Internet-safety specialist Lori Getz: Set some rules for keeping kids safe in cyberspace this summer! If you will be working outside the home with a babysitter watching the kids, make sure the babysitter is well-versed in these rules as well.
Tip #1: Time management!
Kids need to find a balance when it comes to media time management. We want our children to be well-rounded and healthy people, and a sedentary lifestyle in front of the computer or Xbox will not accomplish that. We also want to keep our kids safe, and the longer they are online, the more opportunity there is to become exposed to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, online predators and Internet addiction.
Don't fight the technology here! You will only start an argument with your tween or teen about how "you don't get it"! Instead, talk to them about ergonomics. Health experts are beginning to see earlier onsets of hand, eye, neck, back and wrist problems in our children. Currently, the International Ergonomics Association and Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments recommend that all computer users rest their eyes every 15 minutes by looking past the computer to something far away, and getting up from the workstation and moving every 30 to 60 minutes.
Tip #2: Treat the behavior, not the technology.
Understand that the Internet is very similar to our personal communities. There are just a lot more places to go and a lot more people to meet in cyberspace. The rules you have at home about where your kids can go and whom they can hang out with are the same rules that apply on the Internet. If you wouldn't let your children wander a mall alone, do not allow them to wander the Internet unsupervised. If your kids are older and more responsible and you would let them go to the mall alone but not see an R-rated movie, the same should apply online. They have a little more freedom, but are still told they may not visit sexually explicit or other adult sites. Know your child's online friends, the same way you want to know them in the physical world. When you start comparing these "cyber questions" to the questions you ask them as they walk out your front door, it stops being about the technology and starts being about the parenting.
Tip #3: Set expectations and limitations.
Parental controls are a great way to do this, but they are not foolproof! Your eyes and ears are still the best parenting tools you have. Kids have access to technology not only from your home, but at a friend's house, the public library and even via mobile devices. You need to make sure that you are talking about what you believe is appropriate for them. Learn how to check your child's history. If they know how to clear the history, you may want to look at the parental controls within your operating system and check out the Weblog feature. This tracks every place they visit on the Web, whether or not they clear the history.
Tip #4: STOP, BLOCK, and REPORT cyberbullying.
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, you should encourage them to STOP -- do not respond to the bully. BLOCK -- stop the bully from sending any more messages. REPORT -- tell you or another trusted adult about the incident. The victim, who in this case is your child, should print out the ENTIRE conversation and show it to you.
Children report not telling their parents about cyberbullying for fear the parents will take away the technology. It is important to remember that the technology did not cause the problem. Support your children and help them decide the best course of action in dealing with the situation. One thing to remember as a parent: THE TECHNOLOGY IS NOT THE CULPRIT. The person behind the technology is.
How are you keeping your kids safe this summer?