In our on-going efforts at SAY to make your experience as fun and safe as possible, we have created this document to help parents understand how to protect their children from inappropriate online material.
The first step to protect your family is to install parental control software on your computer. Some of the best-known and respected parental control software packages are CyberPatrol, Net Nanny and Safety Surf. Also, some ISPs (Internet Service Providers, the companies that let your modem connect to the Internet) provide content filtering as part of their basic service. Check with your ISP to see if this is an option they offer.
Parental control software works by blocking access to specific websites and online content. In most cases, when you buy the software it already contains a large list of sites that are inappropriate for children. You can then update the software through the manufacturer's website or, in some cases, the software will update itself.
Another way filtering software works is to block sites based on key words, such as "sex." However, filtering software doesn't have to just block access to adult-oriented material. You can configure the software to filter for topics such as tobacco, drugs and drug culture, alcohol, violence and racism.
Since there might be only one computer in your household, and you might be using the same computer as the children, you can set up the system to filter content during certain hours, such as when you're at work and not around to supervise your children's web surfing. You can also setup the system to create a password, that only you know, to override the restrictions.
Some programs can also block personal information, such as name, address and phone number, from being sent from your computer. This is an excellent way to protect children from potential online predators.
Many programs allow you to create different levels of security and filtering based on the different ages of the computer's users. Children can be given high security and heavy content filtering, but when you log on to the machine, you can set it to not filter any content at all.
One thing to remember is that by installing filtering software on your computer, you might also restrict childrens' access to legitimate sites. This is especially true if you rely on key words (such as "sex") for blocking. Certain key words appear on legitimate news and information sites, so it's best to experiment with different settings when configuring the filter controls.
Installing filtering software is no guarantee that children won't be exposed to some inappropriate material online. New websites pop up everyday, so it's important to keep your software up to date. Also, learn how your Internet browser software works so that you can check the sites your family has visited (this is the "History" feature, which displays a list of websites visited by the web browser).
Talking to your children about the possible dangers that exist on the Internet, and supervising their web surfing are still the best ways to protect them.