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At What Age Should a Child Have Unsupervised Internet Use?

by Rebekah Richards

Although the Internet provides many opportunities for education and social interaction, unsupervised or careless Internet use can put children at a higher risk for online bullying, identity theft, sexual predators and other hazards. Most experts recommend always supervising your child's Internet use while also teaching him the reasons behind the rules.

Supervision Recommendations

Place computers in common areas of the house rather than in a child's bedroom and establish times of day children are allowed to go online. Set rules about what children can and cannot do online, such as participating in chat rooms, uploading photos, making purchases and joining social networks. Check that they are following rules by periodically looking at their browsing history, email, text messages and recycle bin. In addition, encourage children to let you know if they see something online that makes them uncomfortable.

Teaching Internet Awareness

If older children and teens don't understand the rationale for your family's Internet rules, they'll find ways around them, according to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General. So talk with your family about the consequences of talking to strangers online or giving out too much personal information. Children should know how even small amounts of personal information can identify them to strangers, be used to embarrass them, or even be used to steal their identity or help an identity thief take out a loan in their name. Role-playing can also help children and teens learn to respond to inappropriate solicitations, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension.

Considerations

A child's age and maturity also influence how much supervision he needs. For example, a responsible teenager might be ready to have a data plan on his phone and a laptop you check infrequently, while a 10-year-old might be restricted to an hour a day on a family computer located in a supervised space. In addition, talk to children about what they like to do online and spend time on their favorite websites. However, don't stop supervising children or rely on filtering or monitoring software to keep your family safe.

Warning Signs

Children who become secretive about their Internet use and quickly change the monitor when you come in the room may be at risk for dangerous behavior. Other warning signs include phone calls or gifts from strangers, downloaded photos of strangers, excessive time spent online and pornographic images on the computer, according to the San Diego County District Attorney. If you are concerned about your child's safety, call the police and do not use your computer.

About the Author

Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

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