The world has never been a particularly safe place. There are all kinds of dangers we have to navigate on a daily basis. We grow up with rules to protect us, and as we mature, habit and common sense take over. As adults we don’t have to think much about looking twice before crossing the street—we just do it.
The Internet is also full of dangers. From graphic content like porn, violence, and hate to more active dangers like bullying, scammers and predators. Just like the larger world, there’s no way to “make it safe” for your kids. But there are rules, safety devices, and ways to build up some good habits and common sense. Your kids can learn how to protect themselves online.
There are parts of the web that are safe for kids. There are plenty of dedicated, supervised sites that are fun and educational. I won’t list them here—you need to be the judge and decide for yourself which sites you allow your kids to visit. But one of the ways you can limit their browsing to sites you approve is with content-control software.
Content-control software lets you set up boundaries that go a long way toward keeping your kids safe online. They block inappropriate sites based on content. Passwords and user profiles let you change the level of protection based on who is browsing.
It’s not always perfect, though. It can be frustrating when the software blocks something you consider safe. Or fails to block something that isn’t safe. The best content control programs charge a subscription fee for their use.
Whether you use content-control software or not, it’s a good idea to be around when your children are accessing the Internet. Younger kids may need help from time to time anyway, and they enjoy your company when they’re exploring new things.
If you have extremely obedient kids, you might be able to rely on some well-thought-out rules designed to keep them safe. But kids are explorers by nature, and the unknown attracts them. In fact, a rule forbidding something might just inspire the desire to seek that thing out.
The best rules are usually those that require your kids to make you a part of their online experience. Asking before browsing to a new site or coming to get you if they encounter something unexpected or inappropriate.
Talk it Out
By far the best way to encourage safe browsing in your kids is to teach them about the potential dangers of the Internet, just as you do the potential dangers of traffic or strangers. If your kids are old enough to poke around on the Internet without your help, they’re old enough to understand some of the dangers they’ll be facing.
Encourage your kids to talk to you about what they see, hear, and read online. These discussions are wonderful opportunities to teach them about safety and the consequences of what they do on the web.