Computer Safety for Kids and Pre-Teens

Use our 3-step safety plan to help guide the 12 and under set online.

Kids of all ages are using PCs in record numbers. While we want to make sure our children have every opportunity available to them - online and offline - it's equally important to set limits and keep them safe and secure.

Think the places your child visits online are safe? Unfortunately, due to aggressive advertising and stealthy cyber threats, even so-called "child-friendly" sites may carry risks.

So how can you prepare young computer users for wise web use? Follow the guidelines, below, to establish a safety plan that will help to keep your kids protected online.

1. Establish clear limits.

As soon as your child is old enough to go online, create an open dialogue about safe computing habits. Then, make rules together for what they can and cannot do on the computer. Create family rules for:

  • The maximum amount of time spent online per day.
  • Who they are allowed to communicate with.
  • What information is okay to give out, and what is off limits.
  • Content that can be viewed. For younger children, restrict Web use to a few educational and kid-oriented game sites.
  • Downloading programs and files. Always have kids check with an adult before they install anything on the computer.

Once the rules are decided, put them down on paper and keep them by the computer, so they are on hand as a quick reference.

2. Monitor Web use.

In terms of young PC users, providing them with too much privacy on the Internet may not be a wise decision. Due to the dangers that exist on the Web, kids need guidance on what is and is not acceptable online behavior. This means parental supervision is a must.
The following tactics can help:

  • Place the family PC in a shared location, like the living room or kitchen, for more effective supervision.
  • Set up young children with a shared family e-mail address so that you can monitor incoming messages.
  • If instant messaging or social networking sites are used, block anyone not on your child's pre-approved contact list.
  • Oversee e-mail messages and posts to personal profiles or blogs to ensure that private information is not made public.

3. Protect your PC.

Make certain that you have security measures in place on your computer before disaster strikes. With today's threat landscape, you cannot assume that child-friendly sites are free from aggressive ads and malicious content. These sites may have advertisements popping-up regularly or attempt to download programs without your child asking for them. Even mainstream sites are subject to stealthy attack techniques like SQL injections and drive-by-downloads. At the minimum, you should:

  • Install security software (anti-spyware, anti-virus, and a firewall) and keep it up-to-date.
  • Patch your operating system and other applications as soon as updates become available.
  • In Windows, operate under a limited user account, not the all-powerful administrator account.

If you opt for additional measures, like parental controls to block inappropriate websites, keep in mind that this software may not block every bit of unwanted material; nothing replaces the guidance of an adult.