National Consumers League

Technology

NCL Technology Issues

Parental controls: Managing where children are surfing online

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Check out where your kids are surfing to onlineThe Internet is a powerful learning tool. It provides a world of information that is instantly available 24/7. However, the wide-ranging and anonymous nature of the Internet brings with it risks—from explicit or inappropriate content to predators lurking in chat rooms and using instant messaging services. Due to the Web’s potential dangers, many service providers offer free tools and software to help restrict certain types of content and features to keep young Web users safe.

 

Internet service providers (ISPs)

Web providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast offer such free parental control features as the ability to:

  • Get a Web activity report that shows you all the Web sites your children visit or attempt to visit. You can check out the sites your kids have visited and block specific sites or types of sites you don’t want them going back to.
  • Create unique profiles for different family members with individualized online usage limits. This can be useful if you have children of different ages. One master account can be used to manage the settings of several “subordinate” account users.
  • Block access to certain Web tools such as instant messaging, gaming, chat rooms, and message boards, allowing parents to keep better track of what their children are saying and to whom.
  • Remotely manage your account with the ability to change parental control settings from any computer with Web access, whether in or outside the home.
  • View your child’s online activities as they happen with real-time Web tracking features
  • Allow young Web users to request permission to visit unauthorized Web sites for an adult to approve.
  • Receive a tamper controls alert if someone other than you tries to change the control settings.
  • Set up a timer that limits the amount of time users can spend online.
  • View search monitoring results that track the words and phrases your children search for online to help learn about what they are interested in. This way you can find out if they are trying to seek out blocked or inappropriate content.

To get more detailed information about exactly what controls are available to you, and what the system requirements are, the best bet is to contact your service provider directly. To lean more about the different Internet provider options, visit the Safe Families site here.

Internet browsers and search engines

While Internet service providers offer a variety of great parental control options, you can also set up similar controls on the Web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, etc.) level. Most browsers let you restrict access to certain sites or pre-approve a list of sites your child has the ability to access. For example:

  • Safari users can create child user accounts that let you choose between three levels of Internet access:
    1. give your children unrestricted access to all sites
    2. a setting that only blocks access to certain restricted sites
    3. an option that only lets children access sites you that you have pre-selected. Email and chat features can be set up so that young users can only chat and email with contacts you know and trust. Weekday and weekend computer time limits can be put in place as well.
  • Firefox and Chrome have no built-in parental control features. But, if your computer uses one of these browsers, you can download extensions such as ProCon (which blocks accidental visits to adult sites), LeechBlock (which sets up time limits for different users), and FoxFilter (which blocks content based on user-defined criteria). To learn more about different extension options, click here.
  • Search engines like Google and Bing have “safe search” settings that screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results. This can be a great option since kids often stumble upon inappropriate content by accident when searching seemingly innocent terms.

This is not an exhaustive list of the available browser and search options, but is intended to give you an idea of the types of useful features that are available. At the very least, almost all browsers will give you the option of blocking access to restricted sites, whether it’s a feature that’s available out of the box, or if it’s an extension you have to download.