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How to keep your kids and family safe online. How to track kids online surfing? How to avoid cyberstalkers?

Posted on May 14, 2011
How to keep your kids and family safe online. How to track kids online surfing? How to avoid cyberstalkers?

You make sure your children buckle up in the car. You insist that they wear helmets when they bike. You have taught them to never speak to strangers. Have you taken steps to protect them from the potential dangers that may lurk in your family room or perhaps your child's own bedroom? According to a report by Child Trends, an independent research center that focuses on children and youth, more than three out of four children ages 3 to 17 have access to a computer at home.
 
While Internet access certainly has its advantages – kids can study, prepare for school, and keep in touch with friends and family, for example – it has its dangers as well. Children surfing the Internet run the risk of encountering pornography, child predators, violent images, cyberbullying and more. Before you toss your PC into the garbage, learn how you can track your kids' online surfing, help them be less vulnerable to cyberstalkers or other threats, and generally keep your family safe online.
 
Inform your children that you will be monitoring their computer use. While you may not want to tell them precisely what measures you intend to take, in case they try to thwart your actions, you should give them as much information as possible. Let them know upfront what you do and do not consider suitable, as well as the consequences that will occur should your guidelines be ignored.
 
You might decide that you will help them choose their screen names to avoid potentially suggestive or identifying monikers. Instruct them that they should never agree to meet anyone they met online, even if they truly believe it is someone their own age, and they should not ever give out personal information such as their name, phone number, address or even what school they attend. It is also vital that you let your children know they can always come to you should they be concerned about someone who has contacted them online, or any upsetting content they have viewed.
 
Once you have established these ground rules, you can begin to implement your tools. An easy way to curtail unacceptable computer use is to keep your family's computer in an open area of your home, such as the living room or family room. Situating the computer so that the monitor is facing the room will act as a deterrent for many sites or activities a child might visit out of curiosity in the privacy of their own room.
 
If you are using a Windows-based computer, you likely have a set of parental controls built in. You can use these controls to determine how much time your children spend online, the time of day they can access the Internet, and even the sites they visit. To enable Parental Controls, you will need to create a special account on the computer for your children that is not an administrator account. Then, log on to the computer as an administrator, go to the Control Panel and select Parental Controls. Adjust the settings, such as Web Restrictions or Time Limits, as you choose.
 
Another way to keep a handle on what your kids are doing online is to track where they have been using your web browser's history. For most web browsers, the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+H will open the browser's history menu. If you spot a questionable site name in the history list, you can click on it to open that webpage.
 
Be aware, though, that even younger children are typically quite computer savvy. Clearing the browser's history is quite simple, and there is no easy way to get this data back. Even if you talk to your children about your concerns, they may think you are being controlling or overprotective and take steps to cover their online tracks. If this is the case, consider installing reputable tracking software onto your computer. Some software, like Puresight PC,  will not only show you the sites to which your children have traveled, but will also allow you to view their chatting or messaging history so that you can be sure that they are not having potentially dangerous online conversations.
 
If you do find evidence of someone inappropriately contacting your child, take action immediately. You can use software like Puresight PC to block the other party's name from email accounts, instant messaging programs and social networking sites. You can also have your child close the account through which the cyberstalker is making contact and create a new one if you are concerned about them finding another way to make contact. If your child has been solicited online, contact your local police or your state's Attorney General's office immediately.
 
Finally, Internet access for children today is pretty much a fact of life and important to their development as tech savvy individuals. Taking the right precautions in terms of clear communication with your child, enablement of parental controls, and the utilization of some type of software to monitor their online behavior will ensure your child’s Internet safety.


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