We parents have a tough job raising our kids. It’s our responsibility to guide our children on the road to adulthood by helping them learn how to cope with life’s challenges as they go out into the real world. At the same time we must also take care to protect them from the dangers that are out there.
These responsibilities extend to our kids’ usage of the Internet. Access to the Internet is mandatory in today’s schools. More often than not teachers expect students to use the Internet to do their research. As our kids progress from elementary years through high school, and then on to college, they will need our help learning how to use the Internet properly, and how to avoid its pitfalls.
This means that parents need to control their kids’ Internet access, at least while they are studying at home. The extent of the control varies with age, but generally I would suggest using more restrictive access in the elementary years then lifting the restrictions, as your kids get older, more mature and knowledgeable about what to do and not to do on the Internet.
The Elementary School Years
Elementary schools expect more of students in our kids’ generation than they did in ours. Writing and math standards that used to be associated with junior high level competency are now applied to 4th and 5th graders. Many kindergarteners are learning to read before they enter the 1st grade.
And yes, elementary schools have computers, lots of them; and more often than not those computers have broadband Internet access.
When my kids were at this age, 10-15 years ago, teachers had planned activities that involved searching for information on the Internet. Usage of the Internet at all school levels has only increased since then.
During school time teachers and parent volunteers can make sure students stay on the Internet straight and narrow, particularly if the school’s network has devices in place that can block access to certain websites – our school did. If you are able to, I strongly suggest volunteering at your child’s school. It gives you a first-hand look at how they are being educated and gets your directly involved in the process.
Limiting Internet Access at Home
So when your kids come home and want to use the Internet, how can you limit their access? Before you do anything else, I would decide on your Internet usage rules, then talk to your kids about them so they know your expectations up front. Inform them that you’ll be watching what they do. If you are involved with what they are doing at home, they are less likely to get into trouble on the Internet.
Of course you can’t watch your children all of the time so it makes sense to use some tools to restrict their Internet access while your backs are turned. If you have a router, through which your home computers get to the Internet, you can usually add controls to such a device to block websites or turn off their Internet access altogether.
Perhaps a better way to control Internet access on a given computer is to use Trend Micro’s Titanium™ Security. It provides a rich set of tools for filtering web content and restricting web navigation to undesirable places. In fact, Titanium has a set of controls for age groups 3-7, 8-12, and 13-17. Here is what the Titanium Parental Control panel looks like for children that are 3-7 years old.
Notice there are numerous restrictions for this age group, as there should be. As you increase the age group, restrictions are lifted. For my money I think the restrictions for the 8-12 year old range should be pretty much the same as they are for 3-7 year olds, but you may feel differently. When kids try to browse to any of sites restricted by the parental controls, they will get screens in their browsers blocking them from accessing objectionable websites.
By the way, my advice is don’t let your elementary school kids use social networking. It’s fine for later years, but at this age nothing good can come from it. There’s a reason why Facebook doesn’t let kids younger than 13 join their network. There are simply too many risks to younger children who don’t know about shady characters on the Internet or how to protect their privacy. If they want to talk to their friends, let them use the phone.
Junior High and High School
When your kids go to junior high and high school they enter worlds of higher academic demands. Greater demands mean more advanced courses, longer term papers, more time spent doing research and, consequently, requires broader Internet access.
During the teenage years some of the Internet access restrictions that were imposed on your kids while they were in elementary school may have to be lifted. Where in early years you might have been tempted to block access to any websites having to do with a topic like sex or crime, it may be necessary to allow this kind of access if they are studying legitimate topics in these areas like, the biology of reproduction or crime statistics in one region or another. It’s still very important to make sure that teenagers are blocked from going to websites that are devoted to pornography or that advocate violence.
No doubt your teenagers are or want to use social networks. Social networking can be a great way for people of all ages to share information in friendly way, but there are serious risks involved with using these forums.
People, and particularly teens, can expose themselves in very regrettable ways that come back haunt them. You’ve no doubt heard about the many cases of students bullying other students, sometimes with very serious outcomes. And let’s not forget social networking, even in it’s most benign form, can be a considerable distraction from doing schoolwork.
I think social networks are OK as long as kids are aware of the dangers, understand what constitutes good behavior – social networking and otherwise – and don’t overuse them. Again talking with your kids can solve the first two issues. Titanium can help with the last one.
To College, And Beyond…
By the time they graduate from high school, your kids are probably knowledgeable enough to use the Internet wisely and stay out of trouble. More than likely they are mature enough to handle objectionable web content. And since they may be leaving home to go to college there’s really nothing you can do to control their Internet access away from home anyway.
What I would be more concerned about at this age is the possibility of picking up malware or being duped to visit a phishing website that can steal valuable data from them. Titanium provides numerous controls for viruses and spyware, web threats, spam, network and instant messaging threats that will help safeguard your kids safe as they go off to college.
But when all is said and done, we as parents need to be involved with our kids’ lives both on the Internet and elsewhere. Controlling their access to the Internet, particularly when they are younger, is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s just good parenting.
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.