Ask the Experts: How Do I Manage My Child's Access to Internet When She's at a Friend's House?

How do I set Internet boundaries and keep my child safe from inappropriate or traumatic content, even when they're not at home?

Q: I’d like advice on managing access to Internet content when my 9-year- old daughter is at friends’ homes. She has already experienced inappropriate (and traumatic) content. I ask about this before dropping her off, but it’s often awkward.

A: I have good and bad news for you. The bad news is that we lose control once our kids leave our house. The good news is that kids want (and eventually need) to monitor themselves. Appeal to your child’s growing maturity by discussing family Internet rules ahead of time and often. 

  • Age-appropriate expectations may include:
  • Don’t take your/our device to school, friends’ homes or events without permission from me/us and the hosts.
  • Your friends can’t access the Internet/go online when they are with us unless their parents have cleared it beforehand.
  • I/we expect you to be respectful, kind and cool. Don’t do or say things online that you wouldn’t in real life.
  • When you have questions about your body, your health, sex or love or anything, ask me/us before asking the Internet. If we don’t have the information, we will help you search safely.    

Balance trust and supervision. Tell her you believe she’s old enough to learn about making good choices. Make it clear that anyone who encourages rule breaking doesn’t have her best interests in mind.

Create and practice refusal skills and escape hatches with your child, trying out dialogue such as: “My parents monitor me, and we cannot look at that — I’ll never see my phone again!” or “I’m way over my media limit today; let’s do something else.” 

When a friend looks at something scandalous, help your child practice saying: “Gross. Why would I want to see that?” or suggesting they watch a favorite YouTube video instead. 

Pick a code word or phrase that signals that your child wants to end the visit. Your child texts/calls and says, “I forgot to feed the dog” or “Don’t forget to TiVo the game” and then you summon her home.

Our children will be exposed to things neither they nor we want to see. Prep your child with short, casual conversations about cyberbullying, pornography, requests from people for nude selfies, identifying information that should be kept private, hate speech and viruses. This lessens the trauma when these things do occur.

Take pride in seeding change! Good job and good luck!


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