Is Online Monitoring Okay?
How to balance concerns and your child's privacy.
Kids have curious minds – they love to learn, socialize and play. That’s where the Internet comes in. Useful for almost any type of engagement, learning or activity, the Internet provides a place for kids to learn more about their favourite interests while being able to keep in touch with friends and family through social networks such as Facebook or Google+.
However, many parents are concerned about their children’s online activities, some of the content that is easily available to them, as well as issues such as cyberbullying and online predators. So is monitoring their online life the way to go? If so, how much monitoring is considered the right amount?
Before the age of 8, children should be accompanied by an adult while they are surfing online. Parents should be aware of which websites their children are visiting and if the content on these sites is appropriate, while also ensuring their kids do not encounter predators or give away personal information. It’s best to keep the family computer in a communal part of the house, such as the living room or kitchen area.
As kids get older, however, it’s important to teach them accountability for their online actions rather than monitoring their every move online. Teach them to make good decisions and create an on-going open discussion about online activities so your kids will always feel comfortable coming to you for help if they encounter issues such as cyberbullying or privacy infringements.
It is also necessary for parents to be around to help their kids set up email, social networking and online gaming accounts. The desire to open such accounts will usually occur during the tween years (9-13). Going over simple things like choosing the right username, not giving out too much personal information on public profiles, and choosing a solid password that will keep their accounts safe are all aspects that should be addressed.
Give kids some privacy
If you feel it is necessary to have access to your child’s passwords, make sure it’s for the right reasons. If it’s because you want to be able to sign-in to his accounts to see what he has been up to, you’ll really be violating your child’s privacy. However, if there is a case of cyberbullying involving your child that needs to be reported, it is important to have the right account information.
“Think of it as you would your children playing in the yard or indoors with their offline friends,” Internet safety expert Ryan Moreau explains. “You’d be around in the home to ensure they are okay, and answer the door to see who is coming over to play with your child, but you wouldn’t join in on every one of their conversations or try to take part in all of their games at the same time.”
When it comes to social networks such as Facebook, many parents wonder if befriending their own kids online is a good idea. Joining the same networks as your kids is a great way to learn about the technology and understand how it is used to communicate with other people. There is no harm in friend-ing your kids. In fact, it will help show them that you are a tech-savvy parent.
However, if your child has posted something that you feel is inappropriate to share online, do not use the website’s commenting system as a tool for your parenting. Instead, approach your child calmly about the post and express your feelings about why they shouldn’t have shared that comment, picture or video online. Be a good example of a responsible digital citizen so your children can follow in your footsteps.
Using monitoring software
Parental control and monitoring software are available for parents to help them track their child’s online activities, but again raise issues about privacy and trust. If you choose this route, it’s important that your children are aware of it. Use the information gathered from the software as conversation starters. Discuss the types of online activities that you consider appropriate as well as those that are inappropriate and their associated risks.
“No tool will do a parent’s job for them, so even if a software identifies or blocks an issue, parents still need to take initiative to act on it and talk to their children,” says Moreau.
Open communication between you and your children is the most effective approach to keeping them safe online. “A rules-only approach tends to breed secretive behaviour rather than safe behaviour, where open communication fosters an environment where the parent can be there, should help be needed,” advises Moreau.
Simple conversations such as “don’t talk to strangers” and “be polite to your peers” are discussions that also apply to children’s online behaviour. Ensure these basic, everyday lessons are implemented into their digital lives to help raise your children as responsible online citizens.