Parents must be present in a child’s online life

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tuesday we published a report from the attorney general’s office reminding parents to be alert to cyber bullying.

We would like to remind parents that the online world can offer valuable information, entertainment and social interactions but there are risks, too, and they go beyond cyber bullying. The fact is, children do not make the best decisions, and just as you would never drop your child off in an unfamiliar town to hang out with a group of strangers, parents should not ignore their child’s online activities.

This requires more vigilance than merely friending your child on Facebook, although that’s a fine start. Parents need to set the same limits on computer use as the do in the real world. What this means is, parents need to first and foremost educate their children on how to be decent people. Children who make poor decisions online (engage in bullying, or who send inappropriate content) are likely to make similar choices in real life. The lessons you teach your kids will influence all of their choices, not just their choices online.

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That said, children—especially younger children—do need firm computer limits. Not all children mature at the same age and so parents need to decide when to give more online freedom to their child based on their individual maturity. But in general, young children should play in the real world with real friends just as much if not more than they do online. You, the parent, can take away computer access as easily anything else. Second, very young children should not be given unfettered access to the entire online world. There are parental controls on all web browsers and software is available to help enforce parental control.

As children age, they get more freedoms, and their online privileges must expand as well. Teenagers should be trusted to some extent and if online mistakes are made, they should be turned into learning experiences, as one would do with a real-life mistake. However, so long as kids are younger than 18, they’re still minors and a parent’s responsibility. If you notice a sudden or radical change in your child, it might be worth investigating their online life for clues to the change. Teenagers can be notoriously secretive and protective of their privacy, but if your child is having a hard time, parents can’t let feelings of guilt get in the way of proper parenting.