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Children get hooked on computers at an early age. A research project that ended in 2005 (Young Canadians in a Wired World) reveals that an astonishing 94 per cent of young people access the Internet from home. Parents need to know that just because children have the ability to surf and handle a mouse, does not give them the ability of critical thinking or the capacity to scrutinize content and filter fake from reality.

Young children (5 – 7 years old) need technical support and supervision when using the Internet. Children in higher grades (8 – 10 years old) have a greater ease in reading and writing and consequently, they have less of a dependency for help when using the computer. They still require supervision. Both these elementary-school aged groups lack maturity in life skills and experience to protect themselves from most “Cyber Hazards.”

Cyber Hazards can include online predators, exposure to violent, frightening or hateful content, pornography and cyber bullying. It is possible to reduce the amount of undesirable cyber experiences and to help a child eventually learn to govern his own computer-use and to apply cyber safety tips. Media Awareness Network shares valid safety tips for children around the ages of 5 – 7 years old.

  • Always sit with your children when they are online.
  • Consider using “blocking” or “filtering” software to complement a safe environment. Keep in mind that this does not replace supervision.
  • Create a personalized online environment by limiting your child’s access to a list of favourite or “bookmarked” sites that are “parent-approved.”
  • Keep the family computer in an area that is easy to monitor.
  • Start teaching privacy issues. Tell them to never give out personal information (name, address, phone number, etc.) about themselves or their family. Find a computer nickname to use.
  • Instant messaging e-mail, chat room and message boards are not age-appropriate for children 5 – 7 years old.
  • Encourage them to tell you if they come across anything that is disturbing, threatening or makes them feel uncomfortable. Remember to stay calm and let them know that they did the right thing coming to you.

Once children are actively surfing the net, a new set of rules must be designed to create a safe computer environment. At 8 – 10 years of age, children tend to be trusting and very impressionable. As parents you want to allow them enough latitude to discover on their own while keeping healthy boundaries. Not an easy feat, but the bottom line is still supervision and an interest and involvement in their computer time.

Create some Family Internet Rules with input from the children. This may include the length of time spent at the computer, the sites approved for viewing, permission being granted by parents when information is required online, etc.

  • Establish a family e-mail account and consider allowing the use of monitored chat rooms and message boards based on reputable children-orientated sites.
  • Instant messaging is not age-appropriate.
  • E-mail filters can block people, words or phrases and in doing so contribute in helping curb the pop-ups and other undesired cyber intrusions.
  • Talk to your children about values and the possible hazards associated with computer use. Let them know that inappropriate material and potentially unsafe situations may present themselves and that they are to advise a parent immediately. Again, parents need to stay calm and congratulate the child for identifying the trouble and for being aware and smart. Keep the lines of communication open.

By age 11 to 17, computer-use mushrooms into multiple social networks and countless bookmarked sites. Parents must acquire a new vigilance and approach in dealing with cyber hazards, all the while, respecting your child’s new found maturity and sense of self. The bottom line is to start instilling good and safe habits at a young age.