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Screening Web Sites for Your Kids



By Marian Merritt | June 1, 2007 Back to Columns
Summary: If your child is decapitating cartoon Boy Scouts on a free Web site (as my son was recently), how can you stop it from happening again? Parents I've talked to lately are asking the same question, as well as a couple more -- "how can I make sure the sites my kids visit are safe, and how can I keep my kids from objectionable sites?"
It seems to be a hot topic among parents because new Web sites- new games, new music, new places to chat - are popping up every day. Kids learn about them from other kids. Then they visit or play on those Web sites, often before you know what's happening or whether the site is appropriate.
Parents and Kids, Working Together
We've said it before, your interest and daily involvement in what your kids do online is the very best way to make sure they're doing the right thing. Ask your kids to show you the Web sites they and their friends visit. Ask them how the sites work, and how they learned about them.
Often a cursory look at a site is not enough. Here are some things you should check for:
  • Walk through the registration experience yourself. Set up your own account (you can always delete it later).
  • Things to check for include the availability of chat and presence of limitations on chat (including who can chat with your child and whether or not you can just turn that feature off). Other things are frequent emails from the site, encouraging or even requiring your child to visit to stay "active".
  • Jobs or trading posts within the site or game that encourage lengthy visits or even "work hours" to accumulate in-game currency or improve their standing or rating.
Technology Can Help, Too
Let's face it, none of us can be involved and vigilant all the time. For the times you can't, I suggest you turn to parental control software. Internet security software, PC operating systems, browsers, and search engines all offer parental controls. Internet security software with added parental controls offers the most automated protection. You can set the controls to block objectionable Web sites and inappropriate content. Your operating system or other software can also help you limit when and how long your child can use the computer. That way, when you're busy paying bills, making dinner, or just resting your eyes for the first time all day, your kids won't be straying into objectionable online territory.
Parents and Technology Working Together
As for my Boy Scout killing son, he was told in "no uncertain terms" why that site was off limits and why any pretend murdering was unacceptable in our house. It's not always easy to catch those parenting moments. I hope you find these tips helpful and encourage you to do your utmost to stay ahead of the risks. The Internet is a great tool for our kids, and with parental involvement and technological vigilance, we can make sure it's a safe and positive place for our kids to learn, explore, and communicate. To learn more about this topic see the article "Safe Web Sites for Kids". It includes some good additional information about Web sites that maintain lists of great educational and fun sites for kids.
One last note, as great as the Internet is, we need to help our kids stay well-rounded and socialized in the offline world. As we're moving into summer, let's get our kids off the computer and over to the yard, park, or sidewalks for some old fashioned exercise! Set an example and take the family for an after-dinner walk through your neighborhood or just sit on the front steps with some popsicles for dessert! Take advantage of the lingering twilight to talk to your children about their day.
Remember, I would love to hear from you. If you have views, questions, or suggestions that you would like to share, please send me an email at marian@norton.com.
Thank you!

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