Parents often ask me what the right age is to begin discussing online safety and how to navigate the dangers of online safety with their children. My response is usually, "As soon as they get online."
What and when you engage your child on specific net safety topics depends on who they are and what they are doing online. As we've said often on this blog, each child is different, and as parents we have to consider those differences when we determine what our kids are ready for. The more they do online, the more guidance and rules they will need. However, make no mistake, the rules, whatever rules you choose to start with, should be in place before they even get their first mouse clicked. Whether your kids are 6 or 16 the first time they venture online, they should have some fundamentals in place.
A great way to start is to teach your children the basic rules of internet safety. By basic I mean the ones you have already taught them about being safe offline. Those same rules apply online. Take for example the four basic rules set out by NetSmartz.
- I always CHECK FIRST with my parents, guardians, or other trusted adults before going anywhere, doing anything, helping anyone, accepting anything, getting into a vehicle, or leaving with anyone.
- I TAKE A FRIEND with me when going places or playing outside.
- I TELL someone NO if they try to touch me or do things in ways that make me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused, because it's OK for me to stand up for myself.
- I TELL my parents, guardians, or other trusted adults if anything happens to me.
If you can get your child to follow just these four basic rules consistently, you will be able to trust them to engage in almost any kind of online activity. Here's how these rules apply online:
- I always CHECK FIRST with my parents, guardians, or other trusted adults before going anywhere or doing anything when I'm on the Internet.
- I KNOW MY FRIENDS who contact me on the Internet, IM and e-mail.
- I TELL someone NO if they do things online that make me feel scared or uncomfortable, or confused, because it's OK for me to stand up for myself.
- I TELL my parents guardians, or other trusted adults if anything happens to me online.
It is up to you as a parent to know when your child is old enough and skilled enough to understand and implement these rules. So, if your child can and is willing to follow all these rules, they can enjoy the benefits of social networks, file sharing with friends, music downloads and more.