/PRNewswire/ -- If the gifts under your holiday tree this year are going to include a new computer for the kids, now is the time to think about how you're going to shield them from the unsavory side of the Internet. For all the merits of cyberspace as a source of information, entertainment and community, there are also dangers ranging from well over 400 million pages of pornography to Internet predators posing as friends or confidantes. Children are likely to venture into the underbelly of the beast -- whether unwittingly or deliberately -- and they need protection.
InternetSafety.com, a leading developer of products that control online usage for consumers and businesses, offers these tips to ensure a safe and wholesome Internet experience for tweens and younger teens who may use the computer unsupervised:
1. Keep the computer out of the child's bedroom -- If it's in the family room or another common space where the screen is visible to passersby, it's easier for parents, other family members or caregivers to monitor a child's online activities.
2. Teach online safety -- Be sure that children know about online stranger danger, what to do if they come across a website or have an online conversation that makes them uncomfortable, and so on.
3. Provide a clear list of 'don'ts' -- Explain, for example, that children should never give out personal information such as their last name, address, city, phone number, siblings' names, school name or parents' workplaces.
4. Block inappropriate websites -- You can automatically prevent access to sites that have been "blacklisted" because of objectionable content by using parental control software like InternetSafety.com's Safe Eyes(R) (http://www.safeeyes.com/). Advanced programs let you select which website categories will be filtered (adult, alcohol, dating/personals, drugs, gambling, hate sites, pornography, profanity, sex, violence, weapons, etc.). You should also be able to block specific websites and/or keywords of your choice.
5. Explore the Web together -- Spending time online with your children, whether visiting websites or Facebook or playing an online game, can help you steer them in the right direction and enable you to better understand their digital world.
6. Limit time spent online -- Excessive Web usage interferes with other activities and increases the risk of getting into trouble, particularly in the late-night hours when Internet predators prowl chat rooms and social networking sites. Some filtering software can help enforce any time limits you impose by cutting off Internet access after a specified interval, as well as allowing access only during certain hours and/or days of the week.
7. Monitor 'live' communications such as chat and IM -- Online sex offenders usually meet victims in chat rooms; cyberbullying often happens during IM sessions; and both can happen either place. Some parental control software can block IM programs, save the full text of IM conversations, and alert parents if children post forbidden information.
8. Restrict email use to designated addresses -- There is no reason for younger children to correspond with anyone other than family members, close friends and perhaps teachers. Some sex offenders communicate by email after meeting a child online. Again, some filtering programs will let you specify acceptable email addresses and block the rest.
9. Beware of 'back door' dangers -- Sometimes an objectionable YouTube video will be sent by email or embedded on someone's social networking page, or a peer-to-peer file sharing program like BitTorrent may have inappropriate photos or other objectionable material. This is another reason to monitor your children's computer use.
10. Encourage trouble reports -- Children should feel comfortable coming to you if they encounter something or someone online that makes them feel uneasy or threatened. Be sure to applaud their honesty so that they will keep you informed of future problems.
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