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Kids & Internet Safety: Put the Computer in a Public Room

Since I do research on kids and the Internet, folks often ask me about Internet safety for kids. My student Sarita Yardi is studying how parents cope, and finding that they are struggling. There aren’t simple rules.  Parents are legitimate gatekeepers for what sorts of things kids and teens are exposed to, and the Internet can often take the parent out of the loop.

The Internet has lots to offer kids, and you can’t just take it away. They need it for school, they’ll need it for their careers, and they need parental guidance to learn how to use it responsibly. Even the most involved parents can’t watch what their kids are doing every moment. You need to talk with your kids about responsible Internet use, and create a culture of accountability in the home.  Parenting Internet use is a microcosm of parenting in general, with the difficulty level turned to 11.  While there are no easy answers, there is one golden rule:

Put the computer in a public room in the house.

You have to learn to trust your kids–no doubt about it. You won’t always be there, and what matters is what happens when you’re not watching. But while their judgement is maturing, a little deterrence can go a long way. OK, you’re busy in the kitchen–but you just might walk through the family room and look over their shoulder. They shouldn’t be doing anything they wouldn’t want you to see.

Laptops are a terrible idea for kids. We will be getting our sons laptops as high-school graduation presents.  And in the meantime, our computer will remain in the dining room.  This doesn’t solve all problems–we did find a certain small boy using the computer once in the middle of the night. But he lost all computer use for two weeks for that escapade, and he won’t be making that mistake again.  Accountability is the first step towards independent responsibility. And visibility of behavior supports the growth of accountability and good judgement.

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  1. January 6, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I think this advice works for younger kids. Some of the time. The thing is, “put the ipod in the living room” just doesn’t work. Computing devices are increasingly small, portable, and personal. Can I help a 15-year-old learn to act responsibly in a world of mobile computing from a desktop in the living room? We haven’t even had a desktop in our house in years, for that matter, it went with the landline a long time ago… and that’s NOW. By the time Ian is 15 (he’s 2 now), I expect he’ll have access to the Internet on devices and in contexts I can’t anticipate. I think a missing part of the solution lies in devices and software that are well designed to facilitate parenting (and I don’t mean spying :).

    • January 6, 2012 at 10:41 am

      I completely agree. And I think ideas from Erickson & Kellogg’s concept of “social translucence” will be central to a more workable environment for both parents and kids.

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