Dr. Dana Johnson: Keeping Kids Safe Online

It is important that we understand what kids are doing and are aware of which sites they are visiting.

Originally published on July 9, 2014, in the Wisconsin State JournalDr. Johnson is a pediatrician practicing at the Meriter McKee clinic.

Dear Dr. Johnson: How do I keep my preteen safe on the Internet?

Dear Reader: The vast World Wide Web can be an amazing source of information, education and resources, readily accessible at our fingertips. Browsing, however, can lead to viewing of offensive, obscene, and violent information and images. The Internet can also lead to communicating with people who have malicious intentions. While I do not think it is reasonable to never allow a child on the Internet, I do believe we as parents have to take steps to protect our children.

Internet rules will vary based on a child’s age and family values, but the rules should be agreed upon and reiterated on a regular basis. It is important that children understand what Internet activities are considered appropriate and what areas are off limits. There are some contracts available online that parents and children can sign and post as a reminder. One such contract is available at www.safekids.com/contract.htm.

While children sometimes surpass us adults on their technology savvy and ability to manipulate electronic devices, it is important that we understand what kids are doing and are aware of which sites they are visiting. It is best to only allow online activities in a common area of the house where activities can be monitored. There is also tracking software available so you can monitor what is being viewed. Software can also be purchased to filter content. This software is not perfect, however, and may be too restrictive or not filter all inappropriate content.

Social media is popular with the young and old alike. It is important that we use it correctly. All too often people say things online that they wouldn’t say in person. Children need to understand the effect this can have on others. The Internet should not be used to be mean or make someone look or feel bad. They also need to understand that once something is put on the Internet, it can never be completely deleted.

The Internet can be an amazing place to meet and interact with people that we would never have the opportunity to interact with otherwise. This also has some risk. Personal information should never be shared unless a parent approves. This includes any identifying information such as name, address, phone number, age, school, family members or friends. Passwords should never be shared with anyone. A child should never agree to meet someone they have met online unless a parent approves, and a child should never go alone. If someone says something mean or hurtful to them online, they should not respond and instead should tell a parent or other trusted adult.

We can’t completely shield our children from the downsides of the Internet, but we can provide some safeguards. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers additional information on internet safety at http://safetynet.aap.org/.

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