The Internet has given kids unprecedented access to information and entertainment. All they need to do is search for something, and it arrives -- often unfiltered, age-inappropriate, or totally irrelevent.
You can keep them in a safe zone using kid-safe browsers and search sites and reference and research tools. But along with good search skills it's important to teach kids how to use the powerful tools at their fingertips responsibly. Follow these guidelines:
Consider using filters or parental controls that restrict Internet access. There are excellent free programs like OnlineFamily.Norton that help you stay in the know about what your kids are doing online.
Make sure that you're using your browser's safest search settings, and block words you don't want kids searching for -- like "sex" and "porn."
Always be present when little kids are online, and know where they're going -- especially on YouTube, which has great stuff and not-so-great stuff.
Explain that Internet searching can be risky. It's totally age-appropriate for an 8-year-old to be curious about the human body or "facts of life." But cyberspace doesn't distinguish between a 7-year-old's "curious" and a 27-year-old's "curious." The best ways to manage this are to be sure that browsers are set to "safe search" modes and to keep the channels of communication open between you and your kids. You want your kids to feel safe coming to you if they find something upsetting. Even if you're temped to be angry with what they've found, we suggest that it's better for them to hear your guidance rather than try to make sense of something upsetting on their own.
Keep the computers in central locations. That way you can keep an eye on things.
Talk to your kids about legal versus illegal content: Kids may think that they'll be able to get programs for free, but almost nothing is truly free. Many download sites carry spyware and malware.
Make sure your kids can figure out whether a site is credible or not. Have them ask the basic questions: Who's behind the site? What is their purpose? How can I tell whether the information is accurate?
Remind them that Internet cheating (like lifting a whole paragraph from a website for a research paper) is still cheating.
Establish rules about online searching. Each family will have different tolerances. But teens generally need latitude in searching because of schoolwork. They also often search when no parents are around so they have lots of freedom of movement.