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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Parental Control Software

The Internet gives us the world at our fingertips. Unfortunately, sometimes those fingers belong to a child. While innocently surfing 'the net', children can be exposed to inappropriate material. They may accidentally reveal personal information, their own or their parents' credit card data, for example.

The first line of defense is to teach your child how to use the Internet safely. Children are interested in computers and the Internet as early as age two, and young children can be easily guided to appropriate web sites that provide entertainment and education.

As children get older, however, it becomes more difficult to supervise all their online activities. By adolescence, they may engage in viewing pornography or chatting online with potential predators. Sometimes they'll post photos of themselves and provide information that could allow pedophiles to approach them.

Being involved with your child's online activities helps limit some of these risks. Keeping the computer in the living room or just being interested in what they view may be enough to help children resist the temptation of 'forbidden' sites.

It's usually not possible, though, to supervise all their online activities. Scary thought, but when you're at work or shopping you can't know what your child is being exposed to.

Or can you?

In fact, there are a variety of software and hardware tools that can limit your child's Internet access or monitor his or her computer activities. Most cost very little, some are even free, others are simply helpful tips for how to restrict access.

FILTERS

Filtering software works by blocking certain web sites or specific keywords. Parents can specify them or use a pre-built list. For example, a list of pornographic or otherwise inappropriate sites is provided by the software vendor and can be updated from their web site. Any time your child tries to access one of these web sites he or she will get a 'HTTP 404 Page Not Found' or similar message.

Filters can also be set up to block access to certain types of Internet traffic such as instant messaging, newsgroups, e-mail, or peer-to-peer (P2P) hosting. The latter is often used for file exchanges.

These filters aren't perfect and it's next to impossible for a database to be completely up-to-date because new web sites come onto the Internet all the time, but they help.

Another type of software records all your child's computer activity - sites visited, e-mails sent or received, programs run, even individual keystrokes in some cases.

Another option is to install software which restricts computer use to certain times during the day. The computer shuts off at scheduled times or when a certain amount of data has been downloaded from the Internet. Actually Windows has built-in facilities for doing this, but configuring it requires a level of expertise beyond the average user.

Software exists which can block your child's name, address or other personal details as specified by the parent from being sent.

BROWSERS

Some browsers are specifically designed for children that incorporate many of the filters discussed above. They're easier for children to use than Internet Explorer or Firefox but don't rely solely on this type of browser, however. Internet Explorer can't be un-installed from the Windows operating system and any net savvy kid will probably find out how to gain access to it.