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Internet Safety

What do I need to know about the Internet and my child?

Use of and access to the Internet has exploded over the last ten years. The World Wide Web has enabled us to do things from the comfort of our homes like never before. The Internet can be a useful tool, and lots of fun. When your child goes on line, they can:

The Internet does carry some risks. It is largely unregulated and not all the information on it is accurate. Advertisers market to children just as they do in any media. Your child may have their privacy invaded by some Web sites or individuals they come across online. In addition, there are many sites that contain things inappropriate for children, including pornography, hate speech, and gambling. Finally, criminals can use the Internet with the intent of financially or sexually exploiting kids or harming them in other ways.

What can I do to protect my child online, and help them make the most of the Internet?

Fortunately, there are lots of steps you can take to help your child reap the benefits of the Internet while steering clear of the dangers. Here are some tips:

Teach your children about Internet safety.

Take an active role in your child's Internet activities.

Protect your children from objectionable Web sites by preventing their access to them.

Remember: the best way to protect your children is to be involved in their lives, pay attention to what they do, and keep the lines of communication open. That said, some of the protection products available are listed below. These products vary greatly in how sophisticated they are. Some software venders provide a subscription service with regular updates of blocked sites (usually for a fee). The best product for you will depend on your needs, and on what computer and operating system you use. Try using parenting and computing magazines and Consumer Reports to compare the different packages available. Watch for the following warning signs that may indicate your child is getting into trouble online. If you see any of these warning signs, address the issue with your child and track their online activities more closely.

Beware of sexual exploitation on the Internet, especially through chat rooms and social-networking sites.

Have fun with your children. Using the Internet can be most enjoyable (and safe!) if you spend time together at the computer as a family. Bookmark these favorite sites so they’re easy for your kids to find next time.

Here are some kid-safe search engines to use:

Here are just a few fun Web sites to get you started:

What are some other concerns about the Internet?

What about my child using the Internet for support?

Many worthwhile support websites exist that can help kids cope with various problems—such as diabetes, asthma, or mental illness.  However, parents should be aware that there are also sites that encourage dangerous behavior or lifestyles. One example that is in the news lately is the many pro-anorexia/pro-eating disorder websites that have sprung up. These sites promote and glorify potentially deadly anorexic and bulimic behaviors as a “lifestyle choice.” 

Kids can also get into other harmful “communities” such as white supremacy groups, which actively recruit young people online.  Again, stay involved and know the sites your kids are visiting.

What about teenagers? What do they need to know about the Internet?

You want your teen to start growing more independent. But you still worry about what they're up to online. Talk with them about creating some guidelines for their online behavior. Discuss safety concerns, and anything else that comes up. Together, you can write up a contract that you and your teen both sign, pledging to be safe and responsible online. Read Teen Safety on the Information Superhighway, which is also available in a Spanish PDF version (this may take awhile to load). You and your teenager can visit SafeTeens.com for lots more resources and information.

Teens are getting lots of their health information from the Internet. Make sure your kids are getting facts, not fiction. Point them toward KidsHealth.org, which has a teen area with reliable and interesting information on the kinds of things that teens want to know.

What are some more resources?

Related topics on Your Child :

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN.  Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan

Updated August 2011

U-M Health System Related Sites:
U-M Pediatrics

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