Protecting Kids Online 3: Teach Your Children

“The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher.”

Elbert Hubbard

In the first part of this series, we tried to cut through some of the irrational fears about online safety and put the issue into perspective. In part 2, we looked at some tips for parents to help keep their kids safe online. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to teaching children to protect themselves.

Thanks, Jeweledlion on Flickr.As children grow, they become more independent, gain more freedom, and take on more responsibility. When my daughter was a preschooler, she decided she was going to visit her friend. The friend lived six houses away, on the same side of the street. She knew that if she just followed the sidewalk, she’d get there, so off she went. Mom, of course, wasn’t very happy about this when she found her daughter halfway down the street. Now, she’s bigger. She can go to her friend’s house by herself (when she’s not grounded). She can go to the park that’s a few backyards away. She can’t yet go to the high school that’s slightly farther away. As they grow, the kids gain new freedom. The boundaries and limits change. But they also have to take the responsibility for their behavior along with it.

In my house, we recently instituted a change in how the TV is managed. Previously, we had several different profiles on the satellite receiver. The default one, which the kids used, only had access to about half a dozen channels, and there were pretty serious rating limits. Now there are more channels available, and the kids have access to DVR’d programs. But they’re much better about self-regulating, choosing appropriate programs, and limiting the amount of time they spend in front of the TV. It also helps that Mom and Dad set expectations for TV use, with rewards and consequences based on the choices they make.

The Internet isn’t much different. There are some things on the Internet that aren’t for kids. There are also some things kids shouldn’t share online. They shouldn’t tell people where they live. They shouldn’t give their passwords out to their friends. As they get older, they have to be concerned with pictures and video they upload. They also have to protect their online reputations, since most of this stuff is public. And, they have to know when to allow things to be public and when to protect it.

How do we teach this? Here are some pretty good resources:

NetSmartzKids has a number of games, videos, activities, and other resources for elementary kids. They address everything from password privacy and stranger danger to computer viruses in a compelling, kid-friendly way. For older students, NetSmartz Teens takes the privacy lessons a step further, and also addresses cyberbullying and online enticement.

Think U Know has resources for students aged 5-7, 8-10, and 11-16. The resources for younger kids include the Hector’s World cartoon series on online safety. In addition to teaching kids how to be careful online, they also address the etiquette issues of being nice to one another. For older children, the Cyber Cafe is a place to have fun while learning about online safety. The resources for teens also address mobile phone use, chatting, social networking, and blogging.

Social Safety offers a free packet on online safety for teens. It’s definitely written from the fear perspective, with the assumptions that Law & Order episodes mirror real life, and that people who contact you online are probably just trying to kidnap, rape or kill you. But in the right context, it might be a useful resource.

Safekids and Safeteens are web sites that have good resources for children and teens for staying safe online. While it’s mostly textual information, does give useful information from an authoritative source.

X-Block is another resource for older students. It’s a much more interactive resource, giving students a way to participate in social networking on a limited basis while learning the basics of online safety.

Regardless of the method used, we have to teach our children to protect themselves online. We can’t always be looking over their shoulders to protect them. We have to set expectations of responsible behavior, teach them what those behaviors are, trust them to make good decisions, and then follow up with positive and negative consequences based on their choices.