Responsible Internet Use
Talking to Your Children about Safe and Responsible Internet Use
The internet is a valuable tool, and one that has undoubtedly become necessary for children’s education. Parents often grant computer access to children in the same way and with the same sense of security as when they let them watch television. There may even be a greater sense of comfort, because there is an assumption that the computer is by its very nature educational. However, in terms of exposure to potentially harmful material, the internet (which is, for the most part, unregulated) is fraught with potential danger. Via the internet, children have access to pornography, and conversely, potential predators have access to children. It is also surprisingly easy for children to commit fraud, harassment, and copyright violation on the internet. Recent lawsuits against minors by the Recording Industry Association of America underscore this risk.
Although the availablitily of blocking software and other parental controls can limit unwanted access, it is important to face the reality that kids can get around these limits fairly easily. No matter how hard we try, there is no way to guarantee that children won’t come into contact with material we may consider to be inappropriate. The only real way to increase safety is to create an environment in which they can ask questions and expect honest answers, an environment where they can count on adult help if they get into trouble. If you create this kind of environment, kids are more likely to follow the rules you set.
What follows are some practical guidelines for talking to your children about safe and responsible internet use. If both parents are involved in childrearing decisions, it is important to discuss and come to an agreement regarding what the rules should be about internet use at home. The first principle of communicating with children is to listen to them:
- Give your full attention and listen without interrupting
- Acknowledge their feelings
- Give a name to the feelings
- Identify their wishes and frustrations
- Resist the temptation to:
– give advice right away
– deny feelings
– give orders
– act like a policeman
– make threats
In order to maximize the likelihood that your kids will understand and comply with your household rules, consider the following:
- How you say something is just as important as what you say. If your body language or tone of voice communicates something different than your words, your message will not be clear. When kids get mixed messages about something, they may be confused or may not follow through. You need to convey the attitude that you see them as capable people who will do the responsible thing once they are made aware if it. If you instead communicate that they’re untrustworthy or incapable, they may feel defeated, angry and not feel empowered to follow through on what you tell them.
- When you sit down to discuss these issues with your children, start off by asking them what they know about it. Be patient and listen, if you sit poised to jump in with what you want to say, you create an atmosphere in which children are less likely to feel listened to.
- Pay attention to the words you use: avoid using words like “stupid” or “irresponsible.” These can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
- It may be a good thing to sit down with your kids and ask them to show you their favorite websites, and explain how to do some things with the computer. It shows that you are interested, and respect their expertise.
- Some parents are afraid to bring up certain topics with their children, because they’re afraid that they’ll be putting ideas in their heads. You are not protecting your children by avoiding these subjects. They will undoubtedly be exposed to them elsewhere, and perhaps not in an environment where they feel safe asking questions and can count on accurate information.
- Kids need to know that things they do online that are illegal are considered to be criminal acts. And if the illegal activity happens across state lines, it is considered a federal crime. Kids have gone to court and been incarcerated for things they have done in on the Internet.
- Move the computer to a public space where you can better monitor your child’s activities.
Although the availability of blocking software and other parental controls can limit unwanted access, it is important to face the reality that kids can get around these limits fairly easily. No matter how hard we try, there is no way to guarantee that children won’t come into contact with material we may consider to be inappropriate. The only real way to increase safety is to create an environment in which they can ask questions and expect honest answers, an environment where they can count on adult help if they get into trouble. If you create this kind of environment, kids are more likely to follow the rules you set.