Some parents feel ambivalent about monitoring their children's online activities closely because of the privacy implications of "snooping" on another person's digital life. Given the risks posed by predators and the psychological damage of online bullying, you owe your child the vigilance necessary to protect her digital safety, without smothering her interests and budding sense of autonomy. Along with guarding family privacy and security, protect your child from computing's health risks as well.
The simplest way to reduce some of the threats your child can face lies in where you set up the computer itself. Choose a shared area with walk-by visibility that enables you to see her activity and protect her from the hazards she could encounter if she wanders into a chat room or strays across inappropriate sites or content. Don't be afraid to set hard boundaries that limit where your child can go on the Web and what she can do while she's there. Along with a clear, well-enforced set of rules, install monitoring software that enables you to block access to adult entertainment, hate groups and venues that don't meet your parental standards. The same monitoring rules should govern her email use and the files she shares with other people. Your involvement can teach her to think more than twice before she sends a photo, tells a stranger she's home alone or builds a relationship with someone she doesn't know in real life.
Online "friends" don't always meet the tests of true friendship. By checking your child's interactions and verifying that her digital companions qualify as age peers from her real social circle, you limit her risk of encountering a wolf in sheep's clothing. False friends form only part of the online list of interpersonal risks, however, as some of the bullying tragedies that dominate news coverage start with problems between children who know each other at school or play. Encourage her to talk about her social media involvements. Check for signs of changes in mood or behavior that coincide with computer use, and step in to counter bullying. You can maximize your watchfulness in nonthreatening ways by signing up for accounts on the same services your child uses.
A Healthy Balance
The online threats from which you protect your child are not the only risks from which you need to shield her. Glued to the keyboard and monitor, she may be expanding her knowledge and technical skills, but she’s also reducing the amount of activity she engages in regularly. Limiting her daily computing time enables you to encourage her toward exercise and activity—healthful counterpoints to playing computer games, checking social-media status and even conducting research for homework. Use commonsense flexibility so she can complete big assignments, and make age-appropriate rules adjustments. She may push your limits, but she'll have plenty of opportunities to set her own standards when she gets older.
Computing places the human body in often-unnatural positions that can cause repetitive strain injuries, back pain and headaches. Just as you limit how long your child can use the computer in a given day, place limits on how long she can use it without getting up and moving around the room to take a break. To limit the stress computing places on her body, check the ergonomics of the location in which you set up the system to assure that she can sit with both feet on the floor or a foot stool, and keep her arms and hands in relaxed positions that place her elbows at right angles.
Photo Credits: Heidi Monner/Demand Media
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