NASP Communiqué, Vol. 33, #4
Expanding Practice: Helping Families Develop a Family Internet Plan
By Brian P. Leung
The introduction of the Internet into the home
has forever changed the use and availability of information for everyone
in the household. A study released by the National Telecommunications
and Information Administration (2002) noted that the amount of time the
average person spent on the World Wide Web increased from 15 hours per
year in 1995 to 160 hours a year in 1999. There is ample anecdotal
evidence that children’s use of the Internet is likely to have increased
even faster than those by adults in a household. Though clear statistics
are not available for children’s usage, the National School Boards Foundation
(2001) indicated that in almost half (49%) of households surveyed, at least
one child uses the Internet. By the time they are teenagers, nearly three
out of four children are online. Teenagers who use the Internet are more
likely to log on at school, while younger children who are online are more
likely to log on at home. It is important that parents assume an active
role in supervising children’s use of the Net.
In contrast to the TV, many parents do not have
a developed knowledge of what is possible via the Net. Moreover, even
where parents have some experience with the Internet, their children often
use it in different ways from the parents. For example, children more
frequently use features like Instant Messaging and Chat, with which the
parents are less familiar (Haddon, 2001). This suggests that many parents
are not in a strong position to influence their children’s use of the Net.
The vast array of information and images available
on the Internet poses potential risks to children (e.g., pornography, dangerous
ideas, predator online). Although the report from NSBA (2001) noted that
parents tend to trust their children’s use of the Internet, school psychologists
can remind parents of these potential risks, and educate them on resources
to aid them in developing a plan for safe use of the Internet at home.
Schools psychologists can provide handouts and/or conduct parent seminars
to begin this dialogue about setting up a Family Internet Usage plan. Such
a plan will especially benefit younger children who are more likely to
log on at home, and provide the foundation for proper Internet use as teenagers.
A family’s unique characteristics and value will
ultimately determine what a family plan might look like. But several themes
emerge from a number of references offering guidelines to help parents
(see list in References), and these can be used in a handout or presented
in a parent seminar by school psychologists.
1) Encourage parent to talk with children about
their use of the Net. Open communication with children allows for ongoing
discussion about Net usage, as well as lays the foundation for future discussion
of other issues important for parenting.
2) Support parents to continually seek advice
and counsel of teachers, librarians, and other Internet and online service
users in the area. Encourage each to share what they’ve learned in future
parent seminars. This process will encourage everyone to maintain up-to-date
information about the Net and other technology.
3) Have parents consider making online activities
a family activity; for example, have the computer in the family room rather
than the child’s room to better monitor activities; or talk as a family
about what one has learned on the Net this week, etc.
the potential dangers online is a good starting point. Since many parents
are not as knowledgeable about the Net, some of the dangers are not apparent
to them. The NSBA report indicated that parents in general are very trusting
of their children in using the Net. It is possible that this trust is
based on a lack of awareness.
2) Provide information about software that is
available for parents to filter out inappropriate sites and to monitor
whom their child communicates with on the Internet so that inappropriate
exchanges are not made. Some examples of such software are Net Nanny (www.net-nanny-software.com), CyperPatrol (www.cyberpatrol.com)
and iProtectYou (www.softforyou.com). Perhaps the parent
seminar can “assign” different parents to research different software and
report on their finding for others.
3) Create a “Family Pledge” for online behaviors
that includes how much time should be spent online, acceptable chat room
topics, and internet etiquette. Discussion should include clear rules
for permissible surfing (browsing through discussion groups or information
sources), removing the child’s access if they engage in hacking (destroying
files or other material on a computer system) or flaming (using
abusive or offensive language on e-mail or chat rooms).
4) Specify clear rules prohibiting giving out
personal information (credit card, school names, home addresses) and arranging
face-to-face meetings with those met online, such as a bulletin board or
chat room. In some cases, teaching children ethical use such as respecting
confidentiality when accessing sensitive data online is important for parents
to undertake. Responsible use of the Net is the desired outcome.
5) Helping older children understand the difference
among facts, biases, and opinions expressed on websites is important to
help them be critical users of information found on the Net (Leung & Hernandez,
Parents should be encouraged to view Internet
access like other privileges for children in the home. Its use is based
on showing responsibility and may be revoked. Once rules are clearly defined,
parents can feel a little more at ease, knowing that their children are
on their way to becoming critical and savvy Internet users.
The Internet has transformed how many people use
and relate to information. As a tool, the Internet has tremendous possibilities
to inform, enrich, and educate children, but it also has potential dangers
especially for children. It is vitally important that parents, who are
often not as technologically savvy as their children, are supported in
guiding their children to use this important tool. School psychologists
can be helpful in assisting parents to assume this responsibility.
Lastly, it is obvious that the benefits obtained
from Internet use will depend greatly on the accessibility of the Internet
for all involved. Thus, it is also important that school psychologists
continue to strive for increased access for all, especially for low income
or culturally and linguistically diverse parents and families.
Web-Based Resources for
Haddon, L. (2001).
Issues in managing children's Internet use. Retrieved at http://www.saferinternet.org/downloads/Haddon.doc
Leung, B. & Hernandez,
S. (2002). Evaluating information on the World Wide Web. CASP
Today, 51(2), 21.
School Boards Foundation (2001). Research and
guidelines for children's use of the internet. http://www.nsbf.org/safe-smart/full-report.htm
of Congress (2002). A nation online: How Americans are expanding
their use of the Internet. Washington, DC: Economics and Statistics
Administration, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Brian P. Leung, PhD, is
on the faculty of the College of Education at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
© 2004, National Association
of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Hwy ##402, Bethesda, MD 20814