How to Protect Children on the Internet

Experts estimate that more than 93 percent of children in the United States have some access to the Internet, whether in school, in the library, or at home. All people – even adults – need to protect themselves from predators online, but our society has an obligation to do all we can to ensure the protection of children both in their offline and online lives.
Although a large share of the adult population is aware of the Internet and uses it on a regular basis, there are many households in the United States and abroad where the principal user of the Internet is a child. This is the case because most children growing up today are introduced to technology at the earliest opportunity so they will be comfortable with using the tools that later will help them succeed in their adult lives. In 2009, the fastest growing segment of the Internet-using population was children 3 to 5 years old. This scenario poses a problem for many parents, who want their children to be exposed to the technology but not the harmful elements of the Internet. There is a potential for crime against children on the Internet, but security experts are quick to point out that advanced technology also has made it easier for parents to monitor the activities of their children and restrict access to certain Internet areas. Unfortunately, many experts also agree that no system or software product aimed at protecting children is 100 percent foolproof. Child psychologists and security experts agree that parents must be vigilant in communicating with their children on a regular basis and understand as best they can what activities they are participating in online.

The main challenge for parents is that the majority of children use the Internet alone. The use of a computer is usually a solitary activity, and without the proper restraints, it is possible that children will have access to the entire, unfiltered Internet.

Parental Control Software

The use of parental control software has grown exponentially in recent years, just as the use of the Internet by children has grown. The software products, sold by many different companies and under many different names, all accomplish the same goals.

· Some parents choose to restrict their children from participating in chat rooms, and parental control software can place a block on these types of Web sites. Chat rooms have a reputation for unmoderated discussions and a high potential for crime against children and even adults. Whether the reputation is fair or not, in a recent survey of American adults, chat rooms were the single most-mentioned element of the Internet that parents feared.

· Restricting the ability to use instant messaging (IM). IM is an extremely popular activity among children, comparable to the number of children who use text messages on cell phones. Parental control software can restrict children from using all instant messaging programs.

· Parental control software can utilize filters, which search for certain words on a Web site and block the site if the words are there. The parents can create the list of words that they wish to use as filters.

Parental Control Hardware For parents of children who are technologically savvy, the potential exists for the children to hack into the parental control software and change the settings to allow for full access to the Internet. In these instances, hardware might be a better option than software. There are many parent control hardware products that attach to a computer and record all activity of its users, but hardware does not contain all the security features of software; it simply monitors the activity.

Education and Safety Tips

Most experts agree that educating children on the proper use of the Internet is the first step in crime prevention. The following are universal guidelines that usually are cited:
  • Identity theft is committed against children as well as adults. Teach children about the appropriate types of information to give out and what types of information should always be kept private. Personal information such as address, phone number, real name, and even their school's name should never be disclosed online.

· Children should understand that credit card information should never be mentioned online except when shopping from approved sites and when (or if) they have their parents' permission.

· Pictures should never be sent to anyone, even people that are known to the children.

· Teach children to never physically meet someone they met online without getting permission from the parents or having the parents accompany them.

· Passwords used to access the Internet should be changed often.

· There should be time limits on Internet usage, just as many parents limit television viewing.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Internet Specialist course?

· Encourage children to make use of library computers devoted especially to children, which usually have a high level of security. It is important to note that not all library computers have such protections.

· Place a child's computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom so that you can more easily monitor what they are viewing.

Internet Browser Privacy Settings
One important tactic that many parents overlook is the use of the security settings in most Internet browsers. Every browser gives you the ability to set how restrictive the browser should be in allowing downloaded files and other content from entering a computer. For example, if a child visits a site that automatically downloads a file to the every visitor's computer, there are settings in the browser that will determine if this file should be downloaded.
The browser settings are mostly aimed at protecting against potential viruses from entering a computer, but when the browser settings are placed at a high level of protection, they also can protect against inappropriate Web sites for children and protect against downloading specific types of files.

