Managing children’s search queries: what parents need to know

Where children go online

Ever wonder what your children are looking for online? It’s not global warming. In fact, because children use search engines to explore, their online queries may not show up when you check their browser histories. So how can you manage what you can’t see?

What parents need to know

Online connectivity has given our children unprecedented access to information and entertainment. They live in a 24/7 connected culture where all they need do is search for something and it arrives - often unfiltered and highly age-inappropriate. Parents must extend parenting to their children’s online lives and know the Rules of the Road. We have to teach our children to use responsibly the powerful tools at their fingertips. These guidelines will help:

For children under 7

Consider using filters or programs that restrict Internet access.

Make sure that you're using the safest search settings. Block words you don't want children searching for - like 'sex' and 'porn'.

Be present when children are online and know where they're going - especially on YouTube which has both great and not-so-great content.

Pick age-appropriate sites: Use independent resources to help find entertaining, but age-appropriate destinations. Make sure you select the sites that your children visit.

Teach your children the basics of safe Internet behaviour. The sooner they learn to search safely, the better. They're building lifetime habits early. Follow this simple, clever guidance.

For 7- to 10-year-olds

Explain that Internet searching can be risky. An 8-year-old might well be curious about the human body or the facts of life. But cyberspace doesn’t distinguish between an 8-year-old's 'curious' and a 28-year-old's 'curious'. Your children are going to search for sex and porn. The best ways to manage this are to be sure that browsers are set to 'Safe-search' modes and to keep the channels of communication open between you and your children. You want them to feel safe coming to you if they find something upsetting. Even if you're tempted to be angry with what they've found, it's better for them to hear your guidance rather than to try to make sense of something upsetting on their own.

Keep the computers in central locations. Your 8-year-old doesn’t need wireless in her bedroom. (And yes, if she’s an average child, she’s already searching for sex).

Talk about legal versus illegal content Children may think that they'll be able to get free downloads of their favourite films, games or music from peer-to-peer, file-sharing networks, but nothing like that is truly free. Many of these downloads are copyright-protected, so you are downloading illegal content. And these downloads may have spyware and malware that will crash your computers sooner or later.

Teach the basics about privacy and good behaviour in online worlds and social networks. Many children start with social networking sites that have special controls to protect them. However, they quickly move to other social networks with fewer controls over what can be said and what kind of information can be shared.

Address cyberbullying. It’s a horrible but very real part of online life. Make sure you know how to help your children protect themselves.

For preteens (11–12)

Talk about the importance of protecting their online privacy and reputation. This is the age children really start going online, so they need to understand what’s safe and appropriate to post. Children don’t realise that their online social lives take place in front of more than their friends. There’s a vast invisible audience online. And whatever they put online can last forever.

Have the pornography talk. How much detail you go into is up to you. But to ignore it is to let children make sense of it on their own. Explain your values about sex and intimacy and distinguish them from what children will find on both amateur and professional pornography sites.

Look at the games they're playing. Some games aren't designed for children. And games downloaded from the backwaters of the Internet can be riddled with spyware and malware.

Set rules about music downloads. Nothing illegal. Ever.

Make sure your children can figure out whether a site is credible or not. Get them to ask the basic questions: Who's behind the site? What is the site’s purpose? How can I tell whether the information is accurate?

Remind them that Internet cheating (like lifting a whole paragraph from a website for a research paper) is still cheating.

For teenagers

Learn about Facebook. It’s the centre of children’s online social lives. Make sure your children set privacy settings and that they really understand that whatever they post can be copied, pasted and sent to thousands of people in an instant. Help them protect their privacy and their reputation.

Have the pornography talk again. Sexual curiosity is normal for teenagers. Pornography is something completely different. Each family will have different attitudes about sexuality, but no pornography is age-appropriate for children. Still, they’re seeing it. It’s up to parents to help children understand what they’re seeing.

Establish rules about online searching. Each family will have different tolerance levels. But teenagers generally need latitude in searching because of schoolwork. They also often search when parents aren’t around because they’ll have more freedom.

Above all, discuss the Rules of the road Since the biggest issues that arise are inappropriate content, inappropriate communication, protecting privacy and unsafe downloads, talk to your teenagers about your guidelines in each area.

© Common Sense Media

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