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Keeping Your Kids Safe Online
If not, there are many resources available for parents, so, when you do decide to open your home to Internet strangers, you can take precautions to keep out unwelcome "guests."
Caroline Knorr, digital life editor with Common Sense Media, says there is no reason for children to get online until they are school-age, although a child as young as 3 might want to. Knorr recommends that parents closely guide children on the Internet.
"Little kids should not surf the Web unsupervised," she says.
At any age, parents should always preview sites, determining if they provide age-appropriate games. Common Sense Media rates websites and other media, making suggestions based on age.
Tech-savvy 7- or 8-year-olds start becoming more interested in social networking sites geared toward their age group: Webkinz and Disney's Club Penguin, for example. Parents should check to ensure sites comply with the government's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Besides imposing a suggested daily maximum of a one-hour limit on screen time, educating your child about Internet safety is essential. NetSmartz411, Enough is Enough, Carnegie Mellon's MySecureCyberspace and the U.S. government's OnGuardOnline sites offer resources and a starting point for online safety decisions for you and your family. Each site represents a wide range of information, online activities and approaches.
Computer manufacturers provide products specific to the young, tech-savvy learner. If a computer has Internet access, parents should play an active role by placing the computer in a room where the child can be monitored.
Enforce parental controls through setting Web browser preferences to "strict," Knorr advises. Although not "foolproof" and they sometimes may error on the side of blocking everything, Internet Explorer preferences are password-protected.
Many products are available for monitoring a child's use on the Internet. AOL offers a free service with parental controls that incorporates oversight for Web browsing, activity records, e-mails, IM and time limits.
Most importantly, Knorr says, "be involved in your kids' digital life so you know what they like to do online and are aware of good online behavior. Young kids need to develop healthy brains, bodies and social ability, so make sure your kid is getting a good balance of physical activity and real-world experience."
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