The internet is a great source for information, entertainment, and communication with friends and family. But like many resources, the internet is problematic when used improperly by giving out personal information, chatting with and meeting strangers, and when overused. This page has internet guidelines for teenagers (see below), as well steps parents should take to ensure that their younger children are safe online.

Children:

Young children should be supervised by parents when on the internet. As a child becomes older, he or she may be allowed more independence to visit certain approved websites. Under COPPA regulations, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up for email accounts and personal profiles, such as Gmail and Facebook, without parental permission. The following guidelines for child internet use are courtesy of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Limit the amount of time a child spends online and “surfing the web”
  • Teach a child that talking to “screen names” in a “chat room” is the same as talking with strangers;
  • Teach a child never to give out any personal identifying information to another individual or website online
  • Teach a child to never agree to actually meet someone they have met online
  • Never give a child credit card numbers or passwords that will enable online purchases or access to inappropriate services or sites
  • Remind a child that not everything they see or read online is true
  • Make use of the parental control features offered with your online service, or obtain commercially available software programs, to restrict access to “chat lines,” news groups, and inappropriate websites
  • Provide for an e-mail address only if a child is mature enough to manage it, and plan to periodically monitor the child’s e-mail and online activity
  • Teach a child to use the same courtesy in communicating with others online as they would if speaking in person — i.e. no vulgar or profane language, no name calling, etc.
  • Insist that a child follow the same guidelines at other computers that they might have access to, such as those at school, libraries, or friend’s homes.

Teenagers:

Upon turning 13, teenagers have greater access to social networking tools, website accounts, email, and instant messaging. Parents will often give teenagers more independence with their online lives, but with independence comes responsibility. The following are ground rules for teens using the internet:

  • In most cases, anything you post online can be read by anybody. Don’t post something you don’t want other people reading, as you may not be able to delete it. Threats, nude pictures of oneself, and other illegal material can easily be tracked down to the person who posted it.
  • Avoid cyber bullying. This is when someone uses instant messaging or a social networking site such as MySpace to taunt, tease, and harass another person. The impersonal and sometimes anonymous nature of cyber bullying can make it especially painful for the victim. If someone constantly bullies you via the internet, you should tell a parent or—if the bully is from your school—a school administrator.
  • Never give out personal information such as full name, address, neighborhood, telephone number, website passwords, credit card numbers, or your social security number. Date of birth is required to sign up for many websites, but do not publicly display it. If you wish to display contact information, do so on a profile page that is only accessible to people you have confirmed that you know. Never post passwords, credit card numbers, and social security numbers even on a page only friends can see.
  • Never post pictures of yourself, except on a profile only accessible to people you have confirmed that you know.
  • Never meet in person with anyone you know through the internet.
  • Pornography is a controversial topic. Many hormonal teens watch pornography and most hide it from their parents. Many parents are dismayed in their teen’s pornography use, while some find it normal teenage behavior or otherwise unproblematic. Keep in mind that many porn websites have spyware that can harm your computer, and being caught by a parent walking in or searching through internet history is embarrassing. Parents should let their children know their opinion on viewing pornography and of what punishment may result from such viewing.
  • Use the internet moderately. Most people do this, but there are some who become carried away with online games or pornography. Make sure that your internet use does not keep you from doing homework or participating in other activities. If you or someone else believes that you have an internet addiction, consider an appointment with a psychologist or school counselor to discuss the potential problem and to look into treatment.