Guide to keeping kids safe online

Last updated 00:57 24/07/2008
Fairfax
DANGER ZONE: You have to be careful where your kids are going online, but here are some quick tips to help parents.

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For kids, the internet is not just for fun. It's fast becoming an indispensible tool for learning and socialising.

Unfortunately it can also be a haven for explicit content, as well as a hunting ground for online bullies and predators.

It's important to keep your children away from all this, so iDom has some tips for you.

First, it's a good idea to limit the amount of time your kids spend online. Younger children shouldn't need to spend hours a day on the Web doing schoolwork, and the more time they're online the more likely they are to stray into inappropriate sites and content.

Kids seven years old and younger don't need more than half an hour daily, and older kids probably don't need more than an hour and a half or so of online leisure time each day.   

Talk to your kids about their internet use, so you know where they go and what they like to do online. Let them know you can track their Internet activity if you can. If they are aware you're interested it may deter them from activities they know are inappropriate.

For younger children, create shortcuts to their favourite sites so they can access them easily and are less likely to come across unsuitable ones looking for them.

If young kids are chatting to others online, block communications from anyone not on an approved list. Make sure you know the offline identities of the people your children are chatting to. Discourage your children from using screen names that might reveal how old they are, or names that might attract unwanted attention.

Be aware that interactive games and networked consoles, like Xbox Live, allow users to go online and chat with people.

Ensure your children check with you first before giving any personal details out online and don't allow young kids to make posts to public sites without your supervision.

Block peer-to-peer technologies - which connect PCs and allow file-sharing between them, and teach them not to download anything without your permission. Filter or block image searches - as these can be a way around content filters.

Make sure you know the family account password and your kids' passwords.

Bullying can and does migrate to the online world. It's a good idea to Google your child's name, screen name, your address and telephone number from time to time to check for any reference to them on the Web. This will catch any bullies posting, for example, your child's mobile number.

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With a free account at google.co.nz, you can also set up an alert that will automatically send you an e-mail if your child's name is picked up by Google. That way you can see what other people are saying about them.

Webcams are great for keeping in touch with friends and family, especially those that live far away, and you can also use them to check in on your kids if you're away from home. But they're not completely secure.

Make sure your children don't use webcams in their bedrooms or in any other location that might identify who or where they are. Supervise your children if they're using a webcam and turn if off when it's not being used.

USEFUL SITES

Netsmartz
www.netsmartz.org
An educational resource on Internet safety and issues

Chatdanger 
www.chatdanger.com
For how to keep safe in chat rooms

SafeKids.com 
www.safekids.com
Rules, advice and tips for keeping kids safe on the Web

NetSafe
www.netsafe.org.nz
Cybersafety education for New Zealanders

Hector's World 
www.hectorsworld.com 
Hector's World Education is a free online resource. Children learn how to stay safe online through watching the adventures of a group of animated underwater characters.  

Hector's World Safety Button is a free downloadable file that installs a Hector's World character in the upper right hand corner of your computer screen. Children can click on the character if they see something that upsets them or is unsuitable and the screen is covered by an underwater scene and a message encouraging them to get adult help.

SEARCH ENGINES

The following are search engines that filter results to ensure they are appropriate for children

Yahoo Kids - www.kids.yahoo.com

Ask for Kids - www.askkids.com

Safe Search - www.safesearch.co.nz

SOFTWARE

IMSafer
www.imsafer.com
A downloadable service that scans instant messenger conversations in real time and notifies parents when their child's messaging includes suspicious terms. Parents can communicate with each other through the service and identify possible predators. The basic service is free, but you'll need to pay if you want to monitor multiple instant messenger accounts.

Windows Vista
The parental controls in Microsoft's latest operating system allow you to block or approve specific programs, games and websites, and activity reports reveal how your children have been spending their time online. The controls include a time limit feature that lets you set the time and duration of their computer use.

Spector Pro  ($132)
www.spectorsoft.com   
Records e-mails, chats, searches, and websites visited, as well as every keystroke typed. Spector Pro also saves snapshots of your screen so you can see what your children are looking at.

eBlaster ($132)
www.spectorsoft.com
eBlaster captures and forwards incoming and outgoing e-mail as well as recording both sides of chats and instant messages, keystrokes, files uploaded and downloaded as well as searches and websites visited.

Net Nanny ($53)
www.netnanny.com
Net Nanny blocks pornography, hate sites and questionable chat rooms, and will only allow games with approved parental ratings to be installed on the PC. It also integrates with safe search options in Google, Yahoo and MSN, and can report which sites your child has visited or tried to visit.

Some security packages with anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection also offer extra security options for parents, such as:

McAfee Internet Security Suite with SiteAdvisor 2008 ($93)
Advises parents of unsafe websites and blocks offensive content.

Norton Internet Security 2008 ($79)
Anti-spam and parental controls are available in a free add-on pack. The parental controls block unsuitable websites and information identified as confidential from being transmitted from your computer.  

- Reuters

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