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!

    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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