Promote Healthy Internet Habits
Healthy Habits Come First
Healthy habits can lay the foundation for a better, safer online experience for your children and your family. The following strategies can help you promote healthy Internet habits in your home.
Talk About It
- Talk with your kids about the Internet, and encourage them to see it as a shared, open environment in which they have social responsibilities just as they would in any physical environment.
- With open discussion, you can set expectations about the behavior you expect from them, curb negativity and discourage behaviors such as secrecy, boundary-pushing or thrill-seeking. You can also emphasize that online safety is something you care about and will continue to examine.
Keep in mind:
- Enjoy the Internet along with your children, and discuss the ways in which it brings value into your lives.
- Stay open to your kids' questions and encourage them to share their Internet experiences with you without fear of punishment about what they read, see or experience.
- Discuss how to safely interact online with others, why kids should stay away from certain types of content and individuals, and that Internet rules are there to protect kids.
- Teach children to trust their instincts, and to come to you if something or someone online makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Stay calm and remind them that they are not in trouble for bringing issues to your attention. Praise their discretion.
- As kids get older, keep family communications about the Internet as open and positive as you can. Talk with your kids about their online friends and activities just as you would talk about other friends and activities.
Set Rules for Internet Use
Lay out rules for Internet use, setting clear expectations for your kids' online habits. A good set of rules should include things like the amount of time kids are allowed to be online, what types of content are appropriate and who its okay to chat with as well as proper online conduct and good Internet citizenship.
Keep in mind:
- The most successful rules are those that are created collaboratively. Work with your kids to draw up an online family safety contract that the whole family can agree to and sign.
- Discuss the rules frequently. Remind them that the rules are in place to protect your family, and that strictly maintaining privacy online can lower the risk of being targeted by online predators.
- Tell kids that following the rules and keeping communications open will allow them to gain freedoms as they get older. Let them know that you will reevaluate the rules over time.
Balance Time Online
Maintaining a balance between entertainment and other activities in kids' lives can be a serious challenge. The Internet has made it even more difficult, as the lines between entertainment and education are often blurred. Modeling a healthy balance between your online and offline activities is a great way to encourage kids to do the same.
Keep in mind:
- Enforce rules about the amount of time your kids may spend online and the hours they are allowed to go online. Help your kids develop self-control, discipline and accountability regarding Internet use.
- Use parental controls in Windows 7 to support your rules. Set up individual user accounts to limit time spent on the PC and to customize each child's access to games, the Web and other content.
- Encourage and support their participation in other activities — particularly physical pastimes with other children. If your child is reluctant, look for offline activities that tap into the same interests your kids pursue online.
- Watch for signs of Internet dependency. If Internet use seems excessive or begins to affect your child's school performance, health or relationships, consider professional counseling for Internet addiction
Distinguish Between Fact and Opinion
Let's face it: There's a lot of content on the Internet that isn't helpful or reliable. While more online fact checking happens today than previously, the ability of nearly anyone to offer opinions or build Web sites can make the Internet a confusing place for young people.
- Teach your kids how the Internet works, and encourage critical thinking. Train them to use a variety of online resources and to always check, question and verify what they see online. Ultimately, these skills can help your kids avoid bad situations and individuals — such as online predators — that may seek to mislead or trick Internet users.
Keep in mind:
- Start young. Even preschool students use the Internet to look up information. Teach them early to distinguish fact from opinion, and discuss ways to recognize bias, propaganda and stereotyping.
- Challenge your kids to evaluate what they see online by asking: What is the purpose of this site? To entertain? To sell? Does it provide the author’s contact information or an "About Us" section? Does a company or an individual person sponsor it? Is it a public conversation? Finally, challenge them to consider whether the Internet is the best place to find the information they need.
- Discuss racism and other forms of hatred with your kids. Software filters can help block hateful material, but critical thinking and an awareness of history and world events can help children recognize more subtle biases.
Keep Personal Facts Private
Online privacy is vital to your family's safety. Ensuring that your kids communicate online only with people known to them and your family can help limit their contact with unsavory elements. Still, as kids grow older, they are bound to make new friends online.
Keep in mind:
- Ensure that children keep facts such as their real name, age, gender and location private. Discuss how details in photographs can reveal more information to would-be predators than your child intends.
- Many kids routinely visit social networks and blogs where they may post pictures, make comments and write personal entries. Insist that your kids keep personal information private and that they think twice before joining location-based peer groups that may give away information on their whereabouts.
- Ensure that your kids understand the risks involved in making private or personal information public online. Keep an open dialogue about the people they come into contact with online. Discuss and evaluate online relationships as you would any other relationships in your child’s life.