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Low-Tech Parental Controls for Internet Behavior

My kid is getting out of control on the internet. He’s erasing the history, and he knows all the passwords on our PC. What can I do?

The more computer savvy the kiddies get, the harder it’s getting to enforce the First Rule of Internet Parenting: Kids don’t cruise the web without at least occasional supervision by a human being. I’ve gotten more questions like this in the last two weeks than I care to consider.

I have some good news. For those of you who are comfortable with advanced tips and very, very good at remembering passwords, you might try locking down [1] your system and changing the passwords periodically.

For the rest of you, here are some very simple no-tech/low-tech things you can do to regulate your kids’ use of the computer:

1. Set some ground rules. Tell your kids what is allowed, what isn’t, and what the penalties will be if they get caught visiting places they shouldn’t, erasing the history, or otherwise abusing their internet privileges. Include non-internet-related penalties and encourage them to tell you if they got misled by an innocent-looking link. It can happen to anyone.

2. Keep the computer with net access in a high traffic area of the house. No child needs a computer with web access in their room. Would you let them wander any major city unsupervised? The web is like the largest city in the world. Also, let babysitters know that the kids aren’t allowed on the computer without in-room supervision.

3. Use checking in as a way to get to know your kids. Yes, you should stop by at least once every half-hour and be sure that they aren’t ogling anything they shouldn’t or finding their way into adult environment chat rooms. No, that doesn’t mean getting accusatory as you check on them. Ask if they’ve found anything neat today, what they’re reading, if they’re doing homework, or if they’re starting early on their Christmas list. If you make this a chance to find out what your kids are interested in, these conversations can help you strengthen your relationship. If they don’t ever want to tell you what they’re doing or you see windows closing every time you walk by, closer supervision and more doubt might be a good idea.

4. Check the history [2] periodically for your own piece of mind. Hopefully, that will make following suggestion #3 a little easier.

5. Make sure your kids have enough real-world entertainment. If you even occasionally wonder if your child is PC-addicted, it might be time to take some family time together. Hike, play ball, walk the dog, do crafts, go fishing, get a head start on this year’s science fair, write a story or read together (my family would read a new book together in the car every year during our summer vacation), or get involved in whatever your kids already like to do. School clubs, art lessons, local park programs, and sport teams are also good ways to channel excess time or energy and make real-world friends.

6. Limit the amount of time they spend on the internet. If they have limitless time, they’re more likely to go exploring into adult areas. Kids shouldn’t sit at a desk all day in school and then sit in front a screen all night. This is probably true for the television as well.

Finally, I’ve had a lot of letters where a kid’s persistence has his parents tearing their hair out. If your child’s behavior is truly out of control, there are more drastic low-tech things you can do.

1. Yank the plug, for starters. I mean yank the computer’s plug (or modem line) right out of the wall. Don’t let them have internet access time that isn’t related to a school assignment. Stay in the room with them. If they’re getting online when you’re not home or awake, unplug the computer and store the plugs (or the mouse, keyboard, etc.) in your bedroom or car.

2. Talk to a professional, and I don’t mean your company’s IT guy. Kids, just like adults, can get addicted to the internet in an unhealthy way. If you really cannot control internet-related behavior, look seriously at family or child counseling. The natural struggle for control only gets harder (and covers more ground) as they turn into teenagers. If they’re already sure that they can do as they please in one area, you may be in for a hard time unless you find a better way to handle disciplinary issues.

3. Replace the internet with healthy real-world entertainment. Yes, I said it before. It’s worth mentioning twice.

~ Chris Fisher