11 Steps to Online Parental Supervision of your Children

“She knew he spent a lot of time on the computer in his bedroom but had no idea he was filling an online journal with hate-filled rants and violent fantasies. “We found there was a little change because he was a little quieter, but he still was normal at home, living with us upstairs, [sleeping] in his bedroom. It's not that he was alone in the basement or anything,” she said.”

says Parvinder Sandhu, mother of Dawson College killer, Kimveer Gill, an active member of vampirefreaks.com.

If your child is online, you should be too!
This is yet another reason if your children are online, you should be too! If your kids are on myspace, get your own myspace account and be added to their friends list. Is this invasion, NO! Is it raising your kids, YES!

We would never dream of going days at a time without speaking to our family! Well, children are speaking all of the time but adults who ignore their Internet presence are ignoring their children!

I have revised this article since there seem to be many people reading it. I want to make a point of clarification. Parenting starts with a relationship and involvement. I am not a dogmatic parent myself and tend to talk about things and be involved. I rarely have to “put my foot” down with my kids because we usually deal with it through our daily interaction and discussion. I am a parent of an 11, 10, and 5 year old and teach 5th graders – 12th graders.

Steps to monitoring for parents to consider:

  1. Use a filter with some sort of parental control. You know the password and decide what types of activities you will allow them to do.

    I filter all pornography. After all, what little boy can resist typing “sex” into the Google box. Otherwise, I'm pretty lenient on my filtration. I currently block myspace and such but when they are ready, we will unblock it together and set up the profile together. My children are young for that right now but when they are ready, I want them to ask me so I know that they are using it.

  2. Discuss with your child what they can and cannot do online. If they set up a profile, do it with them to make sure that their information is not revealing.

    (Never include their school, last name, phone number, social security number, address, or pictures of them by themselves.) This is just like discussing coming home from school, talking to strangers, etc. Communicate!

  3. Do not allow them to “make friends” online without your approval. Your child's online experience should begin with communicating with those they do know.

    Require your children to allow you to “check out” anyone new before they add them to their friends. (I would do the first one with them.) Verify their identity by checking the person who referred them to you.

    Very often people say they are friends with one of your friends but that is not the case. The “friend of a friend” ploy is commonly used by predators to get into the social communications structure of a child. For how this works, a predator will observe several interrelated people and then “pretend” to be John Smith, a friend of your child. Although John Smith may be a real person, he actually has another screen name and your child is conversing with a person who is not “John Smith” at all. The way you check this out is by going to the person who “John Smith” says is his friend and sending them an e-mail.

    It could sound like this. “Hey. A guy named John Smith with a screen name of ___ says he is your friend and wants me to add him to my buddy list. Is he OK? Is that his screen name?”

    It is kind of like how my friends and I in college knew who the guys were to watch out for and we helped each other and had a signal for a person we knew was a “creep” and made that to one another. This is just a protection mechanism that we need to teach our children.

    I had initially posted to “not allow your child to make friends online” and that is a decision that some parents may choose to make. However, I do believe in progressive (gradually increasing) Internet freedoms and the rules for my 10 year old would not be appropriate for a 17 year old. Ultimately, they will make friends online, so when you are ready for that to happen, teach them how to make friends online.

    Also, they should absolutely never allow their child to meet someone that they've met online without consulting you. This is not debatable in my opinion.

  4. When your child sets up an web page online, subscribe to the page over RSS or bookmark it and visit it daily.
  5. Watch for their feelings. I have read that predators often search for people who say they are lonely or wanting friends or dissatisfied with life. It is important that although a child be creative and expressive that they guard their vulnerability.

    It is your job as a parent to respond to and be engaged in their feelings. Whether you think they are legitimate or not, their feelings ARE their feelings! Listen to them and respond appropriately. Sometimes just talking about it means a lot. If they are sharing things online and not with you, why?

    Many children get upset with the myspace practice of a person listing their 8 closest friends with their pictures. There is also a place for “boyfriend” and “best friend.” This is difficult for kids as they are forced to choose their best friend. This can result in very real hurt feelings. Listen to them even if you don't understand it! If you don't understand it, get your own myspace!

