We wouldn’t let our kids venture out into the real world on their own without reminding them never to talk to strangers and to look both ways before they cross the street — common-sense safety rules they can understand and remember. While the digital world holds different potential dangers, approaching Internet safety with this same kind of common sense teaches kids how to protect themselves online while still allowing them to explore and have fun.
For children 8 - 10:
Now is the time to instill in kids the idea that there are rules for using the Internet, just like there are rules about watching TV and brushing their teeth. Come up with your family rules together, and post them near the computer so your kids can refer to them. Rule #1 should be “Never give out any personal information on the Internet,” which means your real name, address, phone number, e-mail address, or password. Explain to your kids that those things are theirs and they’re private, and are shared with people you know in the real world. “Never agree to meet anyone in the real world who you met online” and “Never try to buy anything you see online” should be high on the list as well.
As they get older:
By the time they’re tweens, chances are your kids are savvier about chatting, IM'ing, and surfing the Web than you are. That’s why it’s more important than ever to remind them about Internet safety now. If possible, keep home computers in common rooms of the house, and know where else your child is going online (at school, friends’ houses, etc.). Ask your kids to show you the sites they visit and what they like to do when they’re on them. If your kids use the computer for homework, introduce them to child-friendly search engines and homework help sites. If they have their own e-mail accounts, know who they’re communicating with and remind them never to respond to offensive, frightening, or threatening e-mails (but not to delete them, either).
According to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), children’s Web sites that are geared toward kids under 13 must adhere to a list of safety restrictions or risk being penalized. Once they turn 13, however, children age out of the extra protection COPPA enforces. But they’re still kids, and they should still abide by your house Internet rules. At this age, kids are using the Internet for social networking more than ever, so it’s more important than ever to remind them not to give out personally identifiable information to anyone online. If they’ve set up a profile on a social networking site, ask them to show it to you and explain to them that those sites are public, which means anyone (including you and their teachers) can see what they’ve posted. Most importantly, let your kids know that they can — and should — come to you if they ever see or do anything online that makes them scared or uncomfortable.