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Tools: Protecting your kids online

(CNN) -- Many parents are excited about the resources on the Web, but they are also afraid that their children may come across inappropriate material. So how do you protect your children from unsuitable material online? Dara O'Neil of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility joined us to offer some parental guidelines to ensure safe surfing habits for your family.

First, communicate what you expect from your children when they are online.

"Parents can say very specifically, 'I don't want you accessing any pornographic Web sites, anything with violence, or illegal activities,'" O'Neil says. "The most important thing is to talk to your kids. Talk to them as to what you see as appropriate use of the Internet."

Limiting how much time children can spend on the Internet will help youngsters focus on their objective and keep them from straying from research or school work.

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Parents can also check up on all of the Web sites that have been visited. By clicking on the "History" in the Internet Explorer browser, you can see a list of all the Web sites that have been accessed over the past few days. But this "History" can be deleted by a sophisticated teen, so it's not a foolproof method of monitoring what your child is viewing online.

You can also purchase a software package that will do screen captures of anything that has taken place on a computer during a given period of time. The programs can capture what has been typed in e-mails, chat rooms, and instant messenger services.

Finally, there is the option of installing a filtering program that limits the type of content a user can access on the Web. But because filtering programs use keywords to block material, they can inadvertently restrict content you want your children to access.

For example, many filtering programs would prevent a child from researching the term "breast cancer." In fact, the biggest complaint about filtering programs is that some materials that are necessary for research may be blocked.

Without resorting to installing any software, one option is to change certain settings in your Web browser. In Internet Explorer, for example, you can go into the "Tools" menu and block certain levels of information that you see as undesirable, using the Internet Options menu. However, these settings are reversible by other users.

For concerned parents who are just getting started on the Net, one good site to visit is It compiles information from many different sources for parents and groups information according to a child's age.

O'Neil cautioned that some filtering technologies may be politically motivated and have very clear agendas as to what information they will allow you to access. For instance, typing in the word "gay" on many of these search engines that are filtered ISP's will not allow you to access anything to do with gay content.

"There's a trade off there that parents need to be aware of," she said.

But parents should also understand the risk involved in restricting children's exposure to computers and the Internet. "Kids today are a part of this new society, where the Internet and computers are a part of everyday life," O'Neil says. "And kids who don't have access are going to be at a disadvantage when they leave home and try to get a job or go to college. So kids that don't have access and the knowledge are really left behind."

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