Keeping Your Child Safe on the Internet
As with the real world, the Internet has its seamy side — and it’s all too easy for kids to stray into it. Click-click and a Peter Cottontail fan’s search for “bunnies” turn up raunchy pictures of women wearing fuzzy white ears and not much else. Porn, questionable characters, hate groups, and misinformation flourish online. To preserve the best of what’s online for your kids and avoid the garbage:
1. Step into their cyber world
“Parents have to get involved. Just as they know every detail of the playground around the corner — the jungle gym, the swings — they need to know their kids’ online playground as well,” says Tim Lordan, staff director of the Internet Education Foundation, a nonprofit group that produces the online safety guide GetNetWise.
2. Set house rules
Decide how much time you’re comfortable with your children being online and which sites they may go to. You might post a short list or even a signed contract (like the free ones at www.SafeKids.com) next to the computer. So there’s no confusion, talk about the rules — and the consequences for breaking them. “Our house rules say the kids are allowed half an hour of computer time on ‘their days.’ One child has Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other has Tuesdays and Thursdays. “They have certain sites they can visit without special permission. Any others have to be approved by me or my husband.”
3. Teach them to protect their privacy
While they won’t fully understand the consequences of revealing personal information online, you should still make sure your children know:
* never to give their name, phone number, e-mail address, password, postal address, school, or picture without your permission
* Do not open e-mail from people they don’t know
* respond to hurtful or disturbing messages
* not to get together with anyone they “meet” online.
More tips to follow
4. Know that location is key
- Keep the computer in a central spot, where it’s easy to monitor its use. “We have five computers in our house, but only two — mine and the PC in the family room — are hooked up to the Internet. That way, I can frequently check up on what they’re looking at,” says Cecilia Mitchell, a mom of three in Teaneck, New Jersey.
5. Be their go-to girl
Instruct your child to come straight to you when she sees anything that makes her uncomfortable, and assure her that you won’t overreact, blame her, or immediately rescind her online privileges.
- 6. Turn your ISP into your ally
Before buying a safety product, experts recommend that you work with what you’ve got, starting with your Internet service provider (ISP). America Online, MSN, SBC Yahoo!, EarthLink, and others have reliable, free parental controls that can limit children’s access to websites and communication features (e-mail, instant messaging, chat) by age, content categories, time, and other choices. 7. Make your 7.browser work double-time
If your ISP lacks that capability, you still have some safe-surfing options at hand on your browser (the program that enables you to view web pages). Internet Explorer has Content Advisor (under Tools/Internet Options/Content), which filters out language, nudity, sex, and violence on a 0 to 4 scale. Netscape and Safari (for Mac users) have parental controls like filtering as well.
- 8. Tune up your search engine
Your search engine can be pressed into service for free. (But be aware: A savvy child could switch the settings back.) Once you set restrictions, Google will block sites with the explicit sexual material (Preferences/SafeSearch Filtering). AltaVista puts several types of offensive content off-limits with its Family Filter (Settings/Family Filter setup).
9. Stay in a kid-friendly zone
For beginners as young as 4, consider confining online exploration to web addresses that list child-safe sites on everything from TV, movies, music, and games to world history, science, and trivia. Some good choices:
* web directory Yahooligans
* answer supplier Ask Jeeves for Kids
* The American Library Association’s Great Web Sites for Kids
* The U.S. government’s “Dot Kids” domain.
10. Call on software for assistance
While no technology is fail-safe, it does add another layer of protection. Just ask yourself, what’s your primary goal?Keeping Your Child Safe on the Internet
* Shutting out the smut (and other undesirables)
Best for parents who want maximum protection with minimal effort, CyberPatrol 6.2 deflects objectionable web content with a twofold filtering technique. It blocks sites on its comprehensive list of restricted web addresses, then does keyword pattern searches for offensive material on non-blacklisted sites that may have slipped through the cracks.
You decide: How much to customize. You can allow certain categories (Sex Education but not Adult/Sex, for instance); and you are own blocked or allowed sites or keywords; and more.
What your child sees: Varies from a bold “Access Restricted” notice (with the CyberPatrol “To Surf & Protect” shield) to a discreet “This page cannot be displayed” message.
Cost: $40 for one year/$60 for two; Windows, www.cyberpatrol.com
* Keep the Internet under lock and key
ControlKey 2.0 is The Enforcer. No key means no Internet access. The small blue device (part of the company’s security product line) plugs into a USB port and also serves as a watchdog for you. Children can do homework-related research but not waste time IM’ing; they can open their own documents but not your desktop check register. Setup is a little tricky and time-consuming. You’ll just need to guard it like your car key. Register so the ControlKey “token” can be replaced ($45) if lost.
You decide: What to lock up: access to files you’d like to keep private? A particular computer game? Certain sites?
What your child sees: “Access Denied” message (when the computer is restricted) or “This page cannot be displayed” (Internet restricted).
Cost: $60; Windows, 800-986-6578 or www.controlkey.com
* Knowing exactly what they’ve been up to online
When a child is using the computer, Spector 2.2 takes snapshots of what’s onscreen at intervals and stores them in a hidden file to record all they do. You then view the file as a video (play, pause, fast-forward, rewind).
What your child sees: In stealth mode, the program is invisible.
Cost: $100; Windows/Macintosh, 888-598-2788 or www.spectorsoft.com