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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.

Tweens and the Internet: Setting strict rules

As your children move from pre-school through elementary school and on to becoming fully-fledged tweens, their curiosity will mount and they will start to be exposed to a whole world of outside influences. From playground chatter to sleepovers, from Zack and Cody to High School Musical, your children will rapidly learn that there is a lot of stuff going on out there that they aren't exposed to in the cozy confines of the family home.

Much of this activity will center on the Internet. Whether it's the latest cool web site to visit or a social networking site that everyone at school is on, there will be pressure to push back the frontiers of what's allowed and where they can go. This will no doubt result in conversations that feature lines like "Well, everybody else does it!" or "We were allowed to when I stayed at Ben's house!" (You may remember these conversations from 20 or 30 years ago when you were on the other side. If not, I'm sure your parents can remind you!)

What every parent needs to reduce the number of these mini-confrontations (you will never entirely eliminate them!) is to have a good set of rules in place. Now, these rules are not universal - what suits your children may be very different from what suits your neighbor's children - but having rules in place is essential for your peace of mind and theirs.

Make the rules as strict as you like or as flexible as you like but make them together. Make sure your children understand what each rule means and why it is in place. If a rule is going to be relaxed later - like no Facebook or MySpace pages - tell them when that is likely to be. And make it conditional on them following the rules that are currently in place. Above all, make sure that your children understand they are your family rules, not anyone else's, and you expect them to follow the rules inside and outside the home. If they are going on a playdate or a sleepover, make sure the other parents understand your rules or steer them away from the computer altogether.

Need some suggestions? Here are a few recommendations for establishing guidelines for the 9-12s:

  • Decide when each child can be on the computer and for how long. If you have more than one child, draw up a roster and keep it next to the family computer. You can always "reward" a child with extra sessions if you think it's merited.
  • For younger children, agree a list of web sites that each child can go to. (These can be programmed into parental software controls.) Again, keep it next to the computer. If your child wants to visit a new site, make sure he knows he needs your permission and, if it's OK, it gets added to the list.
  • Share your Internet guidelines with the parents of your children's best friends and the families that they spend the most time with.

And some hard and fast rules for your children to follow:

  • Never give out personal information. No last names, addresses, telephone numbers, birthdays or school info.
  • Let a parent know if you are ever asked for this information.
  • Ask permission before downloading games, movies or other programs.
  • Agree passwords with your parents and write them down next to the computer.
  • Restrict all e-mail to family and an approved list of friends. Never respond to e-mail or instant messages from people you don't know.
  • If anyone says or does something online that makes you uncomfortable or upsets you, tell your parents.

Do you have tween rules that you would like to share with The Online Mom audience? Let us know below.

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