On Psychology

Jewish World Review June 30, 1999 /16 Tamuz, 5759


Dr. Wade Horn

Enforce House rules on Youth Using 'Net

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: I have been worried about how much time my 13-year-old son is spending on the internet. The fact that the two killers in Littleton, Colorado, spent a lot of time on the internet has only heightened my concern. Do you have any advice for how I should manage my son's access to the internet?

A: One of the most important things that parents of adolescents must do is to monitor their teenagers. Studies consistently show that teens who have parents that monitor them closely -- know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing -- are less likely to become involved in high-risk behaviors, such as drinking, using illegal drugs, and being sexually active.

One of today's challenges to this "prime directive" for successfully parenting is the internet. While the internet can be a wonderful tool for communicating and information gathering, it also contains many dangers for teens, including easily accessible pornographic, hate-filled, and violent sites, as well as adult child molesters masquerading as friendly peers.

Econophone Consequently, it is very important that parents monitor their teen's use of the internet while at the same time affording them the opportunity to utilize the benefits of the world wide web. Here's some advice for doing so adapted from my recent book the Better Homes and Gardens New Teen Book :

Become an internet pro yourself. I know. You're still trying to figure out how to program your VCR. But if you are going to be successful in monitoring your teen's use of the internet, you're going to have to learn how to navigate the web yourself. A good time to start is when you first establish internet access from your home computer. If your teen is already surfing the net, go take a course. Arm yourself with knowledge.

Set a good example. Once you know how to surf in cyberspace, make sure you model good internet behavior. If your teen sees you accessing adult sites or using foul language in chat rooms, they only come to see that as appropriate internet behavior. And don't think you can hide this sort of thing from your teen. He probably already knows (or can find out) how to search your computer's hard drive to determine what you've been up to on the internet. Don't put yourself in the position of being a hypocrite.

Place the computer in a family living area, not in your teenager's bedroom. Too many parents allow their teens to surf the net in private. But that's when trouble is likely to happen. Having to use the computer in a public area when accessing the web helps reduce the likelihood your teen will explore sites he knows are inappropriate or in violation of family rules.

Limit the hours that your teenager can be on the internet. If your teenager is exploring the internet 3 a.m., he may be more inclined to experiment with accessing inappropriate sites. In addition, the later the hour, the more likely it is that dangerous adults will be attempting to contact unsuspecting teens and younger children. Restricting the hours your teen can be on the internet will greatly reduce the risk that he will be involved in things on the net that you don't want him to be involved with.

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Do not allow your teen to access unsupervised chat rooms. Here's where real danger lies. Anyone can log onto a chat room and disguise their true identity and purpose. Even monitored and supervised chat rooms can pose dangers in that predators, posing as a teenager, can acquire your teen's e-mail address. It is best to allow your teenager to participate in "chats" with people they already know.

Use search engines that filter out adult and other inappropriate websites. Unfiltered search engines can result in a teenager innocently stumbling upon a pornographic or hate inspired website. Often these sites will use innocent sounding search words, like "doll" or even "puppies," to direct traffic to their websites. Make sure your teenager uses search engines that filter out this kind of garbage. Some, like SearchHound and Lycos SafteyNet, provide filters that only allow access to sites appropriate for kids. Yahoo!, one of the most popular search engines, now provides a child version called Yahooligans!

Trust, but verify. Every once in a while, you should check the files that have been downloaded by your computer's internet browser. Some software programs, like Net Nanny, provide detailed reports as to what sites your computer has visited. Let your teenager know in advance you are going to do this, which will help them resist the temptation to go where they know they ought not go.

Don't allow your teenager -- or you -- to become an internet addict. The internet can be a valuable tool. It should not become a lifestyle. Limit the overall amount of time your teenager (and you) can spend on the internet on a daily or weekly basis. Encourage your teen to engage in old-fashioned activities, like reading and sports, that don't require a computer.

Have a good relationship with your teen. In the end, the most important protection you have against the dangers of the internet is not a filtered search engine, but a good relationship with your teen. Teens who have trusting and close relationships with their parents are less likely to get into trouble in any domain, including the internet. So don't be fooled into thinking that a filtered search engine can do for your teen what only you can do -- provide your teen with loving, involved, and accessible parents.


JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR

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© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn