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Media: Kids and the Web:

My nine-year-old daughter has grown up with computers. She played games on them starting as early as three and four years old. The makers of games for young kids are as devious as those who make their products irresistible to kids via colorful and addictive marketing tactics. It is, therefore, more important than ever to make sure you teach your kids good online habits. Here are some useful rules to live by for kids and computers.

Teach them that the best things on the net are free. If you have to pay to belong to something, it probably isn’t a site that has your best interests in mind. This isn’t always true, of course, as some of the educational sites are paid sites. But many of the most alluring ones will reel kids in with free games but then hook them with better games that cost money. Most kids who pay to belong to a site, especially kids under 10, will soon get bored of the site and thus, waste their (or your) money. Those of us who have been on the Internet for decades now know that the free stuff is the way to go. If you are convinced that your child really will benefit from a paid site, after you’ve checked it out, make sure it offers either a free trial period or else a month-to-month payment, because it’s doubtful it will have enough to occupy them every day for months to come.

Don’t go overboard on the safety. Where kids or adults are concerned, knowledge is power. The more you know the better you can protect yourself. Use a safe filter for Google no matter what but allow them the opportunity of communicating with their international peers. Keep them off of sites like MySpace, which are supposed to only be for teenagers anyway. The essentials for teens are going to be very different from this list but the same basic rule applies to teens: keeping them ignorant to the ways of the net will land them in more trouble than allowing them to trust their own instincts. Kids are naturally curious and it won’t be long before they’ll know the computer way better than you do, if they don’t already. Unless you plan to keep them off of it, you must be there to explain the ways of the world and therefore the net. Teaching them how to deflect “creepy people” online will help them when they encounter “creepy people” in life. Knowledge is power.

Teach them to keep their email private and to not give it out just because someone tells them to. If they do enter their emails, it won’t be long before their inbox is crammed with junk mail and spam. If you teach your kids anything about the net it’s that those pretty, flashy ads that want you to click on them aren’t for clicking, they’re for closing out and avoiding altogether. Advertisers try to get to people any way they can and a click on an ad or a submitted email address is the worst possible way to attract spammers. Once your inbox is infected with spam, it’s very difficult to clean it out. Most of the time you’ll eventually have to switch emails. Gmail is still the best free mail available and most people are opting now for web-based email so that they don’t have to change it every time they get a new provider. If your child doesn’t have Gmail yet, they’ll have to get someone who does have it to invite them.

The bottom line is that the evolution to electronic forms of communication is inevitable. You can only hold it off for so long. Eventually, your child is going to be sitting in front of a computer with endless amounts of curiosity. You must teach them to be confident in their own abilities to know the difference between real stuff and stuff that’s there just to make them buy something. Kids are being bred to consume and to satisfy unhappiness with “things.” It won’t hurt to teach them early that almost everything they see is something someone wants them to buy. Teach them to be discriminating and the rest will fall into place.

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