As the Internet continues to expand, so does the wealth of material it contains that may not be the most child-appropriate or educational.
Yet even with this being the case, the Web – with all of its messiness — still provides an invaluable tool for learning, especially as more and more children becoming Web-savvy at an early age and become accustomed to using online resources at the same rate others once adjusted to holding a pencil.
The goal for many parents and educators, of course, is to keep children fixated on the healthy, educational tools to be found online without being distracted by uncensored material in the process.
Enumerated below are a few prominent ways of child-proofing internet access while keeping them focused on educational online venues:
- Do your research. In order to know what and how much to censor, you need a basic understanding of what your child does when browsing the Internet. Search through browsing history, read privacy statements for known user accounts and – more importantly – have a conversation with your child, inquiring about how much time is spent browsing, what they use it for, how they find their information, and whether they have opened any accounts – particularly social media accounts. Having an open dialogue is the first step toward developing a level of trust that goes above and beyond what any Web filter or set of parental controls can offer.
- Parental controls. Every browser has its own version of parental controls. For Windows, look into downloading Windows Live Family Safety, a program intended to sift through content based on the input of a child’s age. More impressive, the program allows for keyword restrictions that are left for you customize. For Internet Explorer, seek the “Content” tab, and use the Content Advisor tool to specify content you wish to restrict, which is determined by common age-restricted categories (drug use, sexual content, etc.) as well as a slider bar that determines extremity of content. Google Chrome’s parental controls, meanwhile, work much like Google itself – see the Google Preferences Page and alter the SafeSearch Filter to your liking. In the case of Firefox, there is no parental controls option, but there is an optional, downloadable “FoxFilter” that sorts through pornography and foul-mouthed Web sites. Much like with Windows Live Family Safety, it offers the option of tailoring browsing restrictions based on select keywords.
- It doesn’t stop with the computer. Children have access to a seemingly endless spectrum of Internet-enabled devices: game consoles, handhelds, tablets, mobile phones – the list goes on and on. Thankfully, most of these devices also offer parental control settings, which can block a child’s ability to play R-rated DVD movies or M-rated video games unsuitable to young children. These settings should also allow for restriction of downloads of videos featuring crude language and violence, as well as access to applications not intended for child consumption. Sadly, not every app on the market is as wholesome or child-friendly as Angry Birds.
- Restrict for the sake of system security. In addition to protecting the psyche of your child, you want to be sure he/she is not partaking in Web activities that put your costly computer at risk. Take advantage of anti-virus security programs and limit download options. With downloads, it would be advised that – in addition to setting technical restrictions – you have a discussion with your child about how to determine if a download is innocent or a potential risk to system security. Their own knowledge could be of great benefit to you going forward, as it eliminates your need to always fine-tune parental controls and craft programs with the mindset that children will always make the wrong decisions. In addition to this, be sure to create a separate user account on the computer for your child to use, to ease the transition from when you use the computer as opposed to when they use it.
The Internet, as daunting and terrifying of a place as it can be for a person with children, doesn’t have to be such a scary place. Try to get your child in the habit of wanting to only seek out educational places on the Web, keeping their attention focused on recreational online activities that are also educational. If given the right alternatives, you may find that your child’s internet usage provides very little need for stringent parental controls.
Brandon Baker wrote this article on behalf of Connect Your Home Cable TV and internet. Brandon is a coffee-loving, Web-savvy journalist living in Philadelphia with an innocent child of his own: his cat George.