Just as you would teach a preschooler how to cross the street and a teenager how to drive, children need guidance on navigating the online world safely and responsibly.
After all, the potential consequences of reckless behavior can be just as damaging to a child's reputation, mental or physical health, or future life opportunities. Creating a family contract that defines the expectation and rules of online and technology use is a good place to start.
Stephen Balkam, chief executive officer of the Family Online Safety Institute, says such a document should be a conversation starter.
"As early as your kids can read and write" is when you should formalize the lessons about being a responsible digital citizen, he said.
"We're giving younger and younger children more powerful mobile devices," Balkam said. A contract gives them a way to begin to negotiate this digital world.
We examined various models of contracts online and have compiled a sample document for a young child and a teenager. Each is a starting point and can be amended to suit your family's needs.
The start of the school year is chance to review and gather everyone's signatures. Keep the contract handy, in a visible place near the computers in the home.
1. I will be respectful to myself and others, and never post rude, threatening or offensive things.
2. I won't post or send pictures or other content that could embarrass me or get me in trouble.
3. I will respect others' privacy and be courteous when posting or forwarding pictures or information about others.
4. I won't let using the Web, phone and other devices interfere with sleep or schoolwork.
5. I won't steal, hack, break into anyone else's account or use others' content without permission.
6. I'll protect my passwords and my personal information such as phone number, home and school locations and credit card information.
7. If someone makes me feel uncomfortable or threatened, I will not respond. I will save the evidence, tell a trusted adult and report to the authorities.
8. I will ask a parent's permission before meeting online friends in person. I will have a parent accompany me and meet in a public space.
9. I will not post or send sexual messages or inappropriate pictures or videos that could put me at risk, embarrass me or damage my future.
10. I will remember that nothing on the Internet or social networks is ever private and that it can live online forever.Adapted from SafeKids.com, the Cyberbullying Research Center and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
1. I will never share or post personal information such as my address, telephone number or the name of my school. If anyone asks for this, I'll tell my parents or teacher.
2. I will get up from the computer right away and tell a parent or teacher if something makes me feel uncomfortable or scared.
3. I will never meet in person someone I met online or talk to strangers. I will tell my parent or a teacher if someone asks to meet me.
4. I will not post or send pictures or videos of myself without a parent's permission.
5. I will not share my passwords with anyone, not even my best friends.
6. I will not hurt anyone's feelings online, or use rude or mean language.
7. I will not respond to any mean or hurtful messages or ones that make me feel uncomfortable. I will tell a parent or teacher right away.
8. I will check with a parent before downloading software, clicking on a pop-up or opening an attachment. I will not register for new sites.
9. I will respect my parents' rules for when I am allowed to go online, which sites I can visit and for how long.
10. I will show my parents some of my favorite things to do online, so we can have fun together.Adapted from Family Online Safety Institute and other sources.