  6. Communicate with your child online by e-mailing them and visiting and posting on their online page. If you don't want to “embarrass” them with a post on their myspace, then visit their myspace and e-mail them about something they said. That way it is private, but they also know that you're watching!
  7. Peruse the history on the computers used by your child. See if there are any patterns or websites that are new that are being visited a lot. Talk to your child or e-mail them about it.

    They should know that you are watching, vigilant, and involved and that you care. This helps them resist temptation. (We do mandatory drug testing at our high school because we know that this gives kids an excellent reason to “say no.” Your spending time in their history does as well.)

    This is the only way Kimveer Gill's parents would have found this unless they didn't allow a computer in the bedroom.

    This is obviously for children living at home. (My parents always had a “My house, my business” policy that I subscribe to.)

    Some parents are uncomfortable with this “snooping” and “privacy” thing. I'm up front with my kids so I'm not “sneaking around' in their cache. I do believe that they have places that should be private. They have diaries and journals for that but they cannot be read by millions. I do respect their privacy. Their room is private. Our family computers do not go in their room because our family computers belong to the family!

    It is important for them to know that what they do on the Internet is public and does have repercussions. When they go to work, their business will look at what they view and people have lost jobs for spending time on innappropriate sites. We all have accountability whether we like it or not, so I'm sticking by this one.

  8. Visit their classroom sites. If your child's teacher allows them to post in online classrooms and parents are allowed access, subscribe to or visit their sites. Participate. The teacher will be grateful (I always am) and you will be able to view and see what work your child is doing in comparison to other students. You actually become part of the classroom!

    Parent reinforcement is a powerful. You can comment (or e-mail offline) when they do things in their classroom. And, if for some reason, the teacher doesn't understand privacy (or just let something slip, it happens!) then you can point things out.

    I welcome parent and community involvement in my wiki and blogs. I love parent comments! It is a great thing and brings my subject material home, literally!

  9. Discuss things openly with your child. View news reports and magazine articles and talk about the mistakes the children made and look over each of your profiles to see if there is anything you need to edit or change.
  10. Be the bad guy! Look at the shout outs! Friends can post things on your child's page that can compromise their identity security and state things that are untrue. (A private joke about a skinny dipping event that never happened, for example or the date and time of a meeting!) Be the bad guy.

    While thinking about the best way to handle this and help kids, I asked students in my class if they would ever delete a shout out and they said “NO! That would be rude. I would not do it unless my parents made me!

    I remember as a senior in high school that I told my parents about a party and said, “I'm asking you if I can go to this party but I want you to tell me no, OK.” They said no, they were the bad guy, I couldn't go but I saved face. Do this for your children, it is a gift!

    Tell them the shout outs they have to delete. Be the bad guy! And if another child is causing problems on your child's web page, be the really bad guy and require them to delete that “friend” off their myspace. Can this cause problems? Yes, if you are dogmatic and obnoxious, you can turn a simple, tuck in your shirt to a problem. However, if you are open and have a good relationship with your child, they will usually be grateful.

  11. Keep an open line of communication. I have a policy in my classroom and at home that if something bad comes on the screen that they are to leave it there and come get me immediately. Then, I can figure out what it is, why it is there and deal with the problem. I guarantee NO repercussions (as long as they didn't intentionally type it in) as long as they get me the moment it appears. It diverts problems. It opens communications and helps you see if you have problems with malware on your computer.

    All of our computer use is in the den or office. No one, not even me, uses the computer in the bedroom. All of our computer work is open for the public view and that is the way it is. Putting a computer in a child's room is like putting me next to chocolate… way to tempting!

    11B – **I added this later** But, as you know with the blogging thing, changing the title means that you lose all those hyperlinks, so we'll stick with 11B!

    Google your child. Nothing will probably turn up but you never know. Just in case, every once in a while, you should Google your child's name, nickname, city. Combine their name with the city. Potential employers and college scholarship committees will. Even if what turns up isn't your child, if it looks like it is them, it may be a problem. You can even subscribe to a Google “feed” of the search on your child's name. (Here's a tip, put your child's name in quotations and then type + the town. For example, “John Doe” +Anytown)

Your child is a precious, wonderful gift.

Get over the “privacy” thing with looking at your child's myspace and other online accounts. If a predator down the street who has a thing for 12 year olds is looking at her page, you'd better believe that it is your business!

