The Internet is a familiar construct for many Americans; they witnessed the transition from dial-up modems to cable to broadband, and watched as mobile technology swept the globe. Children are now born into an Internet-equipped world — this technology permeates everything they do, from school to home to play, and perpetual connectivity has caused no shortage of alarm for mindful parents. There's a real concern around Internet safety for kids, since they are in many respects savvier than their parents when it comes to the Web. Fortunately, family Internet safety is becoming more of a priority.
By The Numbers
Parents hear about the importance of Internet safety for kids from multiple sources; the news, for example, is never short on stories involving children and predators on the Web. Anecdotal evidence from other parents and warnings from local law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, contribute to a nagging fear about allowing kids any kind of online access. Statistics from NetSmartz (an online effort by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), however, bear out the fact that children are online more than ever. Ninety-three percent of kids aged 12 to 17 are online, and 75 percent of the same age group have cell phones. Seventy-three percent of teens have social networking profiles on sites like Facebook, with almost half uploading pictures of themselves. In short, kids are online, and trying to prevent access is like trying to change the weather; you can expend all the effort you want, but it won't have much effect.
Managing Kids Internet Access
For parents, access management is critical, and this takes two broad forms. First are pieces of parental control software, which often come bundled with Internet security solutions and give you the ability to manage the time your child spends online. Second are antivirus software programs, which help you deal with issues caused by websites your children may unwittingly visit.
Parental control features allow to you control all aspects of your child's Internet experience, from the amount of time they are allowed to spend online or the applications they're permitted to use. Any attempts to use blocked programs will be stopped, and recorded in the program's log for later viewing. If you prefer more advanced settings, you can also limit correspondence with specific contacts on social networks, restrict messages that contain personal details, or even prevent messages with certain words or phrases from being sent. A high-quality parental control program gives you power along with transparency, making it easy to set up restrictions for each user. This means, however, that you need to be diligent in logging off your own profile when finished with the computer; otherwise, you'll be sabotaging your own efforts.
Antivirus protection is just as critical, because websites that appear legitimate may in fact carry malicious code or redirect your child to a dummy site which looks the same but actually contains a keylogger or computer virus. To make sure your child's personal information isn't collected without your knowledge, set up a regular schedule for automatic virus checks, and also run a deep system scan every month to ensure you don't have any unwanted visitors on your hard drive. If you'd like to try before you buy, several reputable companies now offer free virus protection for up to 30 days so you can find a software suite that best fits your family's needs.
Ultimately, parents face a war on two fronts: Limiting inappropriate Internet access while still acknowledging their child's burgeoning independence. To avoid a losing battle, it's important to respect both the technical aspects of online control, and the ability of kids to counteract poor security measures. Children are born into a world of tablets and smartphones, and have an inherent comfort with the Internet that is absent in many adults. This comfort, however, often leads to a blindness about potential risks. The bottom line for parents? A need to respect their children's technological abilities by taking the time to understand online security controls. Internet safety for kids starts with adaptable, powerful parental controls, is backed by solid virus protection software, and works best when combined with a healthy dose of respect for their Internet-savvy children. With the right tools and the right attitude, parents can help make their kids' online time less worrisome.
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