November 20, 2013 —

In the digital age, our kids are plugged in from the moment they wake up until the moment their pretty little heads hit the pillow. And it isn’t just the teenagers: kids as young as 2 and 3 are handed tablets to educate their minds. This instant exposure to the Internet makes it so important to start educating your kids about safe online behavior. It might just save your child’s life.

I’ve been talking with my three children about Internet safety for a while now. As a result, I was really surprised to learn that my 14-year-old daughter set up a meeting with a stranger from the Internet. It was a total shock, but it reminded me that vigilance and checking in with your kids is a total must. That’s why I made this list of tips that will help you start the conversation and keep it going as your children get older.

1. Always be Transparent: A lot of parenting is about trust. Don’t sneak around and look into your child’s Internet usage; instead, be transparent with them so they know that you will be keeping tabs on their online behavior. “Checking up” isn’t the same as “spying on” or “not trusting” your child. “Checking up” provides you with the opportunity to openly talk about the Internet and explain safe usage based on their actual habits.

2. Engage with Your Kids: Talk to them about the fun things they like to do on the Internet. If every talk you have is about “safety,” they might start to turn a deaf ear. Engage with your kids about the safe things they love about Internet. You just might be surprised to learn that they have some really fascinating interests.

3. Keep all Internet accessible devices in public places in the home: This one can be tricky, but it’s a rule that will prevent a lot of problems. Don’t allow your kids to take iPods, Tablets or other handheld devices to their rooms. If they do, make sure the electronics are not Internet capable. Having them use the Internet in open spaces will help curb them from looking at things they shouldn’t.

4. Parental Controls: Parental controls are one of my favorite things ever invented. Most computers offer controls that allow parents to set time limits on usage and even track sites visited. It makes it a lot easier to review what your child has been doing so you can make sure they are making safe choices.

5. Check in Regularly: Make it a habit to check in on your kids at least once a week. As noted in tip number one, be transparent and let them know that you are going to be doing this – just don’t let them know when. That way, you can get a true idea of what sites they are visiting and who they are talking to.

6. Have Passwords to All Accounts: You should have passwords to all of your child’s accounts. Again, with my kids, I rarely use these passwords, but having access to them makes it easier to follow up if you happen to notice suspicious behavior.

7. Reward Proper Internet Usage: Don’t be doom and gloom all the time. When you find that your child is following your rules consistently, reward them. Whether it’s playing their favorite game with them on the Internet or buying them a new game for the computer, reward your kids for keeping up their part of the agreement.
Setting clear expectations is the key to keeping children safe on the Internet. Having open lines of communication with your kids will help prevent so many problems down the road. Being involved in your child’s life makes it easier to spot troubling patterns or dangerous behaviors. With as much as our kids are exposed to these days, the best weapon we have against addictions and Internet usage is parental involvement.

Setting clear expectations is the key to keeping children safe on the Internet. Having open lines of communication with your kids will help prevent so many problems down the road. Being involved in your child’s life makes it easier to spot troubling patterns or dangerous behaviors. With as much as our kids are exposed to these days, the best weapon we have against addictions and Internet usage is parental involvement.

Ashley Sears is a homeschooling mom of three special needs kids. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and is passionate about involved parenting, the environment and community service. You can find her on her blog Crunchy Frugalista where she shares crafts, recipes, parenting tips and product reviews. You can also find her on TwitterFacebook and Pinterest.