You wouldn't let your child go to the mall in their underwear, why on earth would you let them be seen by millions in a picture in their underwear!

Get over it and get online with your child!
Get a myspace account. Get on your child's friend list. Get your child's e-mail and start using it! Learn to text them that you love them. Learn to use these internet tools and become a part of your child's life.

The consequences are terrible if you do not. If your child is living online it is your job to supervise online!

If this is important to you, then my book that will be coming out soon will be for you. More later. For now, it is time to talk to the kids!

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29 thoughts on “11 Steps to Online Parental Supervision of your Children

  1. I hope that you’ll share what you do with your parents. Don’t forget the netsmartz.org material. It is great! Good luck!

  2. Once again, Vicki, you astound me with the relevance and depth of your insights! As a teacher and mother who was so close to the tragic events the other day here in Montréal, I have been all but incoherent in trying to make sense of this random act of violence that affected so many of us. You can bet I will be showing off your 11 steps at Curriculum Night at my school tomorrow night to the parents. This event has left us all wondering how it could have been prevented – so many issues at hand – bullying, Internet safety, information and media literacy, gun control, campus security – we are left groping for answers. Your 11 steps comes at a critical time when parents will be looking for ways they can be there for their own children. Thank you!

  3. I am kicking off Interet Safety Week in my school system tomorrow, so I am attuned to content such as this.

    A theme I want to weave into the week for families is “Open Doors, Open Conversations.”

    You have listed some good ideas that can serve as conversation starters for families. It has to be a conversation because of family dynamics and because of how rapidly the Internet and its users evolve.

    There is no end point…just stops along the way.

    I have directed my (4) readers to your list 🙂 Much obliged.

  4. As always — you sum it up exactly right.

    I have read the posts on other sites about your blog and want to ask you to please not bend under the pressure. I think you were wise to accept criticism, we all can learn something new. But I applaud you for not backing down on your convictions.

    You ARE doing good — no GREAT — work and I thank you for continually giving us something to think about.

    I Corinthians 15:58!!!

    Jen

    ps — I will share with you sometime about how completelyl ignorant I was when I first got AOL and how I DID travel out of state to meet someone and I was a stupid stupid 38 year old. To be worried for our kids, and protective (sometimes seeming overly protective), never bothers me at all anymore.

  5. Thank you for this extensive list of steps! I just started blogging with sixth graders and I know we are entering into a whole new world for many of the parents. This will be an invaluable resource for me as I guide them (and their children) through the process of learning online safety.

  6. Vicki,

    Thanks for another incredible resource. Our high school is just beginning to implement blogging in several classes. We’d like to incorporate your work into training for our parents. Thanks for all you do for education!

    Nancy

  7. This list can be very beneficial to parents and teachers alike. Alot of times in society today parents are allowing their children to “rule” the home and they have no supervision of what takes place in a child’s room. Kids today spend more time on myspace, aim, and xanga than any other websites and they feel safe about posting whatever comments they want to. However, articles have shown that your boss can fire you, or not even hire you for what has been said on one of these internet sites. I have many friends who like to vent their frusteration on the web and they don’t feel any remorse for what they have said. But many times what they have said has come back to haunt them, not necessarily with regards to a job, but in other areas. Kids don’t realize that they are talking on a world wide web and even if only your “friends” can view your website, it is still available to anyone who knows how to hack in to your site. Parents need to be educating their students on the dangers of the web, but they also need to keep a watch on what their child is doing on the web. Teachers need to be kept informed about the lastest web site or attraction that students are using. The adults in a childs life need to act like adults and take charge.

  8. I think that you are being way too protective and pessimistic. Parents should teach children about online safety and should be involved with their children’s lives, but they should gradually let them make more of their online decisions by themselves.

    Moreover, getting a computer just for your child can greatly increase their technical skills because they aren’t afraid of “screwing up” the family computer and can play around with the system more.

    There are many good people online; not everyone is a “predator” and your decisions as a parent should reflect that.

  9. This just got hit from Lifehacker! Way to go!

    One thing that’s been updated since you first posted it is a service I heard of called Reputation Defender. They apparently help you find all the personal information that your children (and, just as importantly, their freinds) have put all over MySpace, etc. Once they’ve found the content they help to remove it so perps and pervs can’t find your kid’s email address or school or where they play soccer. It’s scary how much stuff they can find!

