Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tip #3: Keep your kids connected

I am a Facebook fiend, an addict, a connoisseur, if you will. I'm hooked on the social interaction, the games, the reconnection with long lost pals... I just love it. And it's not just Facebook. I love blogging, I love podcasts, I love online media, period. I've even been known to tweet on occasion.

My son has noticed my love for all things internet-related, and over the last year, has developed an interest in getting connected with the world wide web.

Of course, my primary thought was, "Is it okay to let an 8 year old roam the depths of the internet? How do I keep him safe?"

Well, apparently, everybody is doing it and it is just high time that I jumped on the "letting my kid play on the internet" bandwagon. Why not? Online interaction and skills are necessary to communicate in our high-tech world. Much like learning to cook or how to read, it is imperative that our children learn how to navigate the internet safely, sanely, and with skill.

At first, I set Ian up with an email address through Gmail and sent an email on his behalf to trustworthy friends and family to get him started. My parents enjoy getting emails from their precious grandchild and love sending him emails, funny pictures, and videos. Ian sends emails back and forth with his friends. It's a great time.

When Ian lost a tooth, the tooth fairy left him a very special coin from the Denver mint. I helped him look up the coin online and we discovered it was a Denver Mint Facility Medal.

For Christmas, I purchased my son a computer on Craigslist. For $100, it was a pretty sweet deal. The computer isn't anything fancy, but it's enough to play flash games, check his email, chat on Facebook, post pictures, play music... pretty much anything an 8 year old could desire from online media. And thus, a gamer was born.

Ian ran with it. I was tired of him trying to play all my Facebook games, so I set him up with his own, HIGHLY RESTRICTED, account, one which I know the password to and can monitor his activities on there. This has led to some interesting lessons on online etiquette, also known as netiquette. I sometimes wonder, if everyone had learned how to behave on the internet from their parents or some other wise soul, would there be so much annoying and ridiculous content floating on the web out there?

Ian has a few websites and browsers, besides facebook, which he loves. Here are six of them:

Club Penguin was created by Disney. Your child can create a penguin avatar to play games, chat with other kids, and engage in other fun activities. Parents can monitor their child's activity with a parent account, and for a small monthly fee, children can get a membership, which opens up more fun and games.

Poptropica is a virtual world in which kids explore and play in complete safety. Kids create a "Poptropican" character to travel the many islands of Poptropica and use gaming literacy to enjoy a narrative that is often rooted in factual history. You can create a parent account with paid membership

Yahoo! Kids has a lot of fun, safe games and videos for kids. It also has a page called StudyZone that links to homework help and educational games. This site also has a parents page, which gives advice on current entertainment, online safety and other kid-related media.

PBS Kids has games and activities from all of your kids' favorite PBS television programming. Most of them have an educational bent, so there's no need to worry about too much mindless web surfing. From here, you can also link to PBS Parents, a great resource for parenting in general.

Nick (for older kids) and Nick Jr. (for younger kids) feature games, videos, and activities from all the Nickelodeon shows. You can also check out Parents Connect, which has advice, tips, and recipes for parents.

KidZui is a safe, fun, kids’ search engine, filter, and online web browser with over 2.5 million parent and teacher approved websites, videos and games. I downloaded this for Ian before he was old enough to navigate the internet with some know-how. It's a great introduction to the web and gives children the freedom to explore on their own safely.

Here are some other websites that kids can play around on without worry:

Kindersite Project
Kids Know It Network
Kid Sites
Fun Brain
National Geographic Kids

For more information on your kids and the internet, check out this free e-book by Aldric Chang.

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