How to Make Your Kids Internet Savvy

The news often focuses on the many dangers the internet brings to kids. This can scare any parent into believing that stalkers, bullies and child predators are just watching and waiting for their child to join the virtual computer world. However, using the internet is also a valuable skill. Instead of fearing and outright banning internet use, it’s best to teach kids how to be smart when using the internet.

Take a Class

If you have limited experience with the internet then you need to become an expert quickly. Your child will certainly be an internet expert. You don’t want your child to know more than you about the internet. And if you are afraid of the internet, you will not be in a position to teach your child to be internet smart. Take a class at your local community college or through your city’s recreation department to gain confidence in teaching your child internet safety skills.

Get on the Internet

It takes more than just knowing about the internet to teach children internet use. You will need to join your child’s internet world. You can’t truly understand and appreciate the value and hazards of internet use unless you have experience. So get online and create a Facebook page, download some music and play the online games that interest your child. You wouldn’t allow your child to drive a car by himself without an experienced instructor. The same should apply to the internet. As a parent, you need to become an experienced internet instructor.

Set Rules

Just as your child has other rules meant to guide her and keep her safe, you need to set rules regarding internet use. This includes no internet use in the bedroom. Keep the computer and other gadgets with internet access in family living areas. If you are always watching, your child is less likely to get in trouble on the internet. Also establish what type of sites she can access, how she can use those sites, if photos can be posted and overall length of time she can spend on the internet.

Ask Questions

Part of good parenting includes annoying your child with questions about his day, such as who he spent time with, where he is going and if parents will be present. When it comes to internet use, you need to also annoy your child with questions. Don’t think that just because the internet is a virtual world that it doesn’t have real life consequences. Ask just as many questions about your child’s time spent on the internet. Ask about what sites he visited, what games he played, what he did online, who he instant messaged, who he emailed and if he had contact with strangers.

The “Would I Want My Mom to See This” Test

Assume that everything your child posts on the internet will be on the internet forever and may be seen by anyone. Even “private” emails or instant messages should not be thought of as private, as these can be copied and posted anywhere. For every instant message, email, social network posting or photo, teach your child to ask the question “Would I want my mom to see this?” This will help keep your child from experiencing the embarrassment of a “friend” emailing comments or a questionable photo to the entire school.

This will also make your child more hirable when job hunting. It’s now regular practice for employers to search social networking sites before hiring or even selecting interview candidates. Teach your child to use social networking sites as a place to show their best traits, not their worst.

Teach Critical Thinking Skills

Work with your child as he ventures into the online world to think critically about what happens on the internet. Teach your child to carefully examine a message from a stranger. For example, children need to learn that the person can easily be lying.  They should ask themselves “Why is this person really contacting me?” Also, your child needs to know to always tell you if a stranger contacts him. Even if that stranger says he is another child or knows a friend of your child.

Another skill your child will need online is dealing with the pitfalls of social networking sites. With the public posting of every school party, event and social drama, it’s easy to become hurt and emotionally pained by what is shared or discovered. Teach your child to recognize that there may be more to the story, to not make assumptions and to not participate in online bullying or other dramatic events.  This may be difficult for many teenagers, so encourage your child to come to you for support and help when dealing with online social pressures.

While the dangers on the internet are real, prohibiting your child from using the internet is not practical, nor will it help your child. Using the internet, including social networking sites, is a valuable skill in today’s world that kids need to use for homework and that they will need on the job. Becoming internet savvy yourself and teaching about those hazards will help keep your child safe on the internet while developing much needed computer skills.

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