The digital age presents new challenges in raising children. Between the ubiquity of the Internet and a broad range of cable television programs available from any place with a computer, monitoring your children’s Internet and TV use can seem like a full-time job. Though it's challenging, there are a few ways you can help monitor your children’s online time without affecting their natural curiosity.
It can be easy to simply glance at a new TV show or website before allowing your kids to have free reign, but you have to go beyond that. Watch an episode of the television show or spend some time with them in the early stages of their first visit to a website. Doing this will give you a good idea of whether that show or service will stay within the guidelines you’ve set for your children. Make sure your children know that you want to be a part of their habits and obligate them to check with you before doing anything new online or watching a new show. With 24-hour child-focused TV channels, make a habit of checking in every half-hour or so to see what new shows have appeared.
Let Them Know You're There to Help, Not Punish
Children can become victims of online harassment or other inappropriate behavior only if they feel afraid to come to you. While limiting your children’s viewing and Internet habits, make sure they always know to come to you if they are not sure or are afraid. Fear of punishment has led children into dangerous online situations, particularly with predators. Make sure they know that they won’t be punished if they come to you.
Don’t Fear Technology
Windows, Amazon, Apple, DirecTV and other major device manufacturers provide tools for parents to control what kids can do or see. Kindle’s FreeTime service, for example, causes your Kindle Fire or Fire HD to operate in a customized mode for each child, limiting his options only to those apps which you have approved. Windows allows you to create separate user accounts with limited rights to prevent unauthorized activity, which then unlocks the powers of its Family Safety suite of monitoring and control tools. In addition to Windows, most modern operating systems, TVs and gaming systems come with the ability to limit both the type and duration of activities that can be done without your approval. These services only work, however, if you take the time to understand them and set them up properly.
Only in Shared Spaces
It’s hard for children to see something inappropriate while in your living room. Though many children today have their own computer, make sure they are only allowed to use it in a public space of the house. Do not install a TV directly in your child’s room. This little step can help enable you to be a part of their viewing and browsing habits, without knocking on doors or purchasing expensive monitoring software packages.
Know the Law
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, gives you tools to prevent unscrupulous websites from collecting your children's personal information. For online services which require your under-13 child to register, monitor closely what information they ask for, and if it seems inappropriate, file a complaint with the FCC. Other laws, such as the Children's Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, and the Children’s Television Act, or CTA, enforce various rules and stipulations for Internet access and television shows directed toward children.
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