How much should parents monitor their child’s online activities?

While there are many opinions on this topic, truthfully, no one but you can answer this question. As a parent, it’s important to consider your child’s safety, responsibility and privacy on the Internet, but it can be difficult to know how to go about it. At Childhelp, we believe that fostering critical thinking skills in children’s online habits is vital. However, sometimes it can be necessary to monitor online activity in order to help keep children safe and hold them accountable for their actions on the Internet.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding how to monitor your child’s online activities:

  1. Regardless of how you choose to monitor your child’s online habits, discussing the rules about what kinds of sites your child is allowed to visit is a must. Decide what is and is not acceptable and communicate with your child why you have set these rules in place.
  2. Consider setting up your family computer in an open area of the home rather than a bedroom or closed door office. Establishing computer use as a public activity will help encourage your child to make wise choices about the websites he or she visits.
  3. Are your children teenagers? For this age group it is especially important for parents to be sensitive to their kids’ desire for personal privacy. However, this desire does not remove your responsibility to parent, and ultimately, your judgment of your child’s responsibility online should be the primary factor when choosing how to monitor their online habits.
  4. CommonSenseMedia.org also recommends checking in with your kids often. It is helpful to “periodically ask your kids to show you what they’ve found that they like. Showing that you’re interested in the good stuff they’ve been finding may mean they’re more comfortable coming to you if something on a site bothers them. Make sure kids know to check in if they see something that’s hateful, pornographic, or violent.

Aside from good old fashioned parenting, here are a few tips and tools to help you keep track of what your kids are up to while they’re on the Internet.

Browser History

You can check what website your kids have been visiting by clicking on the arrow next to the address bar or by going into the menu and clicking on “history.” Many kids and teens will consider this as spying, so decide ahead of time how you’ll talk to them if you find that they’ve been visiting troubling sites.

www.SafetyWeb.com

This website allows parents to enter their child’s email address and provides a comprehensive report of what is publicly available online about your child. Parents can also sign up to receive alerts when their child shows red flags online such as depression, bullying, predator contact, and viewing of pornographic websites.

www.MouseMail.com

MouseMail is an email, mobile and social network filtering service that provides early detection that warns parents of potential abuse and inappropriate content shared and received through technical devices.

Safety Search Settings

Most popular search engines allow parents to set and lock safe search settings. To learn more about setting up safety search on Google, visit http://www.google.com/familysafety/tools.html.

Other Web Filters

Web filters are especially good for younger children, as many older kids will be able to easily get around them or turn them off. Some filter services you might consider can be found at www.symantec.com, www.netnanny.com, and www.k9webprotection.com (this option is free software).

What rules have you put in place to help your kids make wise decisions online? How have you chosen to help hold them accountable to those rules? Do you have any advice for parents who are currently making these decisions?

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