One of the first actions we took when our daughter started to express an interest in online gaming was to institute a Family Internet Covenant. Most kids start using the internet with online gaming. As their peers influence them, they move to increasingly advanced activities such as social networking, chats, instant messaging and phone texting.
As they become more confident on the internet, they start exploring some of the popular sites suggested by their friends. I’m sure you’ve learned for yourself how easy it is to mistype a web address into the browser’s address bar. When you mistype an address you may be inadvertently redirected to an adult content site. Adult content providers purposefully reserve domain names that are very similar to popular web destinations in the hope that you will make such a mistake and go to their site instead of where you actually intended to go. It’s an innocent action on behalf of the computer user but dastardly on behalf of the site owner.
Look at these startling statistics from the InternetSafety.com web site:
- 70% of kids between 8-18 have accidentally stumbled onto a pornographic website, usually while doing their homework
- 79% of unwanted pornography exposure occurs at home
- 64% of teens say they do things online that they don't want their parents to know about
The Family Internet Covenant won’t prevent accidental exposure to bad sites, but it is a powerful first-line communication tool to alert our children to the dangers they face. It fosters an open dialog with parents and helps mature the kid’s sense of responsibility. And don’t think it’s just for the child. It’s a “Family” covenant. Kids watch what mom and dad do and want to be just like us. They imitate our actions and behaviors. We need to practice what we preach and comply with the covenant just as we require them to.
It’s paramount that we establish internet ground rules for our homes. I used “The Game Plan” from InternetSafety.com as the basis for the Font Family Internet Covenant. It is summarized below:
- We will never give out personal information such as our last name, address or phone number. We will not give out the name of our school, our city, our siblings, our sports team or our parent’s workplace.
- We all agree to not give our passwords to anyone outside of our family. I will not change the settings for my computer or my password without my parent’s permission.
- We all agree to limit our online time so that it doesn’t interfere with other activities.
- I will never meet an online friend in person. If anyone ever asks to meet with me off line, I will notify my parents immediately.
- I will tell my mom or dad right away if I come across something that makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will not remain on or click on a page that says, “For Over 18 Years Only.”
- I will only download pictures and files with my parent's permission.
- I will not send pictures of my family or myself to anyone online without my parent’s permission.
- I will be safe everywhere and will follow the same Internet safety rules at my friends’ houses, at school and at the library that I do while I’m at home.
- I understand that nothing is private on the Internet. I agree that my mom or dad can read my mail or check the sites that I have been visiting—not because they don't trust me but because they just want to make sure that I am safe.
This works very well in our family. Both my daughter and I signed the agreement and posted it over my desk near the computer. Modify the content to suit your expectations or add additional points to discuss time limits or penalties for non-compliance. Whatever you do, make it personal between you and your children. Work on it together. Keep the dialog open. They’ll know you love them and are doing your best to guard their hearts. The full text of The Game Plan can be found here.