Because children develop at different ages, there are no hard and fast rules. However, most advisors give common guidelines for different groups of children. You should tailor these to your own child's needs.
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Young children (for example, up to 7)
Always set security and privacy settings as high as possible, both on your browser and on individual websites.
Where possible, sit with your child whenever they are online.
If you are going to let children use the internet without supervision, strongly consider parental control software.
Explain to your child how important it is not to give out personal details.
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Older children (for example, 8-12)
Consider keeping the computer in a common area rather than a bedroom. It can be tricky when your child feels their privacy is being threatened so avoid peering over their shoulder too often. Explain that you don’t want to snoop on their personal conversations, but that you expect to be able to see enough to have a general idea of what they are doing.
Explain the dangers of clicking on links in e-mails or instant messages, particularly from unknown senders.
Talk to your children about what they are doing online: the trick is to show that you are interested without making them feel you are too nosy and they have to keep secrets.
Ask your children to explain how particular websites and software work: don’t be afraid of looking stupid: most children will expect to know more than their parents about technology!
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Make sure your child understands the importance of internet security such as firewalls and anti-virus scanners.
Ask them to use privacy settings on social networking sites so that their details and photographs are only viewable by online friends.
Be as clear as possible about what is and isn’t acceptable for them to do online.
Talk to your children as often as possible about what they are doing online. Try not to make it sound as if you are snooping: make it clear you don’t expect to know every detail, especially of their communications with friends, but explain that you expect to have a general idea of the types of activities they are getting to.
Don’t forget that, no matter how much they might protest, your child doesn’t have a right to a computer or internet access, and make it clear they have to follow your (reasonable) requests about online behaviour.
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Teach your children the Smart rules
This is a set of rules developed by Childnet International which can be remembered with the word Smart. This stands for the first letter of five key words:
Safe – Keep safe by not giving out personal information to strangers.
Meeting – Don’t meet anyone who contacts you online unless your parents are with you.
Accepting – Don’t accept e-mails, files, instant messages or anything else from people you don’t know and trust.
Reliable – Don’t rely on information you find online to always be true, and remember that people who talk to you online may not be truthful.
Tell – Tell a parent, teacher or another adult you trust if you are worried about anything you see online.
If you feel it’s difficult to monitor your child’s online activity because you don’t understand technology, explore whether local colleges offer adult IT classes. Some of these concentrate specifically on the internet and may even be aimed at parents.
Make sure your child knows how to block communications from other users of their e-mail, chatroom or social networking sites and how to report any unwanted or inappropriate attention to the relevant content provider.
Many parents worry about keeping their children safe online, In a three-part series we look at the truth about dangers children face on the internet, security packages which can filter unsuitable content, and guidelines for protecting your children.