Parental controls

Advice and Answers

Using Internet filters, blocks and monitoring software

Children are curious and, just as when they were toddlers, are bound to get into things you’d rather they didn’t. Without certain measures in place, your children can access everything on the Web.  Although nothing can replace your guidance and vigilance, there are some tools to help ensure your children are seeing the better things the Internet has to offer.

What are they?

Filtering and blocking programs prevent access to websites, based on keywords or site names:

  • An Internet filter is a software or hardware product that prevents children (or anyone) from accessing content on websites that may not be appropriate. By using keywords, it filters out sites defined by those words. Most search engines have filter options built in, as do most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile operators. Ask your provider for more information
  • Blocking software impedes access to sites designated as 'bad'. Some companies let users customise their lists, but most search engine blocks and filters rely on prescreening.

Blocks and filters are not foolproof. Determined children can find ways of getting around the programs. And some filters deny access to perfectly acceptable material.

Monitoring and tracking programs capture and record where children go online, how much time they spend and what goes on in instant-message chats. They can also be used to manage time spent on the computer.

Why they matter

The Internet is the hardest environment in which to ensure age-appropriate information and images. In an unfiltered environment, children can (and will) type 'sex' or 'drugs' into a search box and find all sorts of sites you would rather they didn’t. But even the most innocent searches can retrieve unintended results. (This is doubly true when children search for images.) This urge for exploration is entirely age-appropriate for children of all ages. Given the explicit nature of some sites, you might want to investigate filters or programs that direct younger children to safe sites.

Parental tips for all children

  • Ultimately, good, old-fashioned common sense is the best search filter. Simply tell your children not to click something that looks inappropriate. Young children may actually obey, children will probably rebel and teenagers will learn from you how to filter out what is wrong for them.
  • Help children find positive and safe sites. There are many new ways for children to search the Internet safely.

Parental tips for primary-school children

  • Don’t let young children search alone. Even a word like 'teenager' can return inappropriate results. And if you filter for 'image' or 'video,' the results could be really inappropriate.
  • Find the right filter. Some ISPs offer a fully filtered service, but 'one size fits all' might not be the right choice for your family. There are also various software programs that offer different levels of coverage, so each family member has his or her own username and you can choose the filter level for each person. Some filters track emails, instant messages and sites children visit. Others offer predator blocking or personal-information blocking.
  • Set the content filters on your browser. The two most popular browsers, Firefox and Internet Explorer, offer content filters.
  • Set the content filters on your search engine. Google, Yahoo! and Bing have built-in filters (separate from the browser) that you can set. The best ones let you password-protect your settings. You can even filter search results on YouTube using its Safety Mode feature.
  • Use search sites that preapprove destinations. For example, Kidzui allows safe searching by only including approved sites.

Parental tips

  • Don’t rely on filters alone. Savvy children can defeat filters. Good old-fashioned parenting and Internet safety rules must be part of the picture. Be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Check browser histories. By the time your child is 11 years old, he/she will have outgrown filters. To see which sites have been visited recently, click the arrow next to the address bar or click History from the menu.
  • Check in. Periodically ask your children to show you what they’ve found that they like. You want to make sure your children feel comfortable coming to you if something on a site bothers them. Make sure children know that they should check in if they see something that’s hateful, pornographic or violent.
  • Monitoring software has pluses and minuses. If you don’t think your children are using good judgement, monitoring software will help you decide if your suspicions are warranted. But your children will think you are spying on them if they find out.

© Common Sense Media

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