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In the last few weeks, the 4th grade class was blessed with their Catlin Gabel email accounts. Not only does this allow your student to communicate via another medium it also gives them the opportunity for added responsibility. With enough preparation and planning children can learn to use the internet in safe and productive ways.

Transparency is of utmost importance when talking about the internet and/or computer usage with children. Regardless of what boundaries you decide are appropriate for your family, complete informed consent is important for all family members. Let your children know that you will be periodically checking their conversations over email and that you will be checking the history on the computer browser. The second most important component of establishing boundaries around internet usage is consistency of structure. No matter what you decide, make sure the rule applies at all times with no exceptions. The final component for setting up internet guidelines is to start early! The younger your children are when you set up these family internet rules the better. Normalizing such guidelines will make it easier for them when they reach adolescence and are given more online freedom. Be sure to let your children know the timeline and that these rules can be reviewed and more freedom maybe granted when you feel its appropriate based on their trustworthiness and maturity level. Here are some general internet usage tips for home.

1.Transparency. It is important to be completely up front with your children about the fact that you want to know what they are doing and where they are going when they are on the internet. Tell them you are monitoring their usage to ensure they learn to make the right choices.

 2.Understand what your child is doing. In addition to monitoring your child’s internet behavior, you should also work to understand what your child’s activities are. Find out what they are doing online and why they are doing it. The more you know what your child is doing and the more you discuss it, the better the chances that your child will trust you and share his/her online life with you. This is the time to build that foundation of trust while your child is just beginning to explore online life.

3.Locate the computer in a public place. The computer they work on should be in a public place of the house at all times. This allows you to casually view what they are viewing. Children who have laptops and have access to wireless connections should never be allowed to use their laptops alone in their bedrooms. Limit online access to times when parents are around.

4.Teach your children to never give out personal information. This includes his/her name, the names of friends or family, address, phone number, school name (or team name if he/she plays sports). Personal info also includes pictures and e-mail addresses. Children should ask permission before sharing any information online. Passwords are secrets. Your child should never tell anyone except a parent or guardian his/her password.

5.If it doesn't look or feel right, it probably isn't. Trust your instincts and teach your kids to trust theirs. While surfing the Internet, if your child finds something that they don't like, makes them feel uncomfortable or scares them, make sure they know to turn off the monitor and tell an adult.

6.Know all user names and passwords for your child’s email account. Let your child know that you will have access to their email and that you will periodically review what they are sending and receiving.

7.Restrict your child from using web-based emails accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, etc). Access to these types of email accounts prevent you from being in control. They have the power to change their passwords which could prevent you from viewing what they are sending and receiving.

8.Review internet history often. Let your child know that you will be reviewing the history of websites they are visiting. You should know where your child is at all times, in the real world as well as the virtual world.

9.Use online filtering systems to help your family avoid unwanted websites. Google Safe Search is such a tool and can help reduce the amount of inappropriate websites returned in a search.

10.Discuss email etiquette. Teach your child respect for the internet and email. Email can create an imaginary buffer between people and the real world. Children should be taught that how we speak to someone in real life should be the way they communicate in email.

11.Establish home rules for internet safety with your child and post them next to the computer. Discuss what the rules are and consequences of not adhering to those rules. Ideas for rules can be the amount of time spent on the Internet, time of day your child is allowed to be online, use of certain websites, downloading software, personal information that can be posted, what to do when coming across inappropriate material.