Young kids, Tweens and Teens
Young Kids: When very young children start using a computer, they should be supervised closely by a parent or caregiver. Parents may wish to choose the websites their kids visit early on - and not let them leave those sites on their own. If little kids aren't supervised online, they may stumble onto sites that could scare or confuse them.
When you're comfortable that your young children are ready to explore on their own, it's still important to stay in close touch while they go from site to site. You may want to restrict access to sites that you have visited and know to be appropriate - at least in terms of their educational or entertainment value.
Tweens: During the tween years - ages 8 to 12 - children start exploring more on their own, but that doesn't mean you don't want -or need - to be close at hand. It's important to be with them - or at least nearby - when they're online. For this age group, consider keeping the computer in an area where the child has access to you or another adult. That way, they can be "independent" but not alone.
For younger tweens, parental controls - including filtering or monitoring tools - can be effective. However, many middle school kids have the technical know-how to find a way to get around them. If children aren't already using the Internet for their schoolwork, this is when they're likely to start. It's also when they can discover resources for hobbies and other interests. Many tweens are adept at finding information online. That's often helpful to the rest of the family, but they still need adult guidance to help them understand which sources are trustworthy.
As you consider what your tweens see and do on the Internet, think about how much time they spend online. Consider setting limits on how often they can be online and how long those sessions should be.
Teens: Young tweens are likely to reflect the values of their parents. By the time they age into their teen years, they're forming their own values and beginning to take on the values of their peers. At the same time, older teens are maturing physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and many are eager to experience more independence from their parents.
Teens have more Internet access through cell phones, mobile devices, or friend's computers, as well as more time to themselves. So it isn't realistic to try to always be in the same room as your teen when they're online. They need to know that you and other family members can walk in and out of the room any time, and can ask them about what they're doing online.
It's important to emphasis the concept of credibility to teens. Even the most tech-savvy kids need to understand that not everything they see on the Internet is true, that people on the Internet may not be who they appear to be, that information or images they share can be seen far and wide, and that once something is posted online, it's close to impossible to "take it back."
Because they don't see facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues we rely on offline, teens may feel free to do or say things online that they wouldn't otherwise. Remind them that behind the screen names, profiles, and avatars are real people with real feelings.
When you talk to your teen, set reasonable expectations. Anticipate how you will react if you find out that he has done something online you don't approve of. If your teen confides in you about something scary or inappropriate they've encountered online, try to work together to prevent it from happening again. Since your teen is closing in on being an adult, she needs to learn how to behave and how to exercise judgment about using the net safely, securely, and in accordance with your family ethic.