Children as young as five or six are now as familiar with the computer and the Internet as they are with their toy cars and dolls. With popular social networking sites like Webkinz and Club Penguin drawing in ever younger kids, parents are often left scratching their heads as to how to regulate an entertainment medium that just didn’t exist when they were young.
Although you may be confident that you have installed parental controls and that your kids can’t stumble across anything too objectionable, you may still be looking for a “code of conduct” when it comes to how much time is spent in front of the computer. Here are six suggestions to help set the rules when it comes to your younger children’s virtual worlds:
1. Include the computer in their total screen time
Whether they are allowed one or two hours of screen time a day, don’t forget to include time in front of a computer (and time playing video games). Time spent on Club Penguin and other Internet sites piles up very quickly and, before you know it, they have been staring at screens for 3 or 4 hours!
2. Do not allow computers or TVs in the bedroom
Keep the computer in a family area. They will see it as a family activity…and you can keep an eye on them!
3. Be interested in what they are doing
Whether they are playing games, networking with friends, or just browsing National Geographic Kids, show an interest in what they are doing. Just like their homework and their sports, if they know you are interested, they will take it more seriously and try to please.
4. Teach them to protect their identity
Just as we teach them not to talk to strangers, we should also teach them to not give out personal information over the Internet. Make sure they use passwords and only interact online with people they know offline.
5. Explain what inappropriate behavior is
It’s never too early for children to learn how to be respectful and polite online. An early understanding of e-mail and social networking etiquette will carry over to their later years and help protect them from being cyberbullied or becoming a cyberbully themselves.
6. Set a good example!
Like almost everything else we do to raise healthy and well-adjusted children, setting a good example is perhaps the most important contribution we can make. If you don’t want them to spend too long in front of the computer, then make sure you’re not spending hours there too. Don’t like it when their DS is a constant companion at mealtimes? Then think about putting the iPhone away and start a conversation instead!