Do you ponder and fret about your older school going child’s use of the net? The hours they spend doing goodness knows what on Facebook or Orkut, instant messaging, what if they bumped into undesirable adult web sites while researching for a school project, are they addicted to the net etc. We have some pointers here to guide you in helping your child use computers and the net effectively and safely.
But first it is important you review some basic guidelines about computers and the net for your children, if you have not already.
Where are they developmentally?
- Peer influence, need for peer acceptance and even peer pressure reign supreme.
- They have become independent in their work and attitude. Their need for privacy also increases.
- They are sensitive to criticism
- They are very image and identity conscious.
- Sexual development leads to curiosity about sex.
- They might look and act like young adults but are still vulnerable.
How do they use the computer and the net?
- Of course, what is allowed and not allowed really depends on your child and you. But typically, as they get older, kids get more access to the net. The parents might struggle with the teenager’s need for privacy and independence and start losing control on their kids' use of media.
- High schoolers use the net a lot to communicate with each other along with SMS on mobiles (for those who have their own mobile phones). They use email, Instant Messaging and also might use social networking websites like Facebook or Orkut.
- In India, the need for privacy is not that important for kids in social networking sites. Many school and college kids have their parents and other relatives on the same social network (Facebook etc.). This can help parents keep a better tab.
- Video sharing sites are also popular.
- Their online identities or avatars are very important to them.
- They will be using word processing and other applications for their school reports.
- Many will also be writing basic or advanced computer programs.
Some guidelines for parents:
- In a few years the children will be in college and you will not be able to monitor them. Look at these high school years as a practice time when they have some freedom but they are still at home with you, so you still have some say and influence.
- Encourage your child to be open and honest with you. Make them feel trusted and they will avoid hiding things from you and keep you better updated.
- Encourage them to visit appropriate websites. Remember that you will not be able to totally be in control and let go a little.
- Agree with time limits on web browsing with your kids and then stick to these. It is important that they also have time for friends, sports, extra-curricular activities and of course academics.
- Online communication with their peers and online identities become a part of their life. Tread the fine balance between letting them be themselves, letting them express themselves and interact with their peers and NOT letting them overdo it. Do not let them be anti-social and just spend time on the net.
- Encourage the children to take breaks. This way you can be better updated about their happenings and it is also healthier for them.
- Of course, keeping the computer in a public area versus their bedroom helps you to monitor their use in a more open and discreet way rather than hovering over their shoulders.
- Keep in touch with other parents to get a better feel for your child and his peer’s activities.
- Also, parental control software is a must - to block undesirable websites, allow certain websites, filter search and even set and monitor time limits. Some software will even create activity reports of their web usage. Windows Vista and Mac computers have parental controls built into them. Netnanny is a good example of parental control software that is available in India (in leading computer shops and some bookstores) and can be installed easily. You can set these controls remotely as well (for example allow access for a specific website) and the advantage is that even when you are not present, you will feel secure that your child is using the net safely. The best is instead of being the paranoid control freak, you can let the parental control software do the work for you.
- Tell your kids to play it safe on the net. The should not share their personal information like names, school, age, phone numbers, photos etc. with any strangers on the net. Children are now using the net freely but are still vulnerable.
- Some tell tale signs that your child is overdoing or abusing the net (In case you are not able to restrict or influence their net use):
- Skipping meals
- Avoiding social contact
- Not sleeping properly
- In case their net use is totally out of whack, discuss it with them first. If that does not work, then talk to the school—their teachers, the school counselor and get help.
Now that you have done your homework, relax and let them explore the net, the world and themselves. And be there for them.