Kids online? Be safe!
Children haven't known a world without technology – lots of technology.
Competing for their attention are TV, DVD players, desktop and laptop computers, cell phones, video games (console or handheld), iPods and other pocket-sized players for music and video, iPads, even e-readers.
For parents, that's a lot of technology to monitor and lots of screen time to clock.
According to a 2009 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child between ages 8 and 18 spends more than 7 and a half hours a day with media (including television and movies, music, video games, computers and print media) and is likely to be savvy on at least one platform of mobile media: 29 percent own a laptop, 66 percent own a cell phone, and 76 percent own an iPod or similar music player. And it's not just the big kids who enjoy technology and portable media. A report released last year by Common Sense Media shows that 72 percent of households with children under the age of 8 have computers.
These youngest consumers spend about 3 hours and 14 minutes a day with all media, and more than two of those hours are with “screen media.” Among young children who had used a computer, the average first exposure was at age 3. What's more, 44 percent of these kids have their very own device of some kind – 24 percent of study respondents' children had their own handheld video game, 7 percent had an iPod for playing music and 2 percent had a cell phone.
So monitoring children's technology use, whether it's the relatively old-fashioned TV set or the iPad, starts early, too.
Digital gadgets and online diversions usually offer parental controls that keep track of time spent, what your child can do or information she might see.
Cell phone carriers allow parents to block certain features, like text messaging. Manufacturers also make kid-specific phones, with easy-to-use, limited functions. Online, browsers and search engines can be set to a “safe” mode, such as Google's “SafeSearch” filter for both traditional computers and mobile devices.
Common Sense Media suggests these tips for parents in keeping on top kids' technology use:
• Be a role model. If your kids see you constantly fiddling with techy toys, they'll expect to be allowed to do the same.
• Establish tech-free zones – i.e., no phones at the dinner table, no gadgets during homework time.
• Help your child schedule everything they do in a day. Prioritize homework and offline hobbies, and encourage downtime – “boredom” can be good for introspection.
• Limit elementary school-age children to an hour a day of computer time during the week.
• Allot computer time in 15- or 30-minute blocks.
• Know what your child is doing on the screen by getting involved – perhaps play a game with him. Having hands-on knowledge of your child's technology habits and interests will help you make decisions and have better conversations about their digital life.
Online as in real life
Kids getting along in the virtual world need the common sense they'd use in real life.
• Talk to your kids. They will value open, patient communication about what's OK online.
• Be nice, be responsible: Would you want your kid to say it to somebody's face? If not, then tell them not to put it online.
• Review your child's “friends” lists and drop in on their online haunts to see what they're posting.
• Tell them to trust their instincts if they come across something unsettling. Report these suspicions as appropriate.
• Create a neutral screen name that doesn't give away too much information, like age, gender or location.
• Remind them that some information is private and can be misused in the wrong hands. This includes addresses, Social Security numbers, phone numbers and financial and bank information. Also remind them to guard their passwords and make them hard to crack. Use privacy settings.
• At least for younger children, keep the computer in a common area.
• Remind young net denizens not to believe everything they see online, that not everything is as it seems, and that what's posted online reaches a wide audience and it can be hard to reel that information back in.
• Teach kids not to meet up “IRL” (“in real life”) with people they “met” online.
• Use antivirus software and keep it updated. Steer kids away from file-sharing websites and attachments from people they don't know.
• For young children (under 7): Restrict the websites your kids visit. Choose the sites, and don't let them leave those sites on their own.
Sources: OnGuardOnline.gov, Google's Family Safety Center (www.google.com/goodtoknow/familysafety/)