One afternoon our 7-year-old daughter asked if she could use the computer to play math games and read about a toy she'd been saving her pennies for. "Sure," I said as I helped her load the relevant websites on the family computer.
While my daughter has never wandered from the sites we let her visit, I still kept an eye on her screen. The Internet — all of it — was just a few clicks and keywords away, even if my daughter didn't know how to get there yet. I wondered if it was time for our family to think about Internet safety.
To me, Internet safety has always meant filters and site-blocking software. But I admit that I've had a little angst about using them. I wished I could simply pick the few sites that I allowed my daughter to visit and make the rest inaccessible.
My husband explained that I actually could do that. Most filtering programs have a "white list" setting, where only sites approved by parents can be viewed. But it's also possible to set up user accounts on both Windows and Macintosh operating systems so that users can only access preselected sites. (Learn how to set up site permissions.) So, on our system, my second-grader can click her username, punch in her password and voila! Her five to 10 sites are available for viewing. Nothing else gets through.
Ever the cynic, I had to test-drive the system under her name. I misspelled the URL: blocked. I clicked on a banner advertisement: blocked. I tried videos embedded from other sites: still blocked. I smiled with satisfaction each time the requested material wouldn't load.
Clearly, there are lots of good filters that we can put into action when our kids grow to the age when they need more freedom to surf. But for now, my kids are not old enough to have research projects or sophisticated hobbies, so my husband and I have decided to treat the Internet as we do the rest of the entertainment world — to carefully handpick what we allow in our home.
Learn how to set site permissions on your home computer.
This article first appeared in the August/September, 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "Set Your Sites." Copyright © 2011 by Susanna Phillips. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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