Setting strict rules for your young children's Internet adventures protects them from inappropriate content, cyberbullies, identity thieves and child predators. Installing popup blockers and reminding your little one to never, ever give out her real name, age, or address online is a solid start. But in the age of social media oversharing and sexting, even these precautions are not nearly enough.
What are the latest, most effective internet guidelines for toddlers and tweens? I'll catch you up on the most recent safe surfing tips for kids 12 and younger, many of them from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Check out my must-know essentials below:
Keep your eyes on your wee Web explorers at all times. Yes, this means sitting directly next to or near your child each and every time he navigates the jungle otherwise known as the Internet.
I constantly helicopter parent my 3 kids (ages 6, 8, and 10) whenever they're online on my Dell laptop, MacBook Pro, iPhone or iPad. At the very least, I spy on them and ask questions every few minutes from across the table or room. Wherever we are, home or not, they have to Web surf in an open area where I can easily see the screen.
Teach them to keep private info private. Always insist that your kids never reveal their real names (first, last, or imaginary) or where they live, go to school, hang out or play. The same rule goes for any other personal and confidential information. Repeat this rule often until they say it in their sleep, even if they kick and scream and roll their eyes. While you're at it, tell them not to share your personal information or their siblings', either.
Take advantage of your browser's parental controls. The majority of Internet browsers (including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer) have an Internet options folder where you can easily set up security safeguards and content filters for language, nudity, sex, and violence. Or skip the filter fiddling and only allow your kids to use squeaky clean browsers created just for kids.
Chaperone your child's every online chat. If you allow your kids to IM chat with online friends, make sure they are their actual, real friends "from real life," as I tell my kids — not strangers, child predators, or identity thieves masquerading as friends. Help kids create personal identity-proof chat room nicknames (and online Club Penguin or other virtual kid world memberships) that don't contain their real names and other private data. Always keep your eyes glued to their chat activity — or don't let them chat at all (like me).
Install mature content filtering software. I admit it, I let Net Nanny play content cop for me most of the time. The software automatically wipes out lurking pornographic, violent, or otherwise sketchy online content surprises. With Net Nanny's remote management tools, I can even see (and alter) what my kids see and do online when the babysitter's in charge. Ditto for the sitter's online activity, too. ...The power!
Don't your kids shop online without you. I made that mistake once. Only once. You'd be surprised how quickly kids can memorize (or write down and hide) your debit and credit card numbers, all-important 3-digit security codes included. If you do let them buy something online, enter your financial data yourself when your mini-me isn't standing behind you.
Know your online game ratings. Only let your children play age-appropriate games on gaming web sites that list ratings for every game, or limit your kids to MiniClip's E for Everyone selection.
Not sure what M for Mature means? What's the difference between E for Everyone and E for Everyone 10+? Find out in my easy game ratings cheat sheet, and get to know the content your budding gamer is exposed to.
Stay the course. The hardest part of supervising your child's Internet exposure and activity comes after you make the rules. It's called following through, even when you're talking, texting, tweeting, cooking dinner, and playing "World of Warcraft" all at the same time.
Remember, what your kids do online is entirely up to you, mamas and papas. Protect them the best you can. No pressure, right?
Go beyond the Internet. Now that you've got your young ones' internet use under control, why not make their offline video game habits as safe? Start by setting up parental controls on their Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, or whichever handheld or console gaming system they can't get enough of.
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