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Preteens the Middle Years : Their Time Online Safe internet use (part 2) - Managing the internet How to ensure safe, effective use

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Managing the internet How to ensure safe, effective use

The internet invites your child into an arena of learning, friendships, and fun that can be rich and exciting. She can reach out to other children across the globe and interact in real time, peer into the world of others through YouTube, and share something of herself on social networking sites and in chat rooms. Helping your child make the most of her time online and minimize and manage the dangers requires the same skills and vigilance you would apply to any other aspect of your child’s life.

Freedom and limits

Agree with your child where she can go online and what’s out of bounds. See this as co-management of her internet use, something discussed and agreed with your maturing child, rather than a rule brought down by you. Apply parental controls and filters to ensure that your child’s searches come up with appropriate content and to avoid offensive pop-ups. If you’re not sure how to set up controls effectively, seek help online. Check regularly that controls are still in place as your techno-rebellious child may try to take them off. Keep filters under review: As she matures your child may value access to sites, such as those giving advice about relationships or puberty, which need an adjustment of limits.

Quality time

Using the computer doesn’t need to be a solitary pursuit. You can search, play games, and watch movies or television with your child. Shared use means you can enjoy time together and get an idea of the sites your child enjoys.

Train yourself

You’ll be in the best position to help your child online if you are familiar and comfortable with the computer and internet yourself. Being e-literate, particularly when it comes to new and developing areas, allows you to understand and be able to talk with credibility about the sites your child visits. You can learn formally (often local adult learning centers run computer courses), work through a book, or seek the help of your knowledgeable child.

Time

Do agree limits on your child’s time on the internet to ensure she has space for activities in the “real” world. Internet sessions of around an hour or two a day, with a break to stretch every 20 minutes, will leave your child time to spend with you and her friends. Limit yourself, too: Internet use can be the thief of family time for adults as well as children.

Supervision

As with anything your child does, she’ll need some degree of supervision and guidance. This is easier if your computer is in a family area of the house with the screen facing the room. Having the computer in a well-used area means you can look in on your child as you go about family life. You may be under pressure to permit computers in your child’s bedroom, away from adult supervision. This is not recommended as it severely limits your ability to supervise content and monitor the amount of time spent online.

Trust

You cannot look over your child’s shoulder all the time, so it is essential to build up trust that she can use the internet safely. You will still need to supervise and check in with her but, by setting rules together and giving her some credit for regulating herself, you will build her sense of responsibility.

Personal safety

There is no guaranteed way to stay completely safe online, but you and your child can work out how to minimize risks. Pin up a list of your agreed safety points next to the computer as a reminder. These could include:

  • Stick to regulated, supervised sites.

  • Anything being posted on a social networking site will be agreed between the two of you in advance.

  • Keep personal details of herself, other family members, and friends to herself and don’t share even with the closest online friends.

  • Be respectful of others in what you write and post about them.

  • Tell immediately if someone is pressing for intimate information or suggests meeting in the real world.

Techno-savvy

The internet is becoming an essential part of everyday life. Supervision and a few rules will ensure that your child can use it safely.

Togetherness

Computers can offer shared activity such as creating blogs together or watching streamed movies, so it need not be a solitary pursuit.

Cyber bullying A growing form of abuse

Cyber bullying is when internet and mobile technology are used to spread malicious comments or embarrassing gossip, video, or photographs. It can be particularly distressing to your child because there are few places she can gain respite from such messages. They follow her around through her mobile technology and invade the safety of home through her computer. Cyber bullying can also rapidly reach a very wide audience. This can increase the impact on your child as she becomes aware of the number of people seeing negative things about her.

If your child is cyber bullied
  • Agree that she will not reply to the messages or defend herself through IM’s, blogs, or postings. Replying can give the bullies a buzz because it tells them she cares and is affected by their actions.

  • Make it clear that she should not fight back by being abusive in return. Talk over how this reduces her to the same level as the bullies, and makes it more difficult to stop them if she joins in the same pattern of behavior.

  • Ask her to save all negative items. She doesn’t need to look at or read them, but they form the evidence needed to stop the bullies. Keeping a record of the time and date of each message is also helpful.

  • Report the abuse to the authorities. It is illegal to threaten or abuse you or your child, and help is available. Contact your child’s school to get them to apply their anti-bullying policy, which should include steps to stop cyber bullying. If necessary, take your complaint to the police and alert websites that are hosting the forums where the malicious messages are posted.

  • While action against the bully is taking place, change your child’s email and mobile contact details and block email addresses so messages don’t get through.

  • Get her to take a break from her mobile technology. For a few hours a day, ask her to turn off her phone and use the internet only to research homework and not to IM, or access emails, chat rooms, or her blog. This way, she’s not exposed to the negative messages and can relax for a while.

  • Cyber bullies are often known to your child offline. They may target her in the real world, too, so ensure she is well supervised when not at home and knows who and how to tell if bullying occurs.

Threatening texts

Cell phones can be used by cyber bullies to send abusive text messages. Changing your child’s phone number may help.

Friend or foe?

Although useful for many, the internet can become a means for bullies to distribute hurtful things about your child.

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