In today's world, the Internet is a fact of life. Even if you want to keep your kids off of the Web, they’ll need to learn responsible usage at some point for school, work and to be a functioning member of society. Keeping your kids off of the Internet until they’re ready and teaching them responsible usage can be tricky. Should your children have a web presence – and if so, how much of one?
The Internet Is a Dangerous Place
There’s no question that the Internet can be dangerous. Anyone can pretend to be someone else behind a computer screen, including sexual predators who may feel sheltered by the seeming anonymity of their screen personas. Privacy concerns are genuine. What could seem like an innocuous piece of information, including where your child goes to school, could lead someone right to your doorstep.
Less scary but still damaging to a growing child’s mind and fragile ego is the cruelty of strangers on the Internet. Anything that’s put on the Web stays on the Web. Even if hidden behind “privacy” filters, accidents happen and privacy settings can change over time. Your child has to be able to remember that anything they put on the Internet is forever and can be accessed by virtually anyone.
The Internet is Necessary
Living in the world today requires individuals to be at least somewhat proficient in technology. Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. As your child grows, he or she will use the Web for various things, including research for school projects and filling out applications for after-school jobs. Your child must learn how to safely and successfully navigate the Internet.
Using the Internet and having a web presence are two entirely different things, however. Your child can use the Internet for essential functions without joining a social media site or using it for entertainment purposes. Some parents feel this is the right way to go: allow your child to be a passive user without generating content. Other parents approve of their children becoming actively engaged.
What Age Should I Let My Child Use the Internet?
The age at which you introduce your child to ‘net usage is a hotly debated topic. Some parents feel that introducing their kids to the Internet and the safety rules that go along with it at a young age removes the chance for disaster. In other words, by making the Internet a regular part of your child’s life from the beginning, you normalize it.
On the other hand, some parents feel that the Internet should wait until children learn concepts like self-control, self-censorship and basic social etiquette. By waiting until your children develop the skills necessary to keep themselves safe on the Web, it’s possible to avoid many of the hazards that are inherent in Internet use.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to when it’s safe to introduce your child to the Internet. When you allow them to log on for the first time, their level of involvement is entirely up to you.
Safely Introducing Your Child to the Internet
Whether you’re working with a seven-year-old or a teenager, you should be present and active in your child’s online life. Keeping the computer in a common area in the house and actively supervising or monitoring your child’s activity removes the chance of them stumbling upon the more unseemly elements of the Internet while keeping avenues open for a running dialogue on Internet usage and what they’re accessing.
How much of the Internet you allow your child to use is entirely up to you. Some parents find allowing their child to have an e-mail address is an acceptable level of usage, while others prefer to share a joint account with their child. Still others prefer their child to have no Internet presence whatsoever and will direct all e-mail for a child to the parent’s account.
A growing number of parents feel that sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram aren‘t acceptable until the child reaches the sites’ terms of service (which state users must be at least 13 with parental consent).
There’s no right or wrong way to introduce your child to the Internet. It’s largely a matter of personal preference. Much like drugs and alcohol, having an open, ongoing and honest discussion with your child about your wishes, the dangers of using and the legalities concerning usage is appropriate in all cases.
Every child is different and every child develops differently. Your child may be mature enough to understand the dangers inherent in Internet usage and can be trusted to maintain a safe, active online presence. In the long run, it’s no loss if your child doesn’t use the Internet more than necessary and gets sent outside to play.