Technology advances of the past twenty years have brought the world into our homes. What used to be the domain of libraries and universities has now become ubiquitous – the internet is everywhere. Because this powerful research and business tool now lives at our fingertips, it brings with it both benefits and challenges. How you manage these resources in your home, and more importantly how you teach your children to harness the power of this resource, can shape your family’s dynamics. Here are a few observations.
First of all, let’s clear the air – the internet is a tool. It is not evil nor is it the solution to all of life’s problems. There are bad things on the internet, and there are wonderful things out there too. The internet is a mechanism for information and content delivery, and a network for connecting people in a new way. The nature of the information, content, and communications cannot be contained, but what we choose to consume and allow our families to consume can be contained. As responsible adults, we should be monitoring our child’s online activities. We should put in safety mechanisms such as parental controls, anti-virus and spyware/malware detection programs, firewalls to prevent outside traffic from entering our homes, routers with logging mechanisms to track sites visited from your network, and time limits on when our children can use the internet. These controls should be on every computer in the home.
Next, the social aspect of the internet is very appealing to children, particularly teenagers. Sites like Facebook and tools like text messaging allow people to remain in touch like never before. What we as parents need to be aware of is the amount of time our children are spending with these tools, how they are using them, and who they are communicating with. It is very common for a child to create a Facebook site that they show their parents and another one that they really use with their friends. Text message transcripts, by default, are not recorded so it is simple for a child to delete any offensive messages from their phone. Cyber bullying is a recent trend that your child may be a victim of or may be involved in. Too often, children (and adults) trust the identity of those they are communicating with on the internet and share way too much information. As such, children can be at risk for their safety and health if someone with bad intentions picks up on patterns, habits, and so forth through status updates. Reputations in both personal and professional life are largely shaped by your online profile. The problem with this is that children don’t think about this, and they allow pictures, messages, tags, friendships, and other social connections to run wild on the internet.
The internet isn’t just limited to computers anymore. Think about all the ways you can get internet content. Mobile phones and iPods are much tougher to place parental controls on if they don’t use the home connection. With these devices, a picture can be taken and be up on the internet in under a minute. I believe that every parent should evaluate whether their child needs the internet and text messaging on their cell phone. It provides them another means for access that likely bypasses any controls you have in your home. Also, newer televisions and DVRs have internet content delivered directly to them, and most have little protection from access. This is why it is important to have something to log the internet usage from your home.
Computers are here to stay. Computer literacy is one of the requirements for success in the Information Age, so your children need to know how to use them. As parents, you must know what your children are doing online. If you believe that they are simply playing innocent games or researching assignments, you would be wrong. Get control of your home computing environment. Place your computer in a conspicuous place in your home. Set time limits for usage. Disable internet on their phones. Put in monitoring software and parental controls. Regularly check the activity logs on these controls. Teach them responsible computing principles. If you don’t care enough to monitor these activities, then you’re setting yourself up for heartache down the road.