Q: I have a 5 and 10 year old and am wondering how I can monitor their internet use. We have a wireless Lynksys system, a Macbook, Wii, Xbox, and a Windows computer. Any thoughts?
–Surfing, in South Jersey
A: Dear Surfing,
There are a number of software and firmware products that claim to monitor and/or restrict children’s internet use, but these products vary in quality, may not be compatible across devices, and I have yet to hear of one that stymies the children more than it stymies the adults trying to use it. Technological fixes can’t take the place of engaging with your children and educating them about internet safety.
First, remember that children of different ages (like your 5- and 10-year-old) have very different developmental capabilities. Teach them separately, giving them the internet skills and tools they need as they become capable of managing them in ways that are both healthy and effective. Ask them to tell you why they are going online, and discuss the specific goals they have while surfing the web.
Here are some technological and non-technological tips that can help as well:
- Place your computer in a centrally located area of your home (such as a living room or kitchen desk) where you can easily see them using the computer.
- Have separate passwords for the computer and internet access (wireless router). My 6- and 8-year olds don’t know either password, so they have to ask to go on the computer—and they have to ask again to go online. That means that, while using the computer, they won’t end up online by accident or on purpose without my knowing and providing supervision.
- Pay attention to your children’s use of smartphones and tablets, as these devices often have apps that seamlessly take the user to the internet. Password protect these devices the same way you do home computers and gaming systems—and enter that password yourself each time rather than giving the password to your child.
- Get comfortable with the hardware and software in your home. This way you will be able to teach your children how to safely and effectively use the internet by modeling it with your own online activity and by routinely and regularly interacting with them when they are online.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,