For Families > Keeping Kids Healthy > Raising Healthy Kids

The Internet at Home: Making it Work for You and Your Kids

by Anita Gurian, PhD

the internet at home - The Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center

Why kids go online

The Internet opens the world for children. An endless supply of information and a choice of different ways to interact with others are instantly available. Even children as young as three go online to play games. Older children, in addition to playing games, surf for fun, use e-mail, and instant messaging, chat rooms and message boards. They turn to the Internet for help with school work, to research projects, and to download music. Surfing is an exciting and active exploratory process with limitless possibilities, but there's a downside. The Internet has some inappropriate, even dangerous, material that can be harmful for children, and parents should carefully monitor their children's Internet use. Following are some areas of concern.

Children can access sites that promote hate, violence and pornography. Some sites carry propaganda regarding religious and ethnic groups, information on gun availability and other issues which parents may prefer to discuss individually with their children.

Unsolicited advertising may attract children by offering free products if they supply personal or family information.

Children may be asked to join a club, meet a friend, or make contact with a person who is seeking to develop an inappropriate relationship.

Spending hours online and chatting on the computer may prevent children from developing social skills in a real context or engaging in physical activity.

What parents can do

In contrast to books, magazines and other printed resources that have safeguards (editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers) to spot misleading, unsuitable and inaccurate information, the Internet has no such safeguards. It's up to parents to provide guidance and supervision of their children's online activities to insure that they're getting the benefit of using the Internet.

Tips especially for young kids

  • Sit with your child when he/she is online.
  • Bookmark acceptable sites.
  • Use search engines with parental controls.
  • Don't allow e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms or message boards until age 9 or 10.
  • Teach about privacy; reiterate that children must never give out information about themselves or family members.

General tips for all kids

  • Keep the computer in a central location in the house, not in a child's bedroom.
  • Set up family rules, with firm provisions about how much time can be spent and what information can be provided online.
  • Review what your children watch.
  • Talk with your children about their online activities as you would about their other activities.
  • Create a family Web site, with help from kids, to keep friends and relatives up-to-date on family activities.
  • Set up a "dummy" e-mail account for your kids to give out online. This will protect their real address from junk e-mail
  • Sit with your kids and review their instant messaging contact lists to make sure they know everyone on it. Teach them that they must never agree to actually meet someone they meet on line.
  • Remind kids that anything posted on the internet is accessible to anyone and could be available for years.
  • Talk about online pornography and direct teens to good sites about health and sexuality.
  • Insist on access to e-mail and instant messaging accounts to ascertain who they're talking to.
  • Teach responsible behavior—file sharing, taking text, or images from the Web may infringe on copyright law. Remind them that not everything they see or read online is true.

By establishing rules and working with their children, parents will enable their children to reap the considerable benefits available on the Internet.