Most parents are savvy enough to not allow their kids to have unrestricted access to the Internet.
Although there are plenty of fun and educational things for kids to do on the Internet, there are also many hazards, such as:
- age inappropriate information
- age inappropriate photos and videos, including violence and pornography
- Internet predators
- computer viruses
To protect their kids from these safety hazards when they are online, many parents turn on their computers' parental control software, which can restrict what websites they visit, who they can email and who they can chat with. Most parental control software also allows you to set time limits for when your child can use the computer and log what they are doing.
This type of parental control software is built in the latest version of Mac OS X and Windows, but can also be purchased as separate programs, which often offer more features and more flexibility. These include programs such as Bsafe Online, Net Nanny and Safe Eyes.
In addition to this kind of parental control software, other things you can do to keep your kids safe online include:
- putting password protection on the computer, so that you have to log your kids on when they want to use the Internet
- putting the computer in a common area of the house, so that you can directly supervise what your kids are doing
- asking your Internet service provider (ISP) about additional filtering software that may be available to you
- being aware that without parental controls, kids can hide their tracks by clearing private data from the Internet browser they are using, including the browsing history, cache and cookies
- reviewing what kind of access to the Internet your kids will have when visiting friends and family members
New Internet Safety Hazards
Even if you have parental controls set on your home computer, your kids may still be at risk from Internet safety hazards with all of the products in your home that are connected to the Internet.
Surprisingly, your child may now get connected to the Internet through their:
- iPod Touch (via WiFi)
- iPhone and other smart phones
- Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite (via WiFi)
- Nintendo Wii
- Sony Playstation 3
- Sony PSP (via WiFi)
Again, that can be fun, offering kids access to online games and multiplayer online gaming, but it also allows them to chat with people and some include a web browser. Although parental controls are available for most of these devices, the average parent who doesn't use the device himself isn't likely to think about turning those controls on.
Before getting one of these devices that is Internet-ready or hooking up an Internet-ready gaming system to your home Internet network, be sure you know how to turn on any available parental controls:
- Nintendo DS Security and Privacy FAQ
- Nintendo Wii Parental Controls
- Sony Playstation 3 Parental Controls
- Sony PSP Parental Controls
What about parental controls for the iPod Touch or iPhone? Unfortunately, there really aren't any yet. You can go to Settings > Restrictions, enter a passcode and then set restrictions to access:
- iPod songs with explicit lyrics
- Installing Apps
Unfortunately, except for the explicit iPod settings, these are strict restrictions to the use of these applications and not filtering. For example, restricting Safari means that you can't use the web browser at all, which removes many of the more useful features of the iPhone or Internet-enabled iPod Touch.
The iPod Touch is likely still a good choice for kids to listen to music, play games and use other applications, but until there are better parental controls, it might be safer to set the restrictions and leave its WiFi Internet connection off (and don't give your kids the password to your home WiFi network if you have one).
Other Internet Safety Hazards
In addition to general warnings about protecting kids from "the Internet," parents should be aware about some specific things that can cause trouble, including:
- Illegal File Sharing Programs - through specific programs and sites, such as Gnutella, Bit Torrent and Kazaa, etc., kids illegally download music, movies and other content.
- Social Network Sites - many kids use these sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, to post personal information and photos, which predators can use to contact your child.
- IM and Chat - in addition to texting on their cell phones, many kids use Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms (iChat, AOL, Yahoo Messenger, etc.) to talk with their friends, and unfortunately, sometimes predators pose as kids.
- Web Videos - kids on the Internet usually quickly find YouTube. Unfortunately, there are plenty of videos on YouTube and other video sites that are not appropriate for kids.