When a child is using your computer, normal safeguards and security practices may not be sufficient. Children present additional challenges because of their natural characteristics: innocence, curiosity, desire for independence, and fear of punishment. It would be helpful if you consider these characteristics when determining how to protect your data and child.
You may think that because the child is only playing a game, or researching a term paper, or typing a homework assignment, they can't cause any harm. But what if, when saving their report, the child deletes a necessary program file? Or what if they unintentionally visit a malicious web page that infects your computer with a virus? These are just two possible scenarios. Mistakes happen, but children may not realize what they've done or may not tell you what happened because they're afraid of getting punished.
Online predators present another significant threat, particularly to children. Because the nature of the internet is so anonymous, it is easy for people to misrepresent themselves and manipulate or trick other users. Adults often fall victim to these ploys, and children, who are usually more open and trusting, are easier targets. Another growing problem is cyberbullying. These threats are even greater if a child has access to email or instant messaging programs, visits chat rooms, and/or uses social networking sites.
Be involved - Consider activities you can work on together, whether it be playing a game, researching a topic you had been talking about (e.g., family vacation spots, a particular hobby, a historical figure), or putting together a family newsletter. This will allow you to supervise your child's online activities while teaching them good computer habits.
Keep your computer in an open area - If your computer is in a high-traffic area, you will be able to monitor the computer activity more easily. Not only does this accessibility deter children from doing something they know they're not allowed to do, it also allows you to intervene if you notice a behavior that could have negative consequences.
Set rules and warn about dangers - Ensure your child knows the boundaries of what they are allowed to do on the computer. These boundaries should be appropriate for the child's age, knowledge, and maturity. Still they may include rules about how long they are allowed to be on the computer, what sites they are allowed to visit, what software programs they can use, and what tasks or activities they are allowed to do.
Monitor computer activity - Be aware of what your child is doing on the computer, including which websites they are visiting. If they are using email, instant messaging, or chat rooms, try to get a sense of who they are corresponding with and whether they know them.
Define the types of websites or games they can access and why they are appropriate or not. It is especially important for younger kids as they will want to play the latest games, not realizing the adult themes and content involved. The danger here is not just the games themselves but who your children can end up interacting with without you knowing. For example, if a younger child plays an online game with mainly older teenagers, that younger child could be bullied or exposed to inappropriate behavior.
Keep lines of communication open - Let your child know that they can approach you with any questions or concerns about behaviors or problems they may have encountered on the computer.
Consider partitioning your computer into separate accounts - Most operating systems give you the option of creating a different user account for each user. If you're worried that your child may accidentally access, modify, and/or delete your files, you can give them a separate account and decrease the amount of access and number of privileges they have.
Consider implementing parental controls - You may be able to set some parental controls within your browser. For example, Internet Explorer allows you to restrict or allow certain websites to be viewed on your computer, and you can protect these settings with a password. To find those options, click Tools on your menu bar, select Internet Options, choose the Content tab, and click the Enable... button under Content Advisor.