Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

On The Web, January 2001 - Making a Safety Net

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Every parent’s worst nightmare is anything that could harm their child. Unfortunately, not all parents are aware of how to protect their children when they are on the internet. Whether your children like to talk in chat rooms, surf the web, or swap e-mails, there are dangers. Fortunately, there are also methods to try to protect them.

Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers come with protection built in. You can set them up to stop children from viewing unsuitable web pages, while allowing you to, using a password, should you wish to. In Internet Explorer pick the ‘Tools’ menu, select ‘Internet Options,’ then the ‘Content’ tab. Press ‘Enable’ and decide a password. The password must be memorable to you - but not one your children can guess! Microsoft wont tell you how to recover a forgotten password, in case children are trying to get it, instead of you.

Set the options for language, sex, nudity and violence. You can move onto Microsoft’s site, and download more detailed options. These allow you more defined filtering, such as blocking ‘chat,’ or permitting only ‘artistic nudity’ - for example Boticelli’s "Birth of Venus," where the painting shows a naked breast.

If sites are missed by this, or you have views on other subjects, you can add specific sites that can never be accessed. Sites that would otherwise be blocked can be made to be always available, in spite of their content.

Filter software can be bought online, often with free trials, and offers you further options. Programs include Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com), which lets you create up to twelve user profiles for different aged children. Surf Control (www.surfcontrol.com) offer ‘Cyber Patrol’, available for windows or Mac. Cyber Sitter (www.cybersitter.com) claims a one minute set up - a bonus to many parents.

Stronger filters, such as Christian ones are available. American Family Filter (www.afafilter.com) has no password override, as it recommends setting your children an example.

If you doubt your children can stray across dangerous material, look at the terrifying statistics on Surf on the Safe Side (www.surfonthesafeside.com), set up by a UK mother. They claim one in four kids is accidentally exposed to nudity, or sexual content online. Thankfully, the methods in this article can help keep your children from being part of that statistic.

Sometimes children stray into danger accidentally, and a lot of packages protect from this. Others go looking for porn, or violence, which you can try to block. However, determined children may guess your password, or view unsuitable material at a friend’s house. Sadly, there are also people online who deliberately seek out children, in chat rooms and by e-mail.

You naturally want to protect your children, in any way you can. But be aware that there is a lot of benefit to the internet. Researching homework, talking to friends and relatives, as well as ensuring your children are technically aware, make it impractical to ban it entirely. But it is worth using some form of filtering.

Be aware, though, that methods of protection are limited. Like car alarms, they are just a deterrent. An alarmed car can still be stolen, and a child protected by a filter may still stray across inappropriate sites.

The best way to ensure children’s safety on the internet is being aware of what they are doing. Surf with them, and discuss what they are looking for. Help them realise that the supposedly stunning sixteen year old may not be teenage, and is unlikely to have their best interests at heart. Perhaps even break it to them that most porn sites need a credit card number, and save them trying! Make the rules clear, so children to know if they are crossing them, and that you will not be happy.

Teenagers wont appreciate you popping into their rooms to check up on them. Consider not having an internet-enabled computer in a child’s room. In a family space - a study, or corner of the lounge, a child is less likely to go looking for the things you prefer them not to see.

Written by Gill Smith as part of an ongoing series for Limited Edition, a Buckinghamshire based Lifestyle Magazine.
Reproduced with permission.