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WebMD Expert Discussion: Are Your Kids Ready for Cyberspace?

Most of today's moms and dads went through their childhood years in a world without the Internet. But today's digital generation can be connected to an entire online world, 24 hours a day if they want. How can we keep our children safe while they're online?

Shielding them from the Internet isn't the answer, says WebMD guest parenting expert Tanya Altmann, MD, in the online discussion about Healthy Family Routines. Kids will find it and use it with or without you. So it's better that your digital kids learn their way around today's technology with parental guidance. Teach online safety just as you'd teach kitchen safety or how to cross the street.

Altmann has a few tips for ensuring your kids aren't wandering into dangerous neighborhoods in the online world:

  • Set up your computer in a shared area of the house. No private browsing for kids.
  • Go online with them. Don't treat the computer as a babysitter.
  • Bookmark appropriate sites for your kids.
  • Teach your children the same safety rules you'd teach for strangers in the “real” world: don't give out your name, address, or any other personal information online. Make sure they know that there really is no such thing as online privacy.
  • Set screen time limits. Altmann recommends an hour on weekdays and two hours on weekends.
  • Make sure they know that they can come to you if they stumble across something that upsets them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has an excellent set of guidelines for kids' cyber safety at http://safetynet.aap.org/.

One woman shared an experience that many parents dread. She caught her son and his friend browsing through racy videos on YouTube. After grounding him and taking away screen privileges, she asked the community how she can discuss with him what he saw.

Altmann says the mom's experience underscores the importance of setting online rules. It's harder for kids to surf through videos of half-naked girls if the computer is in Mom's line of sight. Once the online rules are implemented, she says it's definitely important to talk with your child about why such videos aren't allowed. “Perhaps he has questions about sex, his body, or his sexuality. Let him know he can come to you with such questions. Be open and honest about your personal values and beliefs,” Altmann advises.

How do you keep your family safe from online dangers? What rules do you have for letting children use the Internet in your home?

Discussion led by Tanya Altmann, MD Guest Expert
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Guest Expert What is a guest expert?

Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, is a best-selling author, a working mother, and a UCLA-trained pediatrician, practicing in Southern California.

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