A Parent's Guide to Safe Online Surfing to Protect the Tech-Savviest Kids

Leticia Barr
September 14, 2010

The internet is a treasure trove of learning opportunities that are designed for young ages to practice developing skills but it also poses real risks for our children from the minute they visit their first website. As parents, we always want the best for our children and while there are some wonderful sites that are truly educational in nature, others are poorly designed, lack age appropriate content, or have the ability to fill your computer with viruses with a single click. Here are a few simple things to keep in mind to ensure that your child has a successful internet experience.

Preview sites before letting your children use them. Just like you wouldn't ever buy a car without taking a test drive, visit the URL of sites you hear about in order to ensure that the site is easy to navigate, has appropriate content for your child, and are ad-free. Non-reading toddlers and beginning to read preschoolers can't navigate a website that contains a lot of text. Find sites that are icon based where children can click on pictures to get them where they need to go. PBSKids is one of my favorite sites for young ages because kids can click on images of favorite characters to access games featuring familiar faces.  Starfall and Scholastic BookFlix are great sites for early elementary ages due the nice combination of pictures and icons which still make it easy to navigate the content that is just right for emergent readers. But don't just take my word that these sites are good! Check them out for yourself!

Sit with your child the first few times they visit the site. Sometimes what we think would be perfect for our kids, isn't a good match for where they are right now. An educational site won't be fun or help your child learn if they are frustrated. By sitting with your child as they get to know a site, you can determine if the site is a good match. A little guidance can often make a huge difference making your child feel successful.

Talk to your kids about what to do if they get to an unfamiliar site. Kids love to click and with just a couple misplaced clicks, they can easily get to a very unfamiliar site and not know how to return to their favorite game. Make sure that your child knows to come get you for assistance rather than continuing to click. Not only does this open the lines of communication for computer use in the future, but you also help prevent constant clicking. Constant clicking on unknown sites can cause malware and viruses to be installed on your machine without your knowledge that can lead to slow performance or an unusable machine. 

Ensure that your antivirus software is up to date. Since kids are so quick to click, check the validity of your antivirus software license. Internet security software needs to be purchased and reinstalled yearly since expired software won't protect your computer from viruses whose sole purpose is to destroy your computer. If you notice that the computer is sluggish, run a free online virus scanner such as BitDefender's Online Scanner, which is designed to rid your computer of viruses from your internet browser as a first line of defense.

Always be close by while your child is using the computer. The computer is not a babysitter! You need to know what your child is doing on the computer at all times! 

Helping your child navigate the internet now helps open lines of communication and develops the foundation for good judgment in distinguishing the difference between appropriate and inappropriate sites. As your child gets older and has increased independence on the computer, it becomes even more important to monitor online activities and stay on top of current issues, controversial sites, and internet dangers that could threaten your family security.

Leticia Barr is the family safety and security expert for BitDefender's BitMoms.com community, a free resource for parents dedicated to keeping kids safe online.  She is the mother of a preschooler and first grader, the founder of Tech Savvy Mama, and a teacher with a background in effective technology integration in elementary classrooms. Leticia is also the former City Editor for Being Savvy Washington, D.C.

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