Safety By Age
12 to about 14:
This is the time when many kids become very social and when they are most likely to be interested in online chat. Go over the basic privacy rules with your kids to be sure they understand never to give out information about themselves or to get together with anyone they meet online without first checking with their parents. Also, emphasize the importance of never exchanging photographs with people they don't know. At this age they need to understand clearly the fact that people on the Internet may not be who they appear to be.
This is also an age where many children start expressing interest in sexual matters. It is natural for them to be curious about the opposite (or even same) sex and not unheard of for them to want to look at photos and explore sexual subjects. During this early exploratory period, it is especially important for kids to know that their parents are around and aware of what they are doing. You may not need to be in the same room as your kids the entire time they're on the Net, but they do need to know that you and other family members can walk in and out of the room at any time, and will ask them about what they are doing online.
Don't be alarmed if they are interested in exploring sexual material. How you manage this, of course, depends on your own view of such material. It's important, however, to be aware that some of the materials they might find on the Internet are different -- and more explicit -- than some of the magazines that may have been around when you were that age. If kids search hard enough, they can probably find Web sites and newsgroups that explore sexual fantasies that they -- and even you -- might find disturbing or even frightening. This is probably the strongest argument for Internet filters but it's also an argument for close parental involvement, reinforcing your family's values, and creating a climate of trust and openness between parents and children.
Children at this age are likely to be interested in games that they can download from the Internet to play either online or offline. Some of these games may have content that parents feel is inappropriate, so it's important to be aware of what your kids are doing on the computer, even when they're not connected to the Internet. Monitoring software may help you in this effort.
This is also a period when many parents choose to speak with their children about sexual matters. It may be a good idea to think about how you might react if you discover that your child has visited places on the Internet that you feel are inappropriate.
You can use filtering and monitoring software at this age, but you may start to run into some resistance. What's important is that you are honest with your kids and that they know what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you use filtering software, for example, you need to explain to them that you are doing it to protect them from material that you consider to be harmful. Just as you might not let them go to certain places in your community, you are exercising your parental right to keep them from surfing to certain types of places in cyberspace.