What are the three most common mistakes when kids go on the internet?
Expert: Monica Vila from www.TheOnlineMom.com
1. Not activating parental control.
When a child is too young to know how to get in trouble, he’s also too young to avoid seeing something he shouldn’t. So when you take your computer out of the box, set up some controls-by-user, so when your child goes online, there’s already some built-in filter. Set up Google with your controls as well. It’s really easy. And then obviously as your child gets older and savvier, they’re gonna figure it out, at which point you might want to buy parental control software, which costs about $45 and is really very difficult to get around.
When you buy parental control software, you can also get tracking software with it. Tracking software allows the parents to check the sites that have been visited. Some of the software even allows you to track instant messenger conversations. There’s obviously a debate to be had about all this, but the fact that the software is there, and you tell your child that the software is there – it’s another level of safety. There are obviously privacy issues, but I would say safety trumps privacy.
2. Letting the computer in the bedroom.
A parent will assume that it’s okay for their child to go online alone. It’s really not a good idea. Especially if you don’t have any filters, it’s just like leaving your child out on the street. To me, navigating the online world before a child is in middle school is really a dangerous thing. You don’t necessarily have to sit there watching everything, but that’s why there’s a recommendation to have the computer in a public room. Everyone can keep an eye out. You don’t want these laptops in bedrooms until they really need that for schoolwork. And that doesn’t really happen until high school. Before that happens, you’re better off having the computer in a public space in the house.
For example, my daughter starting at age seven was going on Club Penguin, or Webkinz, where kids can’t really chat with each other, but they play around in this virtual world that allows them to be interactive and use the mouse and other skills. And all of a sudden I found out Sammy had all these buddies, and I’m like, “Who’s sportsgirl37?” She knew maybe half of them. There should be a clear set of rules about their experience, like that you don’t accept buddy requests from people you don’t know.
Another problem is cyber-bullying. It’s easier to make an unkind comment online, because you’re not actually looking at someone. And bullying online is similar to bullying on the playground. People who are bullied get very withdrawn. And the problem again with having a computer in the bedroom is, once you’re being cyber-bullied, you’re not safe at home.
If you walk in the room and your child minimizes the window. . . Your bells should go off. Something’s going on. There’s a rule in my house: Nobody gets to minimize a window when you walk into the room.
3. Fearing new technology.
Be ahead of your child. Get used to new technology and embrace it. Get informed on some of the things that are age-appropriate that your child is going to want to do. Classroom parents are an incredible source. I call it the 30-60-10 rule. Sixty percent of parents have some experience, thirty percent of the parents are clueless, and ten percent of the parents are super-savvy. You don’t need to know everything, but you need to get into it, even a little bit. So, for example, I was helping this mom – this fabulous, wonderful woman who was almost a Luddite. Her kids are entering high school, and she felt she really had to do something. I walked her through a couple of small things she could do, including games. I was amazed. Not only could she play the Wii, but she got into Guitar Hero, and it made her automatically cool. She even started a family social network using ning.com.
The internet is an incredible tool. It can be hugely rewarding and it can support your child’s education. Games, chosen properly, actually prepare children for the future. If you embrace it, you’re going to be doing an incredible amount to accelerate your child’s behavior and maturity in a community. And it’s fun.
Interview by Meghan Pleticha