Protect Your Kids Online

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Tru006 asked the Web Browsing and Email forum for suggestions on monitoring and controlling children's browsing habits.

Parents need to protect their kids from all sorts of technological dangers. There are pornographic web sites, scams, hate groups, violent video games, and online predators pretending to be age-appropriate harmless flirts.

And even if your kids visit only safe sites, you still have to worry about all the time they waste on their computers. Every hour they spend starring at a glowing screen is an hour not spent getting exercise, playing out-of-doors, sleeping, or interacting with people in the real world.

Your approach to monitoring your children's cyberlives is as important as the software you use. You want to protect them and impart values, not explain to them after the fact that you've been invading their privacy. Discuss the issues with them, let them know that their surfing and other PC use will be monitored, but that you expect them to make wise choices. They'll gripe and complain, of course, but it will be easier and more productive in the long run.

And if you're going to block their access to certain types of sites, give them the option to override your block--with the knowledge that you'll know about the override. That gives them some power, but with accountability. Besides, all of these programs occasionally and mistakenly block harmless sites.

So what about software?

Windows Vista comes with a pretty good Parental Controls program. It allows you to control what times of day the child can use the computer and what games and programs they can run on it. Parental Controls also has decent Web control. You can set a level of protection, customize it by selecting the types of sites to block, or only allow the sites you approve of (called whitelisting). The child can request that you allow them to visit a particular blocked site.

The Windows 7 version lacks Web control. For that, you have to download and install Microsoft's free Windows Live Family Safety. But this actually gives you and your child more control. For instance, the child can override your blocks, with the knowledge that you'll find out about it.

All of these programs require you to have an administrator account on the PC, and the child to have a regular account. To set up these controls, click Start, type parental and click Parental Controls.

XP's parental control tools aren't worth considering.

Another excellent choice, that will work in XP, is Norton Online Family. The free version is sufficient.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter.

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