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Parents' Guide to Children and the Internet


With a little preparation, parents can help their children get the most fun and educational use out of the Internet safely. Taking time to teach your children a) how to use the Internet safely and appropriately and b) how to distinguish reliable websites and information from the unreliable or plain bad stuff online is far more effective than simply installing filtering or monitoring software alone.

Five Basic Internet Tips for Parents

Adopting these five guidelines as your "rules for the information highway" can help the whole family enjoy the Internet safely and use its resources wisely.

1. Remember first and last: Parental guidance is important. Nothing—no software, no list of rules—can take the place of it. Supervise your children's and teens' use of the Internet. This may mean placing the computer in a family area of your home and not in a child's bedroom. If children have their own computers, agree on the need for your oversight and how that will work.

2. Before attempting to guide your child, educate yourself about surfing the Internet. If your child is already a pro, and you're not, let them teach you the basics. That can be a great way to accomplish the next tip.

3. Talk with your child about how they use the Internet. Let your child show you what they like to do online. Listen to what he or she has to say about their online interests and activities. Listen and learn, discuss what is appropriate, but avoid being angry or accusatory when discussing activities you disapprove of.

4. Agree on rules for using the Internet. Make a list together, then post them on the computer for ready reference.

5. Discuss how to use the Internet wisely and safely with your children. Be sure to cover the following topics.

  • Everything you see and hear on the Internet is not true. Discuss some of the ways to distinguish sound information and reliable websites from poor or false information and shoddy websites.
  • Individuals you meet online in chat rooms, forums, or social networking sites may not be who they say they are. Help your child understand what kinds of questions or exchanges on a forum or in a chat room are questionable and to be avoided. Encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if someone or something online makes them uncomfortable.
  • Never, ever give out personal information in chat rooms, instant messages, social networking sites or other public online forums. Personal information includes full name, address, phone number, school, age, passwords, etc.—anything that would allow the other person to identify your child or use personal information. Discuss with your children the reasons why this precaution is important.

Focus on Internet Safety

Internet safety is a complex issue because of the huge size of the Internet and the volume of material available on it. The following informative websites can help you learn more about safety issues and keep in touch with new developments.

NetSmartz Workshop
This site provides an entertaining resource for children and teens ages 5-17, parents, guardians, educators and law enforcement on how to stay safe on the Internet. It was produced by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Protecting Kids Online
on the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information site provides articles about talking to your kids about being online, kids' online safety, and parental controls and rights.

Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online
Is an online toolkit from the FTC that has resources to help you have conversations about social networking, privacy, mobile devices, computer security, sexting, and cyberbullying.

Keeping Your Children Safe While They're Online
This fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides tips to keep your kids and their information safe while online.

Social Networking Privacy: How to be Safe, Secure and Social
This fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has lots of information about social networks and privacy. Even though it doesn't specifically address children and teens, the information is still very applicable to them.

Educational and Entertaining Websites for Children

Locating good educational websites designed especially for children can be tough. The following recommendations will give you a place to begin.

Space Place
This NASA site has games, animations, projects and fun facts about Earth, space, and technology.

NASA for Students
This site has space related games, stories, and activities, and other resources for all ages.

Play Kids
This site has Alphabet, Math, Vocabulary, Memory and Geography & puzzle sections. Advertising is clearly marked. Its privacy policy seems good.
Grouped by subject, this website provides links to the good websites for children offered by U.S. government agencies, other organizations, and some commercial sites.

Great Websites for Kids
This web site from the American Library Association (ALA) provides annotated links to numerous web sites for kids, including the appropriate age group for the site. Categories include: animals, the arts, history & biography, literature & languages, mathematics & computers, sciences, and social sciences. The reference desk contains links to library & school sites and reference sites. It includes sites for parents, caregivers, teachers & others. It also has a web site of the month. The selection criteria is provided under About Great Websites for Kids.

Puzzlemaker and Homework Help
These sites are from Create your own puzzle with Puzzlemaker. Puzzles include word search, criss-cross, number blocks, cryptograms, and more. Homework Help provides videos, tutorials, and other resources for students in math, science, english, social studies, and other subjects.

Smithsonian Kids
This site has lots of fun stuff to see and do online including AnimalCams and games.

National Geographic Kids
This site has videos, games, lots of information about animals, and much more.

PBS Kids
This site has videos, games, and activities related to various PBS Kids shows.


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