"To help their daughters be active online in safe and healthy ways, parents should
communicate expectations about conduct. Most important are:
Be the same person online that you are in real time.
If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't send it.
Do not use the Internet to hash out conflicts. Use the phone or make a plan to meet in person.
Do not post anything online or via text message that you wouldn't be comfortable seeing on the front page of your local newspaper.
Never post photos of another person without his or her permission."
Author, Odd Girl Out
Here are some ways you can help your daughter find the balance in her relationship with interactive media.
Keep the computer in a family area of the house.
Don't let your daughter keep a computer in her bedroom — she's likely to go online more than you would like. If your older daughter complains that her friends have computers in their rooms, you might say, "If you had a computer in your room, what do you think you'd spend most of your time doing?" And then, "Would this leave you enough time to play with friends?" Whatever she says, however, remember that the decision is up to you.
Preschool (under 5)
Avoid commercial Web sites that market products to preschoolers.
Don't let your preschooler visit commercial Web sites trying to sell her stuff (or get you to buy them). She's too young to understand the connection between what she's seeing on the screen and her real world.
Let her play online in safe, educational ways.
If she's interested, play preschool-appropriate online games that teach counting or letters. Show her how to use the mouse and keyboard, so she can function independently. But don't allow too much screen time, and don't let time online take away from time playing in the real world.
School Age (5-9)
Celebrate the cool things your daughter does online.
Join her when you can! Go online together and do research or play games. As your daughter gets older, you might even IM each other when you need to exchange quick information. Introduce her to computer programs where she can make stuff for school and for fun. And let her teach you.
Know where your daughter goes online.
Check the history in your Internet browser from time to time. If you're concerned she might be a victim of cyber-bullying or engaging in it, some IM programs have ways you can check a conversation's history or read past messages.
Install parental controls, if you think you need them.
Most Internet access can be set with parental controls, and many IM programs can also be set up safely for kids, only allowing certain users to participate.
Middle School (10 and older)
Create an agreement about online use.
Talk about how much time your daughter thinks she should spend using the Internet and mobile devices, and then set a limit that's a reasonable compromise. Parents can participate in the agreement too: Make a pledge to support one another in controlling the urge to be constantly connected. (Turn off that Blackberry!) Some parents even write a contract that their daughter can sign, stating the agreed terms for Internet usage. A sample contract is available at wiredsafety.com.
Help her stay safe.
Talk about the safe places to go — and not to go — online and about keeping personal information private. Instruct your daughter never to post or give out her full name, phone number, home address or e-mail address — and she should never give out any passwords, even to her best friend. She should never agree to meet in person someone whom she's met online. Write a list of safety rules together and keep them by the computer.
Revisit your rules if they get bent or broken.
For example, if you find your daughter has listed her cell number in her "away message," or has put her address on a Web page, talk about why this isn't safe instead of simply reproaching her (but be firm in telling her she has to take it down). Try not to lose your temper — you want her to come to you if something scary happens and to not be afraid to reach out for your help.
Teach her to stand up for herself online.
Help your daughter resist cyber-bullying, whether as a victim or a bully. Encourage her to quit an IM session or e-mail exchange when she feels uncomfortable. Because it's hard to end an online conversation, you might suggest she write words like "I can't be involved in this," or simply, "Gotta go." "Finally, let your daughter know that she can do something positive by doing nothing; that is, she can refuse to forward a message and delete it instead," says Simmons. For more tips on cyber-bullying visit www.rachelsimmons.com or www.cyberbully.org.
Next: Raising a Powerful Girl