15 Things You Can Do To Make Sure Your Child Has a Safer Internet Experience

Mary Kay Hoal's picture

When I was asked to provide some insight into a discussion that was happening on LinkedIn about “best practices when monitoring your child/teen online”, I was happy to provide my input. After all, I talk about this topic with parents all the time, whether it’s online or in real life, as well as living the message I teach with my five children every day, so I was happy to share some knowledge.

The discussion, which was part of a larger question in the Parenting 2.0 group in LinkedIn, was chock full of great advice and viewpoints from a number of moms and dads. In fact, according to the group manager, it’s the most popular discussion to date with over 60 comments. And let me be clear by saying that the majority of the comments aren’t short; they’re long, well-thought-out comments from parents who obviously have a strong interest in a topic that more people need to be seriously talking about.

The question that was asked was “Is there an ‘acceptable’ age in which parents allow tweens/teens to participate on social networking sites?” As many of you know, now more than ever, this question holds some serious weight when it comes to the online safety of our children. So I’d like to share my advice with you. And I would love it if we could continue this discussion on YoursphereForParents. I feel that many parents feel very differently about their kids joining social networks, and I also feel that many parents can offer their own perspective on how they monitor their child’s use of the Internet.

One mom“I think that monitoring a child's use of FB or any online activity is critical. Hopefully all here know how to check the computer history "places visited" etc...through temporary Internet files. It's not snooping, it's monitoring computer use and parents have a responsibility to do the best they can to stay on top of that. I would love to hear Mary Kay.” 

Discussion starter“Me, too, actually! Mary Kay, will you please chime in "best practices" with monitoring teen online usage?”

My answer - Best practices change based on the age of your children. But one thing is consistent no matter what the age: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue :) Three of my children are in elementary school, (one soon to be in middle school), one in high school and one in college. My college-aged son is an adult, so at this point we dialogue a lot about the subject, but I don't take the same online safety-approach as I do with my four other children.

For the younger children – 12 and under:    

  1. Create separate user accounts for each child on the home computer.    
  2. Enable strict content filtering on the computer.    
  3. Install anti-virus, malware software, etc.    
  4. Establish a select list of sites they’re allowed to visit. (We talk about the sites they want to visit, spend time on them together, and then I go through the sites and click through as deep as I can to understand the site content, culture, links, and ads, if they have them.) If I think they’re okay, then they're added to the list.    
  5. Enable YouTube Safe Mode on all web browsers (no matter what the age of user). Remember, you have to enable the safe mode per child, per account set up.    
  6. Set time limits on computer use just as you would with TV or video games.    
  7. Restrict online gaming (unless you play directly with your child and know the other people in real life.) So that means no Xbox Live premium membership or playing games on the Wii connected to the Internet.    
  8. Use Google SafeSearch as their search engine (no matter what the age of the user)    
  9. Use third party monitoring software that flags/detects any concerning phrases or words.    
  10. Talk to your kids about what you learn/know is going on related to kids and technology (We talk about cyberbullying, sexting, kids being mean to others. Ask them what they think, what they'd do so you will have listened and learned. Then provide your advice. Practice role playing with your kids.    
  11. Teach your kids what to do if someone isn't nice to them online: "don't respond, tell your mom, make a copy".    
  12. Teach your kids about the importance of not sharing their personal information online. (last name, school, phone number combined with address)    
  13. Talk to your children about the importance of being kind & respectful to others online.    
  14. If your child has a cell phone, the rules are: open cell phone policy; phones stored at night. Add a service like "Smart Limits" from AT&T, which makes it easier for your children to follow your rules (i.e. you can turn the cell phone off at night, during class, etc.). Preferable cell phone for kids 12 and under = non-smart phone.    
  15. If your child doesn't follow your rules, make sure there are consequences. Technology is a privilege, not a right. Have your children help pay for services such as their cell phone or memberships to special sites. They learn to appreciate what they have. 

