This week’s question concerns child safety on the Internet. If you have children, especially pre-teens and teens that use your PC, this may be a concern. Sexual predation might be the scariest thing that a parent could imagine, but it’s much more likely that other hazards will trip up your child. Children are exposed to the same dangers that adults are, but because they may not be mature enough to make good decisions, they are more susceptible to things like ID theft and picking up viruses or other malware.
In addition, children are vulnerable to things that adults may not be. Cyber bullying is currently touted as a major concern since it is much easier for a bully to throw insults from the anonymity of a chat room, instant message or a social networking site than it is face-to-face. Exposure to pornography and sexual predation are also more of a concern with children. This group is also more likely to do something dumb that they might later regret and they’re much more likely to be tempted to do something illegal like download music from an unlicensed share site. It might seem cute to a kid to post pictures of himself appearing drunk at a party, but that may not appear clever to a college admissions board or a prospective employer later in life. Lastly, it’s far more likely for a child to get Internet use addiction than for an adult.
Before I discuss parental control software, let me say there is no substitute for parental guidance and oversight. Parents should have understood rules regarding Internet surfing and as a general rule, PC use should be in the open; family room, den, kitchen, whatever. Kim Komando has a very comprehensive agreement form on her Website that covers most of the hazards.
Before I list some of the popular parental control softwares, and before you spend $30 to $60 to get one; try the free ones first. If you are running Windows Vista, go to your Control Panel and open the Parental Controls section. You can set limits on your children’s access to the Web, the hours that they can log on to their PC and which games they can play and programs they can run. This can be done separately for each user of the PC, so that you can specify different levels of control according the child’s needs. If you don’t have Vista, try one of the free programs before you buy. Download a free one from BlueCoat at: www.k9webprotection.com/
If you still want more control, there are a number of good programs out there: Safe Eyes, Net Nanny, Cyber Patrol to name a few. Google “parental control software reviews” to get some comparative information which will help you choose depending on how many PCs you have, age of your kids and level of control you want. Just remember, do not rely solely on the software; you are still in charge. I would not install any one of the softwares and walk away feeling that my child was completely protected. Set rules and inspect!
Please continue to send in your favorite Websites. I will evaluate all candidates and include the most outstanding ones in my “Best of 2009” column the first of next year.