Kids learn and grow by pushing boundaries, which is normal and healthy, but Internet safety is one area where we as parents should consider holding the line. In the absence of appropriate parental controls, a few misplaced keystrokes can destroy a child's innocence forever. Installing an Internet filter is just the beginning. Learning how to negotiate online safety and age-appropriate Internet access rules is a major parental challenge. Here are a few Internet safety tips to make it easier.
As a parent and a developer of the Mobicip Safe Browser (a popular Internet content filtering service for the iPod touch, iPhone iPad, Windows 7 and Linux, with extensible parental controls and monitoring), I lead a team that thinks about children’s Internet safety 24/7. After exhaustive research with child development psychologists, high-tech law enforcement officials, Internet safety experts, school IT directors, teachers and parents we have developed mobile Internet safety solutions centered around three content filtering levels:
- The Elementary school level in our kid-friendly browser blocks social networking, gaming, shopping, entertainment, clothing, and news sites/content, in addition to the middle school level restrictions listed below.
- The Middle school level in the Mobicip Safe Browser blocks online shopping, gambling, dating, liquor, and chat sites/content, in addition to the high school level restrictions listed below.
- High school level in the Mobicip Safe Browser is the least restrictive and blocks adult, sexual, weapons, violence, proxy, virus and hacking sites/content.
For parents, these child Internet safety nets are only the beginning. After you've installed the appropriate Internet filters on all the devices your child has access to, then the real debate starts.
The FBI recommends that all computers, whether they are desktops, laptops or handhelds, should have parental controls and filtering installed and should only be accessed by children in a common area within full view of the parents. The Internet is not a babysitter, and children’s time online should be safeguarded with fully robust Internet safety solutions like Mobicip and be strictly limited. You can set time limits with a cooking timer, software, hardware, or a written contract (here's one about cell phone use and here's a great kid computer contract.)
The following time limits are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Consider them a starting point for your Internet safety discussions. Obviously every child and situation is unique. There are some children who derive great benefits from extended computer time. If you see your child flourishing with extended computer time, by all means broaden the suggested time limits.
AGE 2-5: Limit time to about 15-20 minutes a day with parental supervision.
Young children (ages 2-5) should play games (whether they are educational or not) only under adult supervision. Even pre-literate children can become addicted to Internet games and simply put, very young kids don't respect technology and might bang it about. Without child Internet safety measures, kids can accidentally open menu items and paint themselves into corners. They will need your help and now is a good time to put on parental controls and establish ground rules about how to respect computers. Don't hit this. Don't lick that. You can only access these web sites via these shortcuts or icons.
AGE 5-9: Limit time to about 30 minutes a day for play with parental supervision. Allow more time for online schoolwork.
Once your child learns to read, it becomes more important to monitor what they do on the Internet. Now is the time to upgrade online safety and install additional Internet monitoring safeguards such as Mobicip.
If you decide to set up your child's first email account at this time (which might be necessary for many kid sites), use filtered email service providers like Zoobuh, Zilladog, Gaggle, KidseMail, etc.
Once your child has their own email account, now might also be a good time to talk about Internet filters and spam. You need to explain what it is, how you get on spam lists, how to recognize it and why they should never respond to spam. That's the easy discussion.
Here's the hard one - online safety. After a kid gets their own email account, the world can access them. You need to establish whom they communicate with (only people they know in real life) and what information they share. Kids are too trusting of Internet "friends” they meet through gaming sites. As a guideline, the Children's Privacy Protection Act says that by age 13 most kids can understand what they should and shouldn't share online.
Now is a good time to remind them that they should let you know if anyone online makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. If they tell you about something, don't panic and don't punish the child. They did the right thing by alerting you to a problem with their online safety. You want to keep the lines of communication open between you and your child.
Age 9-12: Limit time to about 45 minutes a day for play with parental supervision. Allow more time for online schoolwork.
As your tween (age 9-12) grows, you enter the real Internet danger zone. This is when child Internet safety and content filtering will become increasingly important because of all the questionable sites and chat groups out there. This is also the time when your child will begin to chafe at content restrictions and parental controls and want more privacy. They may want to hide their activities from you. They may get computer access at school or friends' homes that lack Internet filters. This when secretly cloning your kid's email account will really pay off.
As they start to register with different web sites, you should emphasize online safety and teach your child how to create a screen name and account information that doesn't reveal personal information such as their age, location, school, etc.
Studies show that the average U.S. kid gets their first cell phone between 9-12. (In the UK, the average age for a kid’s first cell phone is EIGHT.) Always install a mobile, kid-safe content filtering solution like Mobicip. Remember that kids email and text much more than call. (The average U.S. teenager sends 3,339 texts a month.) Even the most basic cell phone requires mobile Internet safety solutions.
Most cellular providers have an optional package to monitor calls and text messages, limit call times, time of day they’re made and received, and logging the call history. AT&T has the Smart Limits program and Verizon has the Safe Guards program. These services complement Mobicip’s web filtering options.
Age 13-18: Limit time to about 60 minutes a day for play with parental supervision. Allow more time for online school work.
With powerful computers in every cell phone, it is important to discuss online safety and the dangers of cyberbullying, sexting, online gambling, file sharing and identity theft. At age 13 your kids may still look like kids, but they are living in a very adult world with adult dangers. Empower them by teaching them about it.
Remind them that the Internet is searchable forever, and that sharing an inappropriate joke or photo could cost them dearly in the future. If they don't believe you, show them the latest articles when they search Facebook fired.
Hopefully, by the time they reach 18, your kids have absorbed all the important online safety lessons you’ve shared. They will be aware of potential Internet dangers and able to handle them with confidence.
Suren Ramasubbu is the Founder of Mobicip.com, a leading online child safety service for mobile Internet devices like the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and netbooks. Mobicip's mission is to provide a safe, secure and educational Internet experience for school-age children. Mobicip's dynamic content filtering technology helps parents protect their children from a new wave of Internet hazards stemming from mobility so they can learn and love the mobile web. By delivering an online safety net through its parental control solution, Mobicip gives parents and educators the ability to safeguard their children's mobile devices. Before launching Mobicip.com, Suren was an Operating Manager at Agilent Technologies, responsible for a division's enterprise web infrastructure strategy and team. At Agilent, Suren has led QA automation strategy, evangelized software engineering methodologies, and developed software for RF and mixed-signal electronic design automation. Suren has also volunteered as a consultant for educational technology projects and led successful United Way volunteering and fundraising campaigns. He holds a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.