Are you worried about your child's safety when he or she is on a computer? Sometimes it's easy for parents to feel like their children are more tech savvy than is good for them. However, children are growing up surrounded by technology—it's second nature to them to know how to use it, even if you don't have a computer at home. What is most important is for you to teach your child how to treat other people and be safe at all times—whether they are meeting to play in the neighborhood or meeting online. Here a few simple ideas that will get you a long way toward teaching your child to be safe online:
Keep the conversation open. Help your child know that he or she can come to you about any topic, at any time. Don't be afraid to bring up topics that you are worried about. Sometimes an easy way to get a conversation started is to talk about a situation you've both seen on TV, such as a person with a cell phone or on a computer. Use this situation to teach your child about what is okay and what is not okay online.
Teach your children that people should always be treated with respect. Respecting the people around us includes saying things that would be nice to say to a person's face—whether they are said on the phone, through a text, through an e-mail, or in an online chat room. Remind your children that it's important to stand up and report bullies to a trusted adult too. Bullies don't just stay on the playground anymore—now they are found online as well.
Be involved. Some parents worry about intruding into their child's privacy. However, it is much more important to keep your child safe and to talk with them about the situations they encounter. Keep the computer in a room that gets a lot of traffic in your house, like the kitchen or family room. With young children, spend computer time together, and show them safe, educational websites they can look at. With older children, check up on what websites they are going to and what friends they have online. If you allow your older child to have a Facebook page (Facebook rules say users must be at least 13 years old), open a Facebook account yourself and insist that your child is your Facebook "friend." It's much easier to stay out of trouble when someone can be looking over your shoulder any minute!
Keep private information private. Teach your child to never share their full name or address with anyone. Even information like age and e-mail address should be kept very secret. Most important—they need to know to NEVER meet an online friend in real life without your permission.
Keep up family time. Technology can be a great tool for kids to do school work and learn new things. However, it's also very important that kids have time away from technology. Set a time limit for "screen time"—how long they are watching television, on the computer, etc. Spend this time together as a family—play outside, cook together, go for bike rides, and read books together.
For more information, check out this booklet called Net Cetera: Chatting With Kids About Being Online, written by the FTC, Department of Education, and Federal Communications Commission. It can be found online at onguardonline.gov/articles/pdf-0001-netcetera.pdf.
Internet Scavenger Hunt
Work together with your child to follow the directions below and see if you can find answers to the questions:
Visit the zoo! What countries are Rainbow Lorikeets from?
- Go to cincinnatizoo.org.
- In the orange bar, go to "Animals & Exhibits" and click on "Birds."
- On the far left, choose "Rainbow Lorikeets." It is the second option under BIRDS.
- Read the page together to find the answer: ________________________________________.
- Last, watch the video at the bottom.
Check out the new Food Pyramid! What are those stairs in the Pyramid for anyway?
- Go to mypyramid.gov.
- In the blue box on the left, click on "Kids (6-11y)."
- Click on "Tips for Families"—it will open in a new window. Look at the pyramid with your child. See if you can decide together why there are stairs on the side. Click the "close" button on your Internet browser to go back to the last page.
- We think the stairs are there because _________________________________________________.
- Click "A Close Look at MyPyramid for Kids" (it will open in a new window) and find the answer to your question. Close this window too when you are done.
- The stairs are part of the pyramid because ______________________________________________.
- Last, click "MyPyramid Blast Off Game" and play it with your child. Work together to make it to Planet Power!
How about fun online learning? What is the main ingredient in breads, cakes, and your favorite pizza crust?
- Go to sites.ext.vt.edu/virtualfarm/main.html.
- Click the bottom link on the left, which says "Wheat."
- Click "From the Farm to You" and read the story together.
- What is the main ingredient in breads, cakes, and your favorite pizza crust? ____________________.
- Back at the page where you clicked on "Wheat," check out the other farms too—"Horse Farm" has fun surprises!
Facebook (2010). Terms. Revised April 22, 2010. Retrieved from facebook.com/terms.php?ref=pf.
On Guard Online (2009). Net Cetera: Chatting With Kids About Being Online. Accessed May 28, 2010 from onguardonline.gov/articles/pdf-0001-netcetera.pdf.
Edited by: Rose Fisher Merkowitz, Extension Educator—Family and Consumer Sciences, Highland County; Kathy L. Jelley, Extension Educator—Family and Consumer Sciences, Brown County; and Scott Scheer, Professor and Extension Specialist—Human and Community Resource Development and 4-H Youth Development, The Ohio State University.