The Internet isn't like your old neighborhood, where you could leave your doors unlocked and all the neighbors would watch out for one another's children. It's a vast and virtually unregulated space with plenty of shadows for predators to hide.
An innocent mistake, such as typing in whitehouse.com instead of whitehouse.gov, can land your child at a very inappropriate site. A search for an innocuous word, like "girls" or "adult," can turn up dozens of sites that contain pictures of half-naked women, four-letter words—even violent content.
As a parent, you want your child to be able to take advantage of all the educational opportunities the Internet has to offer, but at the same time, you don't want him or her wandering into a dangerous online neighborhood. Fortunately, technology companies have developed special software that helps parents monitor where their children navigate and block sites with inappropriate content.
"Filtering software for kids under age ten is essential," says Parry Aftab, Esq., a security, privacy, and cyberspace lawyer, and author of the book The Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace. "Use a good filtering software program that keeps them from inadvertently ending up at a site you don't want them to get to."
Types of Child Protection Software
There are literally dozens of Internet protection software packages available, both as part of an ISP service and standalone. These programs work in one of three ways:
- Monitoring programs allow parents to track their kids' movements online. These programs range from the most basic (providing parents with a list of websites their children have visited) to the most diligent (enabling parents to check every e-mail, chat session, instant message, and website, with or without their children's knowledge).
- Filtering software blocks kids from visiting sites with inappropriate content, such as pornography or violence. Most tools filter based on website addresses that have been known to house inappropriate content, the software company's own review of websites, or key words.
- Time-limiting software monitors and controls the amount of time kids spend online.
Some software programs are able to do all three things. As a parent, you can choose the program that best fits your family's needs. To help you make a choice, here is a comparison of some of the top programs available:
AOL Parental Controls
Operating Systems: Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP and Mac
Price: Free to AOL members
- Parents can create accounts that limit Internet access and instant messaging based on their child's age.
- Parents can receive "e-mail report cards" outlining their child's surfing, e-mail, and instant messaging activity.
- Kids can ask their parents permission to view a blocked site.
- Parents can set surfing time blocks by day of the week, time of day, or session length.
- This is one of the few programs that is compatible with the Mac operating system.
Cyber Patrol 6
Operating Systems: Windows 98/NT/2000/Me/XP
Price: $39.95 for one-year subscription