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Being a Parent
in a Wired World

Because of the rapid expansion of the Internet into our children's / students' lives, and the fact that, very often, children are more "web savvy" than their parents or teachers when it comes to the use of technology, it is necessary to draw up a set of operating rules for children to follow. This set of rules needs to be something with which both children and their parents / teachers are comfortable.

WiredKids.org was a source of excellent materials for dealing with issues of children on the Net, especially their Parenting Online booklet here. It is a good guide to adults and the children in their charge about the advantages and pitfalls of using the Net.

It also makes one point crystal clear: the worst thing one can do in deal ing with the potential problems presented by web surfing is to try to cut students off from it. First of all, it is a vital source of data to which students need access. Secondly, and maybe even more importantly, it is ubiquitous, so that if children don't have access under your supervision, they'll access it somewhere else, and may be more at risk than ever.

There are two general alternatives to simply giving kids full, uncensored and unmonitored access to the Internet:
1) blocking content; and
2) monitoring content.

Software products are common for both these approaches, but you can enable limited protection without installing special software. If you have younger children or teens unlikely to tinker with the software (and undo your changes), you can use your browser's built-in content- blocking features. In Internet Explorer, for example, choose Internet Options from the Tools menu and click the Content tab. Click the "Enable" button in the Content Advisor box and adjust the categories of inappropriate content. To "spy" on kids using Internet Explorer, you can click the "History" button from time to time and see where they've been.

If you feel the need for more security, you can take advantage of a wide range of products available, which come in three categories:

1) content-filtering "nannyware"
2) software with "parent control" features, and
3) "spy" software that shows you exactly what they've been doing online

The use of these techniques and products can help, but none is perfect. Content filtering software often fails to block unwanted content, and can block perfectly innocent sites. "Spying" or monitoring can create resentment and mistrust as well.

The best and least appreciated approach is education--- both yours and your children's. Some parents, for example, spend time and effort blocking adult Web sites, but don't realize that non-adult sites or applications like instant messaging, can be sources of both inappropriate content and exposure to online predators.

It's also a good idea to have occasional, frank conversations with your children about the risks and dangers out there. Remember, most kids have access to other PCs as well - at the library, school and in the homes of friends. Making your kids generally resistant to the lure of online evils is often a better approach, in the long run, than trying to shield them from all those evils in all their forms..

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