  10. brucemagnus –
    I’m not sure you read my post. I may be called many things but not a pessimist. If you look in my post I talk about what I call “Progressive internet freedoms” in fact, it permeates what I talk about. This in essence means that you start off will small, private, limited freedoms and move to where a child has a lot of internet freedom. However, starting a child off in the Internet “ocean” without first teaching them to swim is just bad parenting.

    I hope you have a chance to read other posts of mine, for I may be many things, but I’ve never been called a pessimist!

    Parents have different parenting styles — but as I said at the beginning of the article, it all comes down to RELATIONSHIP! With a good relationship you are up front and open with your children!

  11. Love your blog! Found it while setting up my newest teacher blog for my students and parents (and all comers).

    I really appreciate THIS post. I’ve found things similar, but you have so many great ideas here that I’m really glad you posted it all in one place.

    I think I have some similar teaching/parenting styles…

    Thanks,

    Mr. G

  12. To anyone who is trying to keep kids safe on-line, I would like to recommend a new tween novel that is just hitting stores now.

    Dear Jo: the story of Losing Leah and searching for hope is a novel written for tweens and teens that illustrates the dangers of internet predators and internet luring in a sensitive and compelling manner. According to the Manitoba Libarary Association in Canada, “Dear Jo combines mystery, adventure and high emotion while educating young readers at the same time. Kilbourne has provided a public service as well as a great young adult novel. Although aimed at this specific audience, the book has much to offer older teens and also their parents.” For more information on this book or where to buy a copy go to http://www.christinakilbourne.com or http://www.lobsterpress.com.

  13. Great advice for parents and teachers. The more information that is out there on how to be safe online, the better!

  14. Hey, just wanted to say thanks for putting together such a succint, but very comprehensive guide. I think this is a great list of things to keep in mind, and I will definitely utilize it in my future internet teaching endeavours.

  15. I’ve found quite an interesting article Child safety on the internet which summarizes the recent Online Child Protection conference in London. It also includes a quote from Bebo’s chief safety officer, Rachel O’Connell, about what they’re doing to safeguard our children.

  16. I get your point with online safety and all but I think you should lay off your whole idea of “oh my god i need to see everything my kid’s doing” because at one point it gets to be an invasion of privacy. But good tips.

  17. This is a great list! I really think schools should teach things like these because kids are always going on unsafe websites that are inappropriate and teachers and parents should always be aware of that. We’re doing an assignment on internet safety at school and your blog includes some great info! Keep up the good work. =) However, I still think that kids, especially at an older age, should have more freedom and be allowed to be responsible for their own choices.

  18. ling ling — When I wrote this my children were 10 and 11. And if they post something publicly, it is not private. I also forgoe my right to privacy as I allow anyone to check behind me as well. I am not ashamed of anything I do on the Net, neither should they be. Of course, there are different rules as kids get older, but when I hear of fourth graders going on myspace w/ public blogs and making “boyfriends” it makes me mad!

    aldawg-
    AGain, if a child is doing it publicly, it is not an invasion of “privacy” it just means the child is doing things publicly that I know nothing about. Scholarship committees and college admittance committees and job interview committees are making decisions by googling my child. It is my responsibility to know what they are doing publicly online and advise them. It is also something I do to be a part of their lives. I never snoop behind their back, we are very open and talk about everything.

    Angel-

    You and I agree — with responsibility comes more independence. Responsible children should be given more freedoms and that is what I do in my classroom, I actually allow kids to blog publicly! However, if a student behaves irresponsibly they lose that right.

    I always approach my own children with a sense of trust, however, they should know that they are accountable for everything they do as am I. WE must become people that are responsible for what we do.

    Thank you for your input.

  19. You are so right! The problem with the internet is that a lot of parents dont understand it, and therefore cant monitor their children. Parents need to educate themselves on all of the websites that their children are using!

  20. This was very informative and gave many helpful tips with dealing with chidlren and the internet. The internet is full of unsafe things for young children. This will help me as a future teacher and parent. Thanks for sharing!

  21. This post is very helpful to parents. It pays to have a close attention to your children surfing the net. It (internet) has a lot of great things to offer, sad to say, it’s both good and bad.

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