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Kidproofing the Internet

Jacqui Murray

 

A constant question I get from parents at my school who inquire about technology in the classroom is, “How do I keep my children safe when they are online?”

They ask about firewalls, filters, tools, kidsafe desktops and nannycams. Should they keep their children away from computers or just off the Internet? Do they have to sit with them while they work?

No, no and no. What parents need to do is
teach children to take care of themselves
while visiting this vast, anonymous, addictive
neighborhood that is the Internet.

Just as children come to understand that they need to stay at your side in
large busy stores, that they shouldn't talk to strangers, that they don't open the house door to people they don't know, they will learn to be safe in the digital world, because it's part of our genome: We do what keeps us safe.

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While they're getting to that epiphany, here are some ideas you can employ.

1. Teach your children how to properly use the Internet. They are digital citizens. They have rights and responsibilities. Just as in their neighborhood, they must learn to do it right. They aren't born with that knowledge. Teach them to avoid ads, about online relationships, tell them again and again. Sooner than you think, they will own it. Just as they don't cross the street without looking both ways, they won't cross the digital street unless it's safe.

2. Discuss with your child what they can and cannot do online. Discuss why. Help them to understand. They feel invincible. You want them to feel safe, but able to take care of themselves. Part of taking care of themselves is not putting themselves in harm's way.

3. Use a parental control filter. Make it so only you know the password, which makes it your prerogative what types of activities are available. Start by blocking pornography because few little boys can resist the urge to type that whispered word they hear on the playground. From there, block everything you worry about -- Minecraft, girls, Facebook, xxx, murder. It's easy to unblock if your child needs a site that won't come up. More importantly, it leads to a conversation with your child about what they're researching and why they need it. You want your child comfortable with you involved in their lives -- not as an arbiter of right and wrong, but as an interested loving party.

4. Do not assume parental controls are perfect. Assume they aren't. Stay vigilant. Be aware when your child is too quiet or too noisy at the computer. Ask questions. Pop in unexpectedly.

5. Enforce rules. Don't decide you're too tired one night to go check a website your child tells you they need to visit. Always, always, always follow your own rules.

6. Check the history on your child's computer. Do it with them so they understand you're not hiding anything. This is part of the plan to keep them safe.

7. Know what their school does to keep your child safe online when they use technology in the classroom. Follow the same rules, or follow your own. Do explain the differences to your child. Children are flexible. They will be fine with varied rules.

But there is truly only one solution that works: Always pay attention to what's going on. Don't get tired. Don't decide to skip it “just this once.” Once becomes habit and habit becomes a problem. Trust but verify (from President Reagan).

What do you do to keep the Internet safe when using technology in the classroom or at home?

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K- 8technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.