Easy ways to keep the Internet safe

You wouldn't allow your young children to watch Sex in the City, would you? Then why give them unimpeded access to the Web, where much more salacious content is just a google away?

Until you're ready to let go and allow your children to use their own common sense when it comes to the dark side of the Net, you have to protect them--and doing so is easy, with just a little thought.

You may be tempted to buy a commercial Internet-filtering product such as Solid Oak Software's US$40 Cybersitter or SurfControl's US$40 CyberPatrol. These programs employ antivirus-like databases of known sites and content to block objectionable Web sites, newsgroups, and other Internet sources. They also log your child's online activities.

Parental-control software makes sense in some households, but I see domestic surveillance as a last resort. Before you institute blanket home censorship and snooping on the family PC, give these less intrusive browse-control tools and techniques a try.

Out in the Open

First, clearly express to your children--in age-appropriate terms--your family's values with regard to sexuality and violence in the media and online. If doing so seems like a tall order, click here to read the Be Web Aware coalition's tips for parents on how to shield kids from Internet pornography. On the left side of the page are links to "Safety Tips by Age," including pointers on topics such as how much your child needs to know and is likely to comprehend. The site also offers information about violent content, hate speech, online predators, and many other Internet dangers.

Next, examine your children's access to the Internet. If they have their own computer with an unfiltered Internet connection that they can use behind their closed bedroom door, you might as well set them free to roam the local video store. I respect my children's privacy, but it's also my job to defend them from online predators and from violent or addictive material, such as some online games. Keeping their computing out in the open on a shared computer makes that job possible. Allowing them to use the PC in complete privacy makes it impossible.

If you're unsure whether your child will be safe using the Internet unsupervised, state explicitly when it's okay for them to surf and when it's not. If you need help enforcing your policy, many firewall products, as well as the parental controls offered by America Online and MSN, allow you to specify the hours when a particular user or PC may go online. Naturally, your child may be more knowledgeable about configuring (or bypassing) such controls than you are, so do your homework and become an expert.

But don't clamp down the connection without explaining your concerns to your children and coming up with a safety plan; otherwise, you'll just shoo them away to look elsewhere for unfettered Internet access.

Block Spam and Pop-Ups

Sexual predators sometimes use e-mail and online chat to entice their victims. Much spam is also X-rated. If they aren't absolutely necessary, avoid creating e-mail and chat accounts for your kids. (Cell phones are safer because, so far, they're relatively porn-free.) If your child needs to use e-mail (because of school, for example), be sure to set up a good spam blocker, such as Firetrust's US$37 MailWasher Pro; click here for the free 30-day trial version. Blocking browser pop-up windows is another way to reduce your children's likelihood of seeing porn. To block all pop-ups in Internet Explorer 6, click Tools, Pop-up Blocker, Turn on Pop-up Blocker. If you use Firefox, choose Tools, Options, select Web Features, check Block Popup Windows, and click OK.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Scott Spanbauer

PC World
Show Comments





Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?