5 Tips to Protect Your Children in the Digital Age

The Internet provides an opportunity for children to learn, explore their world and socialize with friends. As parents, we also know the safety risks the Internet poses to our children. By understanding the potential threats children face, you can educate, empower and protect yourself – and them – to have safer, more meaningful online experiences.

1. Get Educated – And Educate Your Children

Learn how kids use the Internet by spending time with them in the digital world. Remember, unlike conventional media, the Internet is interactive, giving us all the opportunity to interact with anyone. Remind kids that "virtual" safety is just as important as "real world" safety.

2. Safety First

If possible, keep the computer in a common area of the house and set reasonable limits on computer usage. Show kids the value of privacy. Encourage them to protect their passwords and personal information, as they would with something like a diary or journal. Help them use privacy settings to restrict who has access to or can post on their social networking profiles, blogs and other accounts. Use monitoring and filtering software that restricts what websites they can visit and tracks where they’ve been.

3. Know and Enforce Age Appropriate Online Experiences

Children under 8 should have direct supervision while online. Tweens, kids from 8 – 12, should have more freedom, but an adult/parent/guardian should still be close by, with privacy settings at their highest level. Teens, due to smart phones, school computers, etc. will have more Internet access, which is why it’s important to set rules early and encourage ongoing conversations.

4. Discuss Expectations for Appropriate Conduct

Ongoing, frequent communication is vital to keeping your kids safe. Discuss what appropriate online conduct looks like – how much of it mirrors safe, responsible real-world behavior. Encourage a "think before you post" attitude – and discuss consequences. Write down the rules and keep them near the computer. Encourage their questions. Invite conversation.

5. Get – and Stay Involved

Share your Internet safety plan with other parents as a means to set expectations and offer and gain support. Stay alert to changes in your children’s behavior – are they becoming secretive about computer time? Understand how, when and where to report suspicious behavior online: Facebook, Twitter, My Space

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