Essential and Recommended Software for the Internet

To use the Internet, several software packages are essential and others are strongly recommended to make full use of the Web. In this article, we will consider some of the most important types of software and a very brief overview of each package's functionality.

Internet Browsers

We will start with the most obvious: Internet browsers. Without a browser, you cannot access a significant portion of the Internet. There are parts of the Internet that you can access without a browser, such as e-mail. However, a browser lets you "surf," or explore, the World Wide Web, which is your portal to the Internet world.

When the Internet first started to be used by the general public, there were very few browsers on the market. A browser called Netscape Navigator was a pioneer and one of the earliest browsers, developed by the company Netscape Communications Corp. At its height of popularity, the market share for the Netscape browser was over 90 percent, but by 2006 it had fallen to less than 1 percent.

In 1995, Microsoft introduced a browser of its own, the Internet Explorer. Starting in that year, it made the browser an integral part of its operating system, meaning that it was preinstalled on nearly every computer sold in the U.S. There was, much later, a legal battle concerning this browser that we will not cover here, but it is worth noting that Internet Explorer rapidly became the most popular Internet browser in the world and continues today to hold the highest market share.

Firefox and Opera are also two other popular browsers on the market today. They are both gaining in popularity, especially among younger users of the Internet. While they both have essentially the same functionality as Explorer, they have a different interface that some people prefer.

A browser, regardless of its manufacturer, is capable of surfing the Internet, subscribing to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, and downloading documents and files. When people visit a Web site and they wish to label it as a site they would visit again in the future, they can "bookmark" the site. This records the Internet address in a list of favorite sites, and that particular site can be selected easily from this list the next time the user wants to visit.

E-mail Programs
Similar to the situation with Internet Explorer, Microsoft created an e-mail program called Outlook in 1997 that was included in its operating system. As such, it quickly became the most widely used e-mail program in the world and continues today to be the top choice for many people. But there are many options. An innovative company called Mozilla has an e-mail program, Thunderbird, that is very popular. We discussed e-mail programs, so there is not much need to elaborate on their functionality here.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is a suite of software products that is regarded as essential for most businesses and many students and individuals. There are alternatives to this suite, but the alternatives have such a small share of the market that they are not widely known to the general public. Most of the business and personal documents on the Internet require the following software to open and use.

The following is a partial list of programs in the suite:

· Microsoft Word. "Word," as it is commonly called, is word-processing software. It is considered standard for all businesses. Word-processing software enables a user to draft letters and other business communication and documents.

· Microsoft Excel. This is a spreadsheet program commonly used for financial analysis and some database functions. Analysts use it to calculate a very wide variety of financial documents, complete with graphs and charts.

· Microsoft Access. This is a database program. While it is not widely used for Internet purposes, it is one of the most popular database programs ever created.

· PowerPoint. The majority of presentations use this software for designing slides and other materials.

Podcatchers A podcatcher is a software package that enables a user to subscribe to an RSS feed, which is a subscription to a Web site. iTunes is one of the most popular podcatchers, but there are many more.
Photoshop, created by the Adobe company, is generally regarded as the professional standard for all image-editing. The program enables a user to view images, photographs, and other graphical material. Many professional Web designers use Photoshop to create images as well as edit them. The program has many built-in features that enable users to create their own business logos and custom images.

Acrobat and Acrobat Reader

Acrobat is also from the Adobe family of programs, and it is used primarily to create and read Portable Document Format (PDF) files. PDF files are commonly found on the Internet, and the free version of Acrobat Reader should be installed on every computer that accesses the Internet.


Dreamweaver is a software program that is used by many Internet specialists to create and edit Web sites. It has long been considered the standard professional program in the industry, but it is not the only Web site editing program.

Antivirus Software

Norton and MacAfee are two companies that hold most of the market share in antivirus software. It is absolutely essential for any computer that accesses the Internet to have antivirus software. Each program allows users to schedule regular virus scans of a computer to ensure that their computers are free of any harmful files or viruses.