BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2003

  

 

BOOT CAMP 270 (08/04/03)

 

SAFER SURFING

 

Hundreds and quite possibly thousands of books have been written about childrearing and whilst you can find expert guidance on just about everything from teething to adolescence there’s comparatively little help in the standard works for concerned parents when it comes to computers and the Internet.

 

Computers hold no fear or mystery for children, they are introduced to them at an early age by the education system but many parents, especially those who may not have a PC at home or use one at work, are naturally worried by disturbing reports of the Internet community’s less savoury and occasionally downright dangerous inhabitants. 

 

It’s important to put the risks into perspective, though. The really horrendous events, where children are physically harmed, or worse, as a result of coming into contact with someone via the Internet are mercifully few and far between. Nevertheless, there is a very real chance that your child, if allowed unsupervised or unrestricted access to the Internet they could be exposed to material of a violent, sexual, illegal or deeply disturbing nature.

 

Email and chat rooms can encourage the exchange of highly dubious messages and lead to harassment and even bullying. However, by becoming familiar with the technology and taking responsibility for their children’s Internet activities, parents can minimise the risk and make using the Internet the useful, rewarding and entertaining experience it should be.  

 

Internet safety begins with where the PC is kept. It’s a lot easier to keep an eye on what your children are up to if the computer is in the living or family room. It will also be accessible to everyone and you’ll be better able to control its use. If your computing skills are not up to speed make it a family activity and encourage your children to teach you how to use it, it’s really not that difficult!

 

Older children, especially teenagers usually want their own PC in their bedrooms and this is when it becomes difficult to know what it is being used for. Before you allow it you should establish some basic ground rules and to back them up, install monitoring or filtering software – more about that in a moment. Make sure that they know it’s there, and that you know how to use it. Deterrence can also be a powerful ally and it doesn’t hurt to point out that Internet communications are far from private; not only does Windows and your monitoring software log the PC’s Internet and email activities, detailed records are also kept by Internet Service Providers and telephone companies. More computer savvy kids might also be reminded that deleted information can be recovered, and erasing web site ‘History’ or cache memory and emails doesn’t irretrievably destroy information and deleting files may in itself be cause for suspicion. 

 

The rules are best kept short and simple. Warn your child never to give out any information that could identify them and that includes their home address, telephone number and the name of their school, and never, ever, agree to see someone they’ve met online. You may want make exceptions and allow meetings under strict parental supervision at sensible times in busy public places but quite honestly it’s safest to impose a blanket restriction on the under-sixteen’s, and stick to it. Impress upon your child that they should never reply to suggestive or sexual email messages and to tell you immediately if they receive anything threatening or obscene. Copies of nuisance and obscene emails should be forwarded to your ISP’s support or complaints department (and send a copy to the sender’s ISP), stressing that the recipient is a child and insisting that they take action. Set times when they can go online to prevent late-night surfing and if necessary install a program or utility that will cut them off at the appointed hour.

 

By all means give your child their own email address – check with your ISP -- you really don’t want them using yours as your mailbox it will quickly become cluttered with all kinds of nonsense. Choose the address carefully, avoiding family names, stick to genderless nicknames or something completely anonymous. Free email services like Hotmail and Yahoo are not a good idea as they attract huge amounts of objectionable Spam.

 

Chat rooms can be a very difficult area for parents. Scare stories abound but many of them are a harmless outlet for mindless playground banter, on the other hand there are plenty of others that will confirm your worst suspicions. If you decide to allow chat room access you should make it your business to find out what it is all about. Only permit them to use ‘moderated’ chat rooms with clear usage and privacy policies, even so stress to your child that since they can’t see the person they’re chatting to they have no way of telling if it’s another 13-year old boy or girl or a 50-year old paedophile ‘groomer’. It is important that you sit in a few sessions, and make the occasional spot check, but before you make too many judgements on the content, just remember that you were a teenager once…

 

Finally, a word on web filtering and monitoring software, and if you’re letting the kids loose on your main PC don’t forget to keep your backups and anti-virus software up to date. There’s plenty of filter software to choose from and a list of web addresses for the best-known commercial programs is below. Many of these sites have links to trial or demo programs. However, my personal favourite is a freeware program called IprotectYou. The basic version (there’s also a paid-for ‘Pro’ version) has a good range of facilities to log activity, block emails and chat sessions and restrict access to a wide range of web sites, using a customisable dictionary of words and terms. There’s also a scheduler to limit Internet access by time and date. It’s easy to setup and use and is password protected to prevent fiddling. The program is a little over 2.5Mb and it can be downloaded from: http://www.softforyou.com/.

 

USEFUL LINKS

http://www.cybersitter.com/

http://www.cyberpatrol.com/

http://www.netnanny.com/index.html

http://www.safesurf.com/

http://www.securitysoft.com/

http://www.surfcontrol.com/

 

Next week – Suspend, Sleep and Hibernate

 

JARGON FILTER

 

CACHE

Computer memory or disc space, used to store data that needs to be accessed on a regular basis

 

CHAT-ROOM

Web site which allows subscribers or members to exchange text messages with other users

 

MODERATOR

Person in charge of a chat-room monitoring for undesirable content or behaviour

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

Although Internet Explorer has built-in web filtering facilities (Tools > Internet Options > Content) it is not very effective as it uses a ratings system that depends on web sites carrying an ICRA (Internet Content Ratings Association) ‘label’; needless to say few disreputable sites subscribe to the scheme.

 

Whilst Internet filtering and monitor software can provide a basic level of protection it’s no substitute for parental control, nor should it be regarded as an ‘electronic babysitter’ and younger children especially should not be allowed unsupervised Internet access

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