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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Outside the family home

When your child is young, you can easily control what he or she watches or plays with. You control the remote, the mouse and the console.

But as children grow, their world expands. They visit grandparents and other relatives; they go on play dates with school friends; they hang out with the kids down the block. All of a sudden, they're no longer under your watchful eye 24/7. How can you make sure they're not exposed to something inappropriate?

Although there are many different influences in a child's life, the constant presence of technology has raised the stakes. Now when our kids visit other people's homes, we're not just worried about them eating too much candy or staying up too late!

The rules of the road

If your child is invited on play dates and sleepovers, make sure he plays by your rules. Teach him what TV channels he can and can't watch. Teach him that the rules for the computer at home also apply elsewhere: no Internet without adult supervision, and only his approved list of web sites. Remind him that cell phones, MP3 players and other gadgets are not toys and should be treated with respect.

Keep the lines of communication open. When he comes home, ask what he did. Praise good choices and discuss questionable ones. Encourage him to let you know if he saw or heard anything that made him uncomfortable - whether it was pictures, language, or anything else.

Share your rules

Talk to the parents of your child's friends about their media habits. What sites are their children allowed to visit? What video games can they play? Share your child's limits. Let them know that you don't allow computer use without supervision, and tell them which sites and games are appropriate. Ask if they use filtering software or parental controls.

Not getting the answers or the reassurance you need? Switch the play date to your house instead.

Harder still may be enforcing rules within your own family. Grandparents often find it hard to say no, and they usually have far less experience with computers, video games and other technology. Tactfully remind them what your kids can and cannot do.

Be consistent

Above all be consistent. If you maintain consistent limits on technology at home, it's so much easier for your kids to stick to them when they're away.

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