DEVELOPING A FAMILY INTERNET PLAN
By Jordan Sim, School Psychologist
The Internet has transformed how many people use and relate to information. As a tool, the Internet has tremendous possibilities to inform, enrich, and educate. A study released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in 2002 noted that the amount of time the average person spent on the World Wide Web increased from 15 hours per year in 1995 to 160 hours a year in 1999. Currently, there is ample anecdotal evidence that children's use of the Internet is likely to have increased even faster than those by adults in a household. In contrast to the TV, many parents may not have a developed knowledge of what is possible via the Net. Moreover, even where parents have some experience with the Internet, their children often use it in different ways from the parents. For example, children more frequently use features like Instant Messaging and Chat, with which the parents are less familiar. Therefore, it is important that parents assume an active role in supervising children’s use the Net. Yet, it also suggests that many parents may not be in a strong position to influence their children's use of the Net.
That’s why a Family Internet Plan is a good idea. Such a plan will especially benefit younger children who are more likely to log on at home, and provide the foundation for proper Internet use as teenagers. A family's unique characteristics and values will ultimately determine what a family plan might look like. But several themes emerge that might be helpful for parents to consider when developing the plan.
· Talk with your children about their use of the Net. Open communication with children allows for ongoing discussion about Net usage, as well as lays the foundation for future discussion of other issues important for parenting.
· Seek advice and information from teachers, librarians, and other Internet and online service users in the area. Ask them what they know to maintain up-to-date information about the Net and other technology.
· Consider making online activities a family activity; for example, have the computer in the family room rather than the child's room to better monitor activities; or talk as a family about what one has learned on the Net this week, etc.
· Outlining to children the potential dangers online is a good starting point (e.g., pornography, dangerous ideas, predators, etc.). Since many parents may not be as knowledgeable about the Net, some of the dangers are not apparent to them. There is software available for parents to filter out inappropriate sites and to monitor whom their child communicates with on the Internet so that inappropriate exchanges are not made. Some examples of such software are Net Nanny (www.net-nanny-software.com), CyperPatrol (www.cyberpatrol.com) and iProtectYou (www.softforyou.com).
· Create a "Family Pledge" for online behaviors that includes how much time should be spent online, acceptable chat room topics, and Internet etiquette. Discussion should include clear rules for permissible surfing (browsing through discussion groups or information sources), removing the child's access if they engage in hacking (destroying files or other material on a computer system) or flaming (using abusive or offensive language on e-mail or chat rooms).
· Specify clear rules prohibiting giving out personal information (credit card, school names, home addresses, etc.) and arranging face-to-face meetings with those met online, such as a bulletin board or chat room. In some cases, teaching children ethical use such as respecting confidentiality when accessing sensitive data online is important for parents to undertake. Responsible use of the Net is the desired outcome.
· Helping older children understand the difference among facts, biases, and opinions expressed on websites is important to help them be critical users of information found on the Net.
· View Internet access like other privileges for children in the home. Its use is based on showing responsibility and may be revoked. Once rules are clearly defined, parents can feel a little more at ease, knowing that their children are on their way to becoming critical and savvy Internet users.
Web-Based Resources for Parents