She may still be mastering her ABCs, but chances are your preschooler can find her way around her favorite website better than you can. Check out our tips for keeping your littlest Web-surfers safe:
- Don’t Be a Stranger You might let your 5 year old play in the yard on his own, but you wouldn’t let him run around the neighborhood unsupervised. The same logic applies now. Keep home computers in common rooms of the house, and be nearby when your child is online. Visit his favorite websites together and ask him to show you what games and other activities he likes to play.
- Explore Filtering Programs and Kid-Safe Browsers Many internet providers offer filtering programs for parents that allow you to “white list” the sites your children can access. You can also download browsers like KidZui or KIDO’Z that are preprogrammed with links to “safe” sites, as well as games and other features. Most browsers in this category allow you to add sites you’ve okayed to the pre-approved list. Alternatively, you can purchase filtering software from brands like Net Nanny, MacAfee, and Norton.
- Visit Their Virtual Worlds It may seem impossible that the same kindergartner who refuses to call her grandmother on the phone could be “social networking” on the Web, but if she visits virtual worlds like Webkinz, Build-A-Bearville, or Club Penguin Island, that’s exactly what she’s doing. If your child isn’t reading yet, she’s probably just playing games, but it’s a good idea to understand chat for kids even at this stage. Most kids’ sites have variations on two kinds of chat: “scripted” or “canned” chat (where kids communicate by choosing from a selection of pre-scripted phrases) and “open” chat (where kids can type in anything they want, but offensive or personal words and phrases will be blocked by the site’s filter).
- Explain the Difference Between Ads and Content Just like commercials on TV, online advertisements are a fact of life on most websites, and kids’ sites are no exception. But unlike adults, kids can’t always distinguish what’s an ad and what’s an actual website feature. Show your child what typical website ads look like, and demonstrate how to click the “x” if they encounter a pop-up that blocks the content they were interacting with.
- Keep Private Information Private Help your preschooler understand that he should never share any personal information when he’s online, like his real name, address, phone number, email address, or password. Help her understand that those things belong to her and are private, and they should only be shared with people you approve in advance.