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Keep Kids Safe Online:
8 Common-Sense Tips

How to Make Online Time Quality Time

If you have kids and the Internet under the same roof, you've probably noticed how inseparable they've become. As a parent of two teenage daughters, I've witnessed firsthand how the web— and all that comes with it— can become a child's digital umbilical cord for fun, schoolwork and social connectivity. But this new conduit to the outside world can bring new worries, and some parents react by pulling the plug -- or never bothering to plug in at all. Other parents flood their kids with all kinds of technology, perhaps in the hopes it will help in finding a job good job someday.

Which approach is best?

The correct answer depends a lot on your own individual circumstances. Based on my own snooping, both in formal studies (see Consumer Reports Web Watch), and many hours hanging around a community technology center, I've discovered that much of what kids do online is quite mundane. How do you turn online time into quality time? Here are some common sense tips:

Bookmark quality sites in advance
Even preschoolers learn that clicking on a keyword can lead to favorite sites, so stock your browser with age-appropriate links.

Play along
There's never been a better time to pick up a second game controller and discover your inner child. Familiarity with a variety of online experiences and games can help you to know what things you should really be worrying about.

Invest in a subscription
Sites like jumpstartworld.com, mynoggin.com, pbskidsplay.com, and preschooltimeonline.com are some of the increasing number of sites that that offer commercial-free content, for about $6 per month. Just make sure you cancel your subscription if your child loses interest.

Be a tour guide first and a police officer second
The combination of a supportive parent and a powerful search engine just can't be topped when satisfying a child's natural curiosity. Show your kids how to find things with simple key words, and then keep the screen within line-of-site to make sure you're comfortable with the results.

Help them become picky information consumers
Point out banner ads to preschoolers, to test their understanding of what they do. Show older children a spam email message and ask them if they really believe you've won a million dollars . Their answers will reveal how well they understand web-based content.

Offer educational options
Download a copy of Scratch to let a child program a game, or have your child help you create a digital photo album with Yahoo's Fickr or Google's Picasa .

Be a snoop (and let your children know you know how to snoop)
Do you know what's on your child's Facebook page? If your child has had a cameo in friend's YouTube video, have you seen the finished product prior to posting? Do you randomly drop in to see what your teenager is viewing or the music she's downloading? It helps to take an "outside in" approach, by searching for your child's work with a common search engine, and helping them understand the irreversible nature of the Internet.

Create a technology-free time
In our home, we've noticed that cell phones, email messages and instant messages can interrupt our family time. Don't be afraid to set limits, asking your child to leave the cell phone in the car for a visit to Grandma's house, or by not taking a call during dinner time.

As a 21st century parent, our job is largely the same as our 20th century parents, who somehow managed to raise us without baby monitors or digital ear thermometers. And we lived to talk about it. It helps to remind ourselves that we all want the best for our kids, and whether it is a web site or a puppy, there will never be a technology replacement for old-fashioned parental support.

Read more about Warren Buckleitner
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