Create a cyber-safe environment for your young child

Kids Using Computers.Kids Using Computers.
It's the internet. It's user friendly. So friendly, in fact, that I had to explain to my son's teacher the other day how one of his classmates could have possibly ended up on YouTube when she turned her back for 15 seconds. The teacher was horrified. The kids? They'd been there before.

My kids are hooked up. At ages 4 and 6, they enjoy websites such as Lego, Club Penguin and Starfall. They play games. They interact. They explore. Me? I'm around. I'm aware they're on the computer. But I don't sit next to them. I don't play most of the games with them.

I try to check the websites they visit before they play. Try, of course, is the operative word because I know there are plenty of times that they find sites when I'm not available. And there are other times that I'm available, but glance up to see another animated game and say "oh. Okay. Enjoy."

But as the kids grow, so do their online interests. It won't be forever that they play games on Playhouse Disney and Nick Jr. They already know what it means to search. I've fed to them the idea that information is limitless and we should always search for more. We don't use the term search. Like so many others, the word google has become a verb in my children's vocabulary.

Have you tried it? Have you tried to google a common word? One like "monster" or "toes". With most words you'll come up with safe searches. Search "toilet" on Google and you'll see images of a white toilet with links to toilet manufacturers. So the giggles of potty talk remain sweet giggles. But children giggle just as much about the word "toilet" as they do "penis" and "breast". Google one of those words and you won't be quite as calm about with the images appearing on your screen. Nor will you enjoy the links ranking highest and appearing on the first search page. While the kids initially giggled about the sound of the private word fairly innocently, their innocence is interrupted, all because of playful searching.

Cyber Safety discussions need to begin young. Very young. As soon as your child can control a smartphone or open the internet, young. We need to teach our children that computer use, cyber use, is a privilege, something they earn. They need to recognize that trust is something that must be earned, not handed out. And they must learn that family rules carry on at other people's homes: just because Cameron is allowed to search Google without a mommy present, doesn't mean you are.

Bring all of this up and, of course, the questions will follow. Why, Mom? Be honest with your children. Let them know that the internet was created for adults who have the ability to make decisions. Tell them that there are images and links on the internet that aren't for children. The world isn't all a playground, after all.

Parental controls are available for both Macs and PCs. Parents, even parents of young children, should learn them and utilize them. Find search engines like Yahoo! Kids, where human employees have checked every listed link and approved them for use of children ages 6-12. Create a family media plan relevant to the interests and beliefs of your family. Discuss this plan, write it together.

Most important, take interest in what your children are doing online. Ask about the games they play. Inquire as to how they feel when they play the games, when they experience success or defeat. Offer to play with your children. Open a dialogue in your home where your children want to discuss what they're learning and doing.

Believe me. It's better to know.

Read part two of this series, Create a Cyber-Safe Environment for your Tweens.

I was enlightened on Cyber Safety and parent involvement at the Y! Mother Board Summit, which Yahoo invited me to and paid for my attendance. The things I learned were life changing, and I learned how important it is to share it with my readers. This was originally posted on Just Precious in August 2010. Its being reposted on Shine! as a part of the Yahoo Motherboard.

Read more from Julie Meyers Pron on her personal blog, Just Precious. A former elementary teacher with a focus on technology, she's a member of the Yahoo! Motherboard and a Shine! Parenting Guru.

Image by San Jose Library via Flickr