that, as far as kids are concerned, unwritten rules will be forgotten — or ignored. So while your guidelines won’t be set in stone, they should be set down in ink (or pixels).
Consider the broad principles listed below. Taken as a whole, they comprise an overview of internet safety and can be adjusted to the preferences and sensitivities of your family.
1. Parents are responsible for all internet security–related issues.
Many parents, already striving to meet work and home life demands, throw up their hands in despair when it comes to internet safety. It can feel like an unwanted add-on to other parental duties. Worse, some parents put their teens in charge of the home network. Like it or not, every parent now needs to have some working knowledge of:
- Privacy settings on all devices and browsers
- Safe browsing while at home and elsewhere
- Secure connections vs. open networks
- Creation and storage of strong passwords
- Software and hardware updates
- Parental controls on phones, networks, video game systems, etc.
- Proper use (and misuse) of location tracking
2. The family will establish agreed-upon guidelines in writing.
As mentioned above, it’s all too easy to forget what your family has agreed to. As you formulate your internet usage policy, make sure that one member of your family agrees to take responsibility for keeping track.
This can take whatever form is most comfortable to your family scribe, but the guidelines must be accessible to all. No modifications should be made to your usage policy without first having a discussion.
3. The internet is forever.
Many disgraced politicians, celebrities, and business executives can attest to the enduring character of Facebook posts, text messages, and other electronic communications. In an age-appropriate fashion, help your kids understand that absolutely everything they do online is recorded somewhere.
Servers can be subpoenaed. Screenshots can be taken and widely shared. Nothing — absolutely nothing — they do on the internet is private.
4. Parents maintain control of all devices overnight, no exceptions.
Ask any teacher, and they will confirm that kids are showing up to school exhausted and unable to learn. The underlying reason is that too many parents allow their kids to keep their phones and laptops in their bedrooms overnight.
Set boundaries for device usage and enforce them. Your child will no doubt be able to tell you about “Johnny’s parents,” who let him do whatever he wants. But you’ll need to stand firm. Let Johnny show up to school bleary-eyed — your kid needs sleep to grow and develop.
5. Parents must have access to any/all logins and passwords.
If your child has locked you out of anything, this is obviously a trust issue that must be resolved immediately. Assuming your written agreement prohibits anything other than full access to all digital resources, a lockout might be a game-changer for your child. (And not in a good way.)
Make sure your written guidelines stipulate that nothing is to be downloaded without prior discussion. No online groups, forums, social media, vendors, or services can be accessed without mutual agreement. As parents, you retain the absolute right to decide which forms of entertainment are appropriate for your child.
6. Online relationships should mirror real-life friendships.
To keep kids safe from predators, they need to know exactly who they are talking to via text or instant messaging. If your child cannot point to a real-life counterpart in their conversations, this is a huge red flag.
Making sure your child isn’t talking to strangers is something you would do at the local shopping mall. Online life is no different. This assumes that you are conducting regular reviews of phone and laptop usage both with and without your child present.
Prepare to be called a “spy” if need be. Knowing who is in your child’s life is too important to let a few insults dissuade you.
7. Any and all forms of bullying are unacceptable.
This one will need regular attention and follow-up. Left unaddressed, online bullying can lead to poor academic performance, depression, and even suicide.
As parents, your first response is to want to protect your child from aggression, and that’s entirely understandable. Many parents, however, drop the ball when they come across instances of their child using technology to be unkind or abusive. Model acceptable online behavior and make sure your kids understand that you expect nothing less from them.
8. Powerful emotions and keypads do not mix.
Children and teens often have very powerful emotional experiences. However, they lack full development of the decision-making area of the brain. This combination by itself can be dangerous, as we all know. Adding unfiltered internet usage to the mix is like pouring rocket fuel on a campfire.
When introducing your child to technology, hammer home the idea that strong emotions are best played out with an adult, face-to-face. Texting wars, poison emails, and demeaning photos are all unacceptable, and “fighting back” in kind only brings more sorrow. Teach your children to walk away from the computer or put down the phone when emotions begin to run high.
Kids who are overly protected from modern technology will not thrive either in school or in the workplace. Every parent must now accept the added duty of internet guardian, like it or not. You can count on your kids to offer endless examples of what other families do. That’s why it’s so important that parents and guardians be on the same page early on. Even if your child is still in diapers, you’ll want to get out ahead of this.