Internet Dangers: Uncovered
How to Keep Your Grandchildren Safe in an Increasingly Technological World
By Lauren Teegarden
Even by mid-elementary school kids are Internet-savvy. It's no wonder, since eight- to eighteen-year-olds spend an average of six hours using media in a given day. They can simultaneously download music, check their email, instant message, and conduct research for a homework assignment. And, according to a survey by Knowledge Networks, kids would rather have access to the Internet than television or the telephone. Technology provides plenty of benefits, but the information superhighway is also full of hazards. As a grandparent, it is important to learn the potential perils and methods to protect your grandchildren from harm.
While there's a good chance that your grandchild knows more about computers and the Internet than you do, it is still important to set limits: keeping children safe on the Internet is everyone's job. Let your grandchildren teach you a thing or two, and you'll be able to better protect them.
Potential Problem One: Too Much "Screen Time"
Kids can spend an endless amount of time in front of the computer. As soon as a child is spending more time instant messaging friends than actually talking to them, it is time to limit usage. Experts say that older kids should have no more that two hours of "screen time" per day - this includes computers, television, and video games. Younger children should spend even less time in front of screens. Also, it is a good idea to keep computers in the family room or a bonus room - not in the child's bedroom. That way, you'll be able to monitor how much time your grandchild is spending in front of the computer.
Potential Problem Two: Threatening Strangers
Most kids don't understand the consequences of revealing personal information to strangers. Kids should never reveal their name, email address, postal address, phone number, or provide a personal picture without adult permission. Tell children that they should not give information even to companies they have heard of: this includes registering for contests and taking online quizzes in exchange for the chance to win prizes.
Emphasize that while the Internet feels private, it is actually very public. Don't just cite the very worst examples - also tell your grandchild that anything in an email, instant message, or posted on an online blog ("web log") can be copied or forwarded by someone else. Children should never write anything that could not be read by their parents, school administrators, or friends.
The best way to protect children from the Internet's hazards? Become familiar with their favorite websites and the friends that they talk to online. If children feel that their behavior is being monitored, then they will be more likely to follow the rules.
Not familiar with the online jargon?
Email (electronic mail): a system for sending and receiving messages between two or more computers
Instant Messaging (IM): immediate correspondence between two or more users who are all online at the same time.
Blog: a "web log" an online, public journal that includes personal experiences, political beliefs, travel experiences, or other musings. Usually, blogs are updated at least weekly.
Common Blog Websites, which are free to use: www.myspace.com, www.livejournal.com, www.xanga.com
Lauren Teegarden, a high school senior, lives in Portland, Oregon. With grandparents of her own, Lauren recognized the value of strong grandparent-grandchild interactions and started "The Grandparent Connection," a free monthly email newsletter with articles, advice, and activities for grandparents. Visit her website, www.thegrandparentconnection.org, to sign up for the newsletter.