I have two children, a daughter who is 11 and a son who is 15. What are things that I can do to keep my kids safe while using the Internet and how much time should they be spending in front of a computer screen per day?

— Julie, Twin Falls

Answered by Dr. Kathryn Reese, St. Luke’s Clinic, Pediatrics:

Here are a couple of general thoughts in regard to computer and Internet safety.

One of the most important things you can do at home is to make sure your children are using their computer in a public place, like the family room or perhaps the kitchen. Even if teens are doing research for homework, innocent online searches can lead to sites that aren’t appropriate for them. It is also possible for viruses to be downloaded to your computer just by closing a screen that may inadvertently pop up with a search that wasn’t intended. That is why the public area for teen computer use is important for parents; they can help monitor a potentially dangerous or inappropriate situation.

If your child uses social media or does a lot of online gaming, it’s beneficial for parents to have access to their children’s usernames and passwords. It is essential to know who your child is interacting with, either on social media sites or gaming sites. There are a lot of conversations that go on while your child is online — perhaps even with a video link — so help your child understand the importance of only interacting with people they and you have actually met in person. Befriending friends of friends is not a good idea, again, unless you have physically met them. There are many predators in the virtual world that pose as teenagers and can befriend your child.

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Children should limit their video use to no more than three hours a day, which includes TV, homework on the computer, gaming — anything where you are looking at a screen. Spend some time with your child that does not include TV or Internet use — take a walk with the dog, go on a hike, get outdoors. It’s a great way to continue to bond with your child, even in the teenage years.

Establishing ground rules for computer and gaming use early on with your pre-teens and teenagers is a great way to be clear about expectations and can save many arguments in the future.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Do not stop or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this article. Further, the views or opinions expressed in this article are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily represent those of St. Luke’s. Reliance on any information provided by St. Luke’s, St. Luke’s employees or others supplying information for the column at the invitation of St. Luke’s is solely at your own risk.

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