When you were a high school student and needed to research a report, you probably trekked off to the nearest public library. Maybe you spent many dimes and a lot of time copying pages out of resource books you weren’t allowed to check out and lugging the ones you were.
Research is so much easier for our teenagers thanks to the Internet. Now they have the world’s libraries at their fingertips.
As you undoubtedly are well aware, with the ability to gain access to so much valuable information, your teens also have entrée into a much larger world then you knew at their age. They have turned the Internet into a virtual hangout with their friends.
While chatting through social networking websites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, has a strong pull on your teens and may seem harmless, there are a number of landmines to be aware of. Access to the Internet comes with a price.
These websites are very public places, and yet they may not feel that way to your teenager or students. It may seem obvious to you that the Internet is not a diary, or even a journal, but, surprisingly your kids probably haven’t considered just how public these websites are, much less what an open door they provide into their lives. The content posted by your teenager is widely circulated, and is likely to live on into their adulthood. Their information is searched, shared, and forwarded, and not only by “nice” people.
The Internet has turned the world into a small town. In one e‐mail your teen can blast off information to dozens of friends, as well as strangers they may not realize are lurking in their world. Gossip truly can spread like wildfire in ways unimaginable not that long ago.
As a parent, it is your job to manage your teen’s Internet exposure. Obviously, this is not an easy job. Your child, like so many others, is probably three steps ahead of you at every turn.
Create an Internet safety agreement with your teenagers. This is a way to set parameters on their use. Some topics you may want to address include:
How long and under what circumstances is your teen allowed to use the Internet? For example, an hour or two a day, but only after their homework and chores are completed.
What content is allowed? Examples of appropriate content include educational materials, reference websites, and news services. That’s not to say you won’t choose to allow access to video websites such as YouTube or social networking websites.
What content is off‐limits? Be clear on what’s objectionable, such as those websites that are sexually explicit, about drugs, hate groups, violence, or religious cults, or offer other inappropriate information.
What kind of messages are okay? Will you allow your teen to use e‐mail, instant messaging, and chat rooms?
What are their privacy rights? Under what, if any, circumstances should you read your teen’s e‐mail or know their passwords for online access?
What should your teen do if he or she experiences something disturbing or inappropriate while online? Be clear, but help them feel that they can come to you. Be fair, also, if you determine that the off‐limits content was accidentally accessed. This is important if you want your teen to trust you.
What offline, in‐person activities are allowed in connection with online activities? For example, will you allow your teens to have face‐to‐face meetings with people they've met online? Can they make online purchases? Do your kids need your knowledge, approval, or presence to do any of these things?
What happens if the rules are broken? For a policy to do any good, it must be enforced. Be clear about the consequences if the rules are not followed, such as the loss of Internet privileges for a period of time, grounding, or other punishments.
The FBI offers detailed information for parents about how you can identify signs that your children, especially teenagers, may be at risk online, and what you can do about it if they are. http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm
The Child Safety Network’s mission is to reduce the likelihood of children becoming victims of abuse, abduction, exploitation and injury. Get Internet safety tips and advice on how to protect your teens from online predators. http://www.csn.org/
The National Crime Prevention Council provides information about how to deal with cyberbullying, among other tips and resources for parents. http://www.ncpc.org/topics/cyberbullying
SafeTeens.com provides useful information about Internet safety for teens.