by Vanessa Van Petten
The Internet talk is the new sex talk. You need to have it with your kids, and you need to have it early. Like sex, the Internet can be a very scary and dangerous thing that should only be used at certain ages and always done correctly. Yet, it can also be wonderful and exciting, and, now, it is a true part of life.
Age 2-5: Internet use begins at around ages 2-4. I recently saw my three-year-old cousin start Safari, open YouTube and find Dora Explorer videos all by herself. As soon as your child picks up the a mouse, you should be having discussions. Here are the topics to cover for this age group:
-The terms: Explaining the Net-Generation in Parent-Friendly Terms, Go over what a website is, what the difference between YouTube and TV is, a mouse and laptop versus a desktop.
-13 Holy CyberCitizenship Laws: I would hope that this age child should only be going online with mom and dad, or left in a set game or website. Go over the rules about using the computer with or without mom and dad and what is allowed.
Age 6-7: This is school-age where they are more likely to want to go online with friends and could be discovering sites like Club Penguin, Webkinz and their favorite shows on video sites.
-Spam and Advertising: Parents need to talk about the banner ads and those free offers for a trip to Disneyland…they are not real!
-Strangers vs Friends: Cyberpredators are not as common as the media makes them out to be, but they are out there. Talk to your kids about never talking to strangers online, just like they would never do on the street.
- Private information and financial info. This should be also mentioned earlier but gone over in detail at this age.
-Searching. Kids are usually searching more on Google and YouTube now, this is a good time to talk to them about thinking before they click and what happens when they go to a site that is not so good.
-Online friends vs. Real life friends. You need to talk about house rules on chatting with strangers, during homework time and recording information.
-Help Tackling Cyberbullying. What should your child do if they are cyberbullied or if they see someone else being cyberbullied.
-For Parents: What is Social Networking, Facebook and MySpace? What are the ups and downs. How to maintain good connections and still share online.
-Online Reputation Management or Techno Perfection and posting things online lasts forever. Privacy online is not the same as privacy offline!
-Getting ready for Google Search from colleges and employers. There should be no bad stuff up there (because you have had all of these talks), but also beefing up the good stuff.
- Online Information Overload and Balance. At this age, searching and social networking is most likely free range, but balance and time management is a constant struggle!
-Cotton Candy Friends. Make sure your teens know the difference between real friends and cotton candy friends before they go off to college.
The talk should be constant. Open communication about these issues is the key to leveraging the Internet’s highlights and avoiding its pitfalls. Always be there for your kids to talk and be sure to cover all of these issues with them.
Vanessa Van Petten is the teen author of the parenting book “You’re Grounded!” She writes a parenting blog along with 12 other teen writers from the kid’s perspective to help parents understand what is actually going on in the mind of kid’s today. Her parenting tips have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Daily News, Fox 5 New York, CBS 4 Miami and much more. Visit her web site at RadicalParenting.com