The number of children ages 2-11 going online is growing – and teaching, responsible, safe, appropriate computer habits should be growing as well.
According to ChildTrends.org more than half of kids ages three to 17 (57 percent), use the Internet at home.
Kids this age, 10.3 million girls and boys, are watching online videos – and 18% of 8 to 10 year-olds are spending time on some kind of social networking site daily (Kaiser, 2010), with Bebo, MySpace and Xanga being the most popular (Royal Pingdom 2/2010). Facebook has 5,320,000 3-12 year olds users (Quantcast) even though the required age is 13. Neilson says girls still like Barbie, and boys still like Pokemon but when it comes to online searches, I was stunned that porn came in #4 for kids 7 and under, with sex coming in at #4 for tweens. (Online Family Info.norton.com) We also know that many children as young as 8 years old have computers in their bedrooms (Kaiser Family Foundation). As you can see by the numbers, young kids are very active online and those with computers in their bedrooms have little if any parental supervision.
So, what should parents be doing to help keep their children safe online and teach appropriate behavior?
First of all, the online world and offline world is one world for children today. Kids are living daily in this online/offline world and parents need to accept that the online world is an integral part of their children’s world. Parents need to integrate all of the same teaching techniques that come so easily to them in the offline world to the online world, because it’s one world to this generation of children. The earlier this kind of parenting is assimilated into a young child’s online world as it is offline the better.
Parents would never take young children into the heart of a major city and leave them there unattended, and parents cannot leave children unattended online either. When a child goes online they are entering an unregulated world without borders with all of the inherent risks and therefore supervision and education are vital to a child’s safety and development.
In the offline world we supervise and teach kids before they are allowed to be on their own. We hold our children’s hands and teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. When they show us they understand this rule, then we let them cross the street on their own. We need to show kids how to use the internet safely as well. For example, explain to them that posting identifying information could put them in harms way.
Next, when children are online parents need to teach appropriate behavior, like not making fun or saying something mean to someone online. As parents, we take young kids to a playground and stay with them… if they exhibit behavior, like pushing or saying something mean to another child, we take them aside and have a little talk about how to behave and not to bully. It was discovered that 37 % of teens have used social networking sites to make fun of other students (CommonSense Media 2010). When a child is sitting in front of a computer screen it’s easier to make fun of someone and be mean because of the anonymity and because expressions of dismay and hurt can’t be seen through a computer. Teaching how to stop cyberbullying begins at home.
Lastly, if a stranger knocks on the door, we teach kids not to open the door and to get a parent. The potential for strangers “knocking on the door” online is enormous. Kids need to be taught that friends lists means just that- real friends that your child actually knows, not friends of friends, whom they have never met. Children need to stay away from chatrooms that are havens for predators. Computer-sex offenders almost always meet potential victims via chat rooms according to the FBI.
When children are young we teach them to stay in the yard, we don’t let them wander down the street. Wandering away is one click away online. Kids need to be taught and supervised to make sure they haven’t wandered accidentally or intentionally.
As you can see applying these same principles, values and parenting skills that parents already do so well offline needs to happen online as soon as a child begins using the computer. Supervising and teaching children appropriate and safe computer behavior is not over parenting, or helicopter parenting, it’s responsible parenting, plain an simple.