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Use These Simple Tips To Keep Your Kids Safe On The Internet

Updated on July 16, 2009

Use These Simple Tips To Keep Your Kids Safe On The Internet

A Kid Safe Internet doesn't exist, but you can use these simple tips to keep your kids safe on the Internet as much as possible. Kid safe email, kid safe surfing, and kid safe Internet Messaging are important goals for all parents.

We present a set of rigid rules intended to protect kids from offensive and disturbing Internet content at the expense of their personal freedom. Our rules are strict and will certainly be considered overly-protective by some.

Start from Square One

Rule #1: never give the children a password to an administrator account on any of your computers. Never. With admin permissions, users can disable filtering software and reconfigure any other programs on the computer. Always create a limited access account for children to use. Read here for more about how to do this.

Caution: Rule #1 takes some work. It will cause some frustration among your computer users and it's all too easy to hand out the admin password just to bring peace to the household. Don't do it.

Kid Safe Internet Policies at Home

When your child is old enough to get on the Internet, make it clear that every activity will be logged and monitored. At first this edict won't be an issue; younger children are fascinated with a very small subset of web sites and have little concept of privacy issues. Getting older, they will begin to chafe under "total transparency" Internet rules at home. Nevertheless, the sludge available online far outweighs any perceived inconvenience on the part of the children.

Kid Safe Email

Kid safe email starts requires a two-pronged approach. Part one is a good spam filter running on your local computer that works in conjunction with the spam filter provided by your Internet Provider. Your Internet Provider has the technology to flag messages as possible spam by analyzing the path taken by the message to get to your inbox. It can also scan for obvious subject lines and phrases in the message body that are indicative of current spam outbreaks. Typically, your provider will add a flag to the subject text such as "Possible Spam" or simply "Spam". You can then configure your email client, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc., to divert or even delete messages that contain the flag. Most people are hesitant to completely delete any incoming messages without actually reading them or at least scanning them; consider creating a new folder dedicated to possible spam, then automagically diverting the flagged messages to that folder. Use your email client to hide that folder from your children to prevent them from opening possibly offensive or misleading email.

The second part of the two pronged approach involves disabling web site links and attachments in incoming messages. Too many viruses and spyware programs are distributed this way. An unsuspecting computer user clicks on an embedded link or opens an attachment and the computer is immediately infected. Consult the documentation for your email client for information regarding disabling links and attachments. Don't forget to turn off the auto-preview feature as well. Configure your client such that no message is opened without an overt action on the part of the user.

Practical Email Advice for Kids

Impress on your kids the inherent insecurity of email. Anything they send to anyone else can be forwarded, edited, printed, or printed on the front page of the school newspaper. If they want to pass on a secret, have them use a telephone.

Kid Safe Surfing

The most effective kid safe surfing begins with a traditionally backward methodology. The standard approach is to filter sites as they are loaded into the browser. Any site that contains questionable material is rejected before being rendered by Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari. This strategy functions well, up to a point. Unfortunately, graphics cannot be effectively filtered. Text can be analyzed reasonably consistently; we don't have the technology to apply content filtering to pictures and video. Computer scientists have developed algorithms for identifying graphics that might be offensive based on color distribution, but this field of research is still in its' infancy.

Our premise, then, is that dynamic filtering cannot possibly be 100% effective. Eventually an offensive or extremely troubling web page will slip through the filter. Kids are inquisitive. Instead of attempting to filter each page as its' requested by the browser, consider building a finite list of sites that are permitted. Referred to as a whitelist, this approach allows total control over surfing. Any site not on the list is simply blocked by the whitelist-enforcing software. The obvious downside is the manual intervention required whenever a new site needs to be added to the whitelist.  Frustration sets in; parents end up conceding the password to the filtering software just to make life easier. Learn to deal with the overhead that comes with administering a whitelist; your kids will be much safer.

Kid Safe Internet Messaging

IM, or Internet Messaging, is essentially real-time email. Apply the same rules to kids' IM clients as their email clients. Install an IM client on the computer and prohbit any additional IM clients to be installed by limiting the administrator permissions of the kids who use the computer. Kids are smart enough (or can find smart-enough friends) to install their own IM client, bypassing any efforts made to configure the software you know about. Configure the IM client to accept incoming connections from a whitelist. Disable clickable links in IM text or configure the IM client to apply the Internet Browser whitelist to the links before enabling them.

Know the IM passwords and IDs used by your kids. If they want privacy, give them a telephone.

MobiCip : A Kid Protection Option to Consider

The MobiCip Safe Browser can be installed on mobile devices and configured to provide a kid-safe experience on IPhones and iPods. It supports whitelists as well as blacklists. Download it from the iPhone App Store for only $4.95.

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    • emohealer profile image

      Sioux Ramos 8 years ago from South Carolina

      Thanks for a good hub with much needed advice, I will be sharing with my huge family.

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