The Internet is a wonderful resource, a place to explore, learn, create and find inspiration, full of activities you really want your child to engage in. On the other hand, it is perfectly natural to feel a bit weary- there are a lot of things you do not want your youngsters to see at an early age. Luckily, there is a way to make Internet use safe for your child. All it takes is a little bit of your time and some preparation.
The first step is, and should always be, simply talking to your child. It is important that your child understands the basics of Internet safety and knows that you are there to talk to about any problems, concerns or doubts. This is basically like teaching your child to use the stove- sure, the stove can be dangerous, with its hot plates, but if you walk your child through how to use it correctly, they will get all the benefit, but none of the dangers.
It will make things easier for both you and your child, because they will know what they can do and what to expect. Create a set of guidelines about when and how long they can be (chores and homework come first!), discuss what services they can use. Will they use instant messaging, chat rooms, blogs, and social networking sites or virtual worlds? Set your ground rules and tell them which are ok to use. If they are using a messaging service or a social network, do tell them to only add and communicate with their friends. Don’t talk to strangers applies on the streets and on-line.
A child’s mind is like a sponge, it absorbs everything and craves for more. If you just let them roam around aimlessly, they will explore and Google, and, yes, stumble upon content that they shouldn’t be seeing. Take some time and learn about some fun pages with activities for children which will keep them occupied, have fun exploring with them and create a list of good quality, fun and safe sites and services they will enjoy using. There are many virtual communities designed especially for children. You can also create a blog for your child and make it quality time activity for your family, all the while teaching children how to act on line.
Use the technology.
There is a lot of Internet Safety tools available which let you control, track or limit what your child can say and do online. Learn about Internet filters and firewalls, or install special browsers for children. They are usually very simple to use and there is some great free software available. Here are some programs you might find helpful:
KidZui is a web portal for kids that functions as a stand-alone portal or a Firefox plug-in. It offers loads of content from informational websitesas well as games and videos, and has a child friendly search engine. There are also some social features, like adding friends and controlled messaging and sharing service, and you will have access to reports about how your kids are spending their time online.
Pikluk is an Internet browser and email system designed especially for kids. You determine which websites your children can visit, as well as with whom they can exchange email messages. This is a software for parents who are more strict on the use of Internet and want to restrict it to a few pages only. You have to approve each website and email address individually so if you want your kids to be able to search through kid-friendly sites for information, this is not the best way to go. However, if your child is younger and you want them to enjoy a handful of educational or fun sites without having to worry about them wandering off to other sites, give it a go.
The KidSplorer is browser which uses a database of kid-friendly sites. The parents can edit this database freely and even choose which pages on a site their children can visit. There are time management options to help limit the time online. It will also block the use of other browsers or lock out other programs entirely. This piece of software is not free, but you can get a free trial and see if it works for you before you spend $29.99 for the full version,
ZAC is short for “Zone for Autistic Children”. It is a wonderful browser created by a grandfather for his autistic grandson, Zachary. It is designed to simplify the process of browsing for children who struggle with fine motor skills. It has set access to certain websites, videos and games, which have been specifically selected for children with autism. Although ZAC is designed for autistic kids, some parents find that this controlled environment is appropriate for other children as well.
So, talk, get involved, set some ground rules and use the technology at hand. It doesn’t take a lot of time and your kid can benefit greatly!