Granting children unrestricted access to the Web is like allowing them to wander the streets unsupervised: it’s asking for trouble. How can parents restrict and monitor their kids’ online activities while still granting them the freedom to explore and learn in a safe manner? Here are a few tips that parents can use to ensure that their children remain safe online.
Use the parental control features built into your operating system
Modern operating systems, like Microsoft Vista or Apple Leopard, have powerful built-in parental control features. With Vista, for example, parents can specify which websites their children are allowed to visit, along with restricting their kids’ internet use to certain hours of the day.
Parental Controls can be activated for each standard account from the administrator account’s control panel. Therefore, it’s necessary to have a standard user account for the children to use, separate from the admin account. Detailed information is available on Microsoft’s website, or from the built-in help accessible from the start menu in Vista. [Access Blocked Websites] & [Block Certain Websites from Children]
Use third-party programs to protect kids from external threats
While most parents understand the dangers posed to children by unrestricted access to the Web, fewer realize that Email, instant messaging programs like AIM or Yahoo Instant Messenger, and even social networking sites like Facebook, Bebo, and especially Stickam all have risks when used by unmonitored children.
For risks of this sort, it’s best to protect your children with software that’s designed for the purpose. State of the art parental monitoring software, like CyberSitter, Cyber Patrol, or Net Nanny can not only protect children from seedy parts of the Web, but monitor and restrict their use of instant messaging programs, Email, and all the other potentially dangerous activities that are waiting to ensnare unwary kids.
Furthermore, they generate reports that parents can later go over to see just what it is, exactly, that their children have been doing online. CyberSitter’s monitoring can even be run in “stealth” mode, so children are unaware that they’re being watched. This capability is useful for parents who want to give their children the opportunity to use their time online responsibly, while still having the option to supervise the safety of their children.
Some firewall and virus scan providers like the Norton Internet Security and the McAfee Internet Security suites also have parental monitoring capabilities. These resources may be enough for some tech-savvy parents, but they don’t measure up to the capabilities of the dedicated parental monitoring programs mentioned in the last section.