Children ages 13 – 17: Most of the same advice and guidelines apply, except:    

  1. The list of select sites allowed to visit will expand. As kids get older, particularly in high school where they need to access lots of sites for homework, it's really hard to keep the list of sites to a select few. You'll know when your child's homework requires that access to information be increased.    
  2. As the list of sites your teen is exposed to increases, check the browsing history and be sure to go 5 - 10 pages deep within the site. Often what's behind the home page is different. Know the content, culture and people your child is exposed to.    
  3. Know your children's friends on the social network they belong to. It’s important to delete anyone they don’t know in real life.    
  4. Know their password, log into their account. If applicable, be their "friend" on the network.    - Do not allow your child to provide websites with their personal information. This is usually requested by adult-intended networks like Facebook (i.e. first name + last name+ DOB + school+ cell phone + exact physical location + IM + email.) While a birth date and email may be needed to sign up, it shouldn't be displayed.    
  5. Do not allow your child to use the applications that allow a third party to access all their information. Read those Terms of Use policies. Talk to your kids about why they shouldn’t. Ask if they'd ever give their photos, friend contact information etc. out to strangers. They wouldn't. You wouldn't.    
  6. Disable Facebook Places and photo geo-tagging.    
  7. Talk to your kids about the photos they post. Ask them what impression a photo they post gives another person that may or may not know them. It's a good way to open up dialogue and to help them think beyond the moment or tomorrow.    
  8. Sign up for Google Alerts with your children's names.    
  9. Remove your family contact information from sites like Spokeo, Pipl and Zaba Search.

Got kids 18 and older? Your child is on the way to college and starting to live their own life. You will need to continue to support your family values through conversation and action. Ultimately, though, by this age they need the opportunity to be on their own on the Internet, but grounded in the up-bringing we've provided. That said, the dialogue continues.

As originally posted on www.yoursphereforparents.com

Looking for an age-appropriate alternative to Facebook for your children? Check out www.yoursphere.com



Guest's picture

Many children are more advanced on the computer than what we are, plus if they cant get what they want on the home PC they will just find it on their phones, I curbed that one by buying my children the most basic prepaid tracfone, no internet, no problem
Guest's picture

Very helpful information. Thanks
satyen4uall's picture

Also be assured to have original antivirus software & keep it always update to fight with all latest virus & spyware
audreyeb's picture

Thanks for your article, Mary Kay. I am currently involved in a Digital Culture class at BYU. In my class, we have decided to create our own projects based on our area of interest. I'm personally interested in studying the female adolescent psychology and identity within the World Wide Web. Along with my personal project, some classmates and I will be working on understanding more about positive Internet experiences for the families. I hope to contact you sometime this semester to gain more of your insight.
Stan's picture

Regarding Firefox and ability to disable private browsing. This is for Windows. The following worked for latest version of Firefox. Will hide the menu options for private browsing, but probably not permanently disable that option. (Thanks to cor-el and the post found at https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/questions/768275) Some of the older advice found in a web search works if View Menubar is switched on, but then doesn't work if View Menubar is off. The following works for both cases. First use another search to find how you can edit the file called userChrome.css Then once inside that file, find the line with @namespace. Just after that line, paste the following. /* Hide Private Browsing in App menu and Tools menu */ #appmenu_privateBrowsing, #privateBrowsingItem {display:none!important;} /* Hide Sanitize item in App menu and Tools menu */ #appmenu_sanitizeHistory, #sanitizeSeparator, #sanitizeItem {display:none!important;}
inejwstine's picture

Great article, but none of the links work; they all say "Page not found."
fox016's picture

See http://www.internetsafetyproject.org/wiki/spokeo-phonebook-knows-too-much for more information about Spokeo and how to remove information
Ella B Ladwig's picture

Specially social networking sites safety has been major concern for most of parents. http://www.chesstelecom.com/business-broadband