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Five tips for protecting your children online

There's no shortage of stories and articles that talk about children suffering the consequences of unsafe internet use. As the internet allows individuals from everywhere to connect, chat and share pictures and other media easily, children can get themselves into danger while surfing even the most innocent of websites. We'll share a few tips that allow parents to configure their computer and software to provide another layer of protection for their children.

Most parents' primary line of defense when it comes to protecting their children while they use the internet is software designed for internet filtering. Popular software packages such as NetNanny and CyberSitter allow parents a wide range of customization options which include disallowing sites by keyword, by type, or allowing the software to act as a guide to choose which sites to block. These programs are very difficult for children to disable or circumvent – even those that are relatively tech-savvy. By preventing children from visiting sites where they can view pornographic material or connect with other anonymous internet users, internet filtering software is an excellent tool for protecting children while they surf the net.

Child or computer monitoring software is another fantastic way to keep tabs on the computer's use. This software actually providers many different uses, as the owner of the computer is legally liable for any damage caused by it – including the downloading of pirated music, movies, games and software. Users can legally install this software as long as they are the owner of the computer – or the parent of a minor child that's in the household. Along with allowing parents "after the fact" monitoring of what websites their children are visiting and what programs they are using, some monitoring software can be set to send an email alert if certain words are typed in or certain programs launched. Whether you want to keep loose tabs or play police officer – child monitoring software should be one line of defense you consider.

Both Microsoft Windows and Apple's OS X operating system offer parental controls that allow concerned parents to ability to limit many different programs. Parental controls can typically do things like prevent certain applications from being launched and prevent access to different areas of the internet. Internet content filters are also available that restrict access to websites, similar to how the above-mentioned internet filtering software works. Although it may seem like the major dangers are to be found through the web browser, there are many other pieces of software in which children can find danger. For instance, video-chatting software and instant messaging programs can allow children to chat with people who have less-than-good intentions towards them. Do a bit of digging through your operating system's parental controls to see what you can make use of.

It might sound like a bit of a no-brainer – but children won't feel the opportunity to go to prohibited sites or those that they feel might get them in trouble if the computer is placed in an open, high-traffic area of the house. Simply keep the monitor facing outward, where everyone is able to see what is going on, and it's unlikely that pornographic or other sites will be loaded up for viewing. Children are curious, but are also averse to things that are likely to easily result in punishment, so this tends to work. If the child has their own laptop, it can be a requirement that it be used in plain sight and not in the child's bedroom. This is especially important if the child's computer has a webcam, as what starts as a seemingly innocent web chat or Skype conversation can end up as something a little more risqué.

In truth, there is no software package available that can beat educating children about the dangers that can be found on the internet and how to avoid them. Studies show that spending time with children and demonstrating responsible use of the internet can help prevent many of the issues that have been reported in the news with children and internet use. While filtering and monitoring software are an excellent supplementary measure, the primary way to protect children while online is to ensure that their online use is with sites that won't put them at risk.

These tips will help vigilant parents with protecting their children while they use the internet. It's both difficult and unnecessary to act as the internet police force for the household, especially when many children are online for hours each day for school and social purposes. As long as parents are paying some attention to their children's internet usage, and spending some time educating them of the risks that come with social networks and internet chatting, children will remain safe and avoid becoming the latest news story.

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