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Safe Web-Surfing Tips from a PBS Kids Expert

01/21/2011 at 10:00 AM ET
Courtesy of Jake Landis/PBS

Is your child on Facebook?

Chances are he’s not, but as our world becomes increasingly more digital, kids are experiencing the Internet at a very young age.

And though it can be great as a quick distraction and even a learning tool, let’s face it — there’s some scary stuff out there.

Luckily, there are easy ways to make your child’s web-surfing experience safe and educational.

“We feel like the most important thing is parent-child interaction,” says Sara DeWitt, vice president of Interactive at PBS Kids. “It should definitely be parent-driven in the beginning.”

DeWitt recommends that parents look for solid websites (like pbskids.org/go) that are a combination of educational and entertaining. “One of the best ways to do that is to look for reliable sources — parents should check sites, networks and brands they’re familiar with, and see what they offer to kids.”

As for what age to introduce your child to the Internet, DeWitt says it depends on his or her development. “How good are their motor skills? Can they engage with technology? Those are some questions you need to ask,” she explains.

And make sure your child isn’t on media overload, either. “Think about the screentime that’s already in your child’s life,” she cautions. “Be sure there’s a balance between the time they’re watching television versus using a computer screen, and activities that are off-screen. After they play online, see if you can move them to an offline game.”

DeWitt says that this generation of parents has a leg up: Since they grew up with the web, they’re as tech-literate as their kids. “For a long time, we had the ‘digital native’ idea with young children,” she shares. “But today’s parents are confident with the Internet, and comfortable with the idea of using it.”

Courtesy of PBS Kids

Still, there are precautions to take: DeWitt reminds parents that people under the age of 13 aren’t supposed to be using Facebook, and adults need to remember that using search engines can sometimes lead to trouble, too. “Kids themselves are very unlikely to use search engines,” she says. “But we recommend parents choose a site that’s safe for kids, then let them naturally navigate through it.”

To teach families more about Internet navigation, PBS recently launched the Digital Citizenship Initiative, based around a game for parents and kids ages 6-9 that teaches privacy and online safety. Check it out at pbskids.org/webonauts.

Kate Hogan

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Showing 4 comments

Sarah on

Ummm… kids use search engines, sweetie.

IMO on

Child? Kid? What are the ages….. Chances are your child isn’t on facebook….no. There are SO many children under 13 on fb. A child near that age is not going to want to be on a PBS kids site. How about…..I don’t know ummmm monitor you childrens activity?

Sarah, I agree. My 8 yr old nephew uses search engines every time he is on the computer.

mrscabrera on

Of course they use search engines, that the first thing they learn to use. They see us looking up stuff, and who hasn’t heard of “just google it”. The best way to monitor your kids is to have safety locks put on the computer itself so only certain sites are searchable (they do it at most jobs), and have the computer in a family area, never in their room. The problem is parents want to give their kids their own computers and they really don’t need a separate one from the the family’s until they are in college or can buy it themselves after working a few summers, but still it must be monitored. My husband seems to have it down pat with blocking things from me..lol, and I been using computers since I was in 10th grade, (1998), so I think I am pretty good with computers.

B.R on

I just can not believe that she didn’t say anything about child protection programs out there. This is just a plug for pbs kids that’s all. You can block sites on a computer from your child also there are programs out there that are made for kids, it allows them internet but only within the scope of the program so if you are learning about frogs only child safe sites about frogs will come up. Also if you really want to know what your children are up to you can install ghost software. It records all key strokes made on your computer, so not only do you know what sites your child has been at but if they were talking to someone and what they were saying. All of our computers have them and we as a family agreed as long as everyone is hones with each other we don’t open the ghost and see what is going on but if my 16 starts skipping school or anything like that his father and I get to look at the ghost program and see what he has been doing, and the same thing goes for my husband and I.

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