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How can I Protect My Child?

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If you feel that you’ve already established clear-cut rules with your kids about their Internet use, you might be surprised at the results of a 2001 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and National Public Radio. Three-fourths of parents interviewed said that they had rules in place; only half of their children agreed.

One way to avoid misunderstandings is to create an explicit policy on Internet behavior, also known as an “acceptable use policy,” or AUP. AUPs are commonly used in schools, where they’re almost always in writing and require the signatures of both children and parents.

Although a use policy doesn’t have to be in writing, rules on paper, signed by both you and your child, can reinforce your general efforts, as well as ensure that everyone’s clear on what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable use of the Internet. (Remember, you must also be clear on the consequences of breaking the agreement.)

A use policy should be tailored to the age, maturity level, and particular circumstances of a child. This might mean having to create a separate agreement for each of your kids. Also, consider allowing your children to participate in creating the policy so that they will be more inclined to abide by it.

Topics to Address When Drafting a Policy
(You can build in more rules that you can find in Guidelines for Parents.)

  • How long and under what circumstances can your children use the Internet? For example, an hour a day, but only after chores are completed.

  • What content is allowed? Examples of appropriate content include educational materials, reference Web sites, news services, and so on. Revise the list as your children mature.

  • What content is off-limits? Be clear on what’s objectionable. Some parents are concerned mostly with sexually explicit Web sites; others, with sites about bomb making, hate groups, violence, or religious cults.

  • What kind of message traffic is OK? Can your child use e-mail, instant messaging, and chat rooms?

  • What are your child’s privacy rights? Under what, if any, circumstances should you read your children’s e-mail or know their passwords for online access?

  • What should children do if they experience something disturbing online? Be clear here, but make children feel that they can come to you. Be fair, also, if you determine that the off-limits content was accidentally accessed. This is important if you want children to trust you.

  • What offline, in-person activities are allowed in connection with online activities? For example, are children allowed face-to-face meetings with people they've met online? Can they send money to Web companies? Do your kids need your knowledge, approval, or presence to do any of these things?

  • What happens if the rules are broken? For a policy to do any good, it must be enforced. Be clear on the consequences—loss of Internet privileges, grounding, and so on—that a child must face if rules aren’t followed.

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