Safe Surfing How to Protect Yourself and Your Children
By: John Shepler
While researching material for these articles each week on
the Internet, we often find ourselves feeling violated by the
language and content of sites that appear in the middle of perfectly
innocent searches. It's bad enough for adults, but it could also
happen to children doing the same searches for their school papers.
The problem seems to be getting more pervasive as the Net expands
to tens of millions of sites. Even the advertising banners on
otherwise harmless pages is sometimes of questionable propriety.
What, if anything, can we do about it?
Well, we all DO
have the option of simply pulling the plug. But that means we
have to give up our online vacation maps and instant news and
stock quotes and all the great material for school papers. Shut
off the opportunity for exploring and collaborating and you cut
yourself and your children off from some of the richest educational
and entertainment resources available. In the virtual world that
is emerging, we need to be able to tap this wealth, but not at
the expense of exposing ourselves to a steady barrage of offensive
language, images and come-ons.
Perhaps the public library is a good model of what might be
more effective. There is a wide variety of material, but it is
categorized. We trust that when we go to the shelves marked for
computer books that we'll find just those and not books with
mature themes. The same is true in bookstores. The children's
section in Barnes and Noble is as advertised, and it's safe to
let your kids read there. The common denominator is that a librarian
or bookseller is moderating the experience. Imagine the chaos
you'd have if authors could walk in and place their books anywhere
they felt like. You'd have no idea what you'd come upon next.
I see a trend developing on the Internet to put the same type
of organizational structure in place. The Internet community
has always prided itself on personal responsibility and self-policing
rather than stifling bureaucracy or the rule of government law.
In addition to robots that simply index anything and everything
out there, directories are emerging that are reviewed and controlled
by editors who guarantee to have the type of content they promote.
Yahoo is the oldest and largest human compiled directory,
but it also displays millions of uncategorized web pages. Years ago, they had a special area for children called Yahooligans. Today there are other resources that you'll find in the list of related sites below.
formerly The Mining Company, has 700 different categories, each
moderated by a volunteer editor interested in that particular
topic. You can suggest additions to the site, but it is strictly
the editor's choice of what gets offered.
The next step in safe surfing was OneKey, a search engine
designed specifically to protect children, although the material
is not focused on juvenile sites. Every site is inspected by
a person prior to approval. Jim Perkins, who runs OneKey, has
an editorial policy that filters out all of the sites on the
Net that do not meet Network TV Standards. There are currently
over 500 categories of sites in the database, such as business,
entertainment, government, library, lifestyles, technology, sports
as well as education related.
While specially compiled directories are a step in the right
direction, your best solution to protecting yourself and your
children today is probably a combination of actions. Certainly,
you'll want to bookmark and use directories and web sites, such
as A Positive Light (now JohnShepler.com), that prove themselves to have your interests
at heart. You may also wish to install site blocking software
such as Net Nanny or SafeSurf on your computer. Many objectionable
sites are blocked, along with search words that most parents
find offensive. The software can also be set to prevent children
from entering chat rooms and reading postings to message boards.
Another easy solution is to build a table of web sites that
you and your children enjoy visiting, by creating your own web
page. Once you build a favorite links web page using web authoring
software such as Adobe Dream Weaver or Microsoft FrontPage, make
it your default browser page. You can even upload it and have
it available to family and friends online, if you wish. The nice
feature of doing this is that your browser HOME button will always
bring up your own list of approved links.
Unfortunately, all of the technical solutions will never replace
parental responsibility. Just like parents have always taught
their kids not to talk to strangers, it's important that kids
today understand that there is danger in conversations online.
Just as it is not OK for kids to venture too far from home without
a parent, they need supervision when venturing beyond the web
sites that parents have approved for them.
We need to use our power as consumers to help drive the Internet
marketplace. As people choose to use filtered directories and
support family friendly web sites, the marketplace will respond
by offering more of this type of resource. Sites that many find
objectionable will become relegated to their own specialized
directories. Supply and demand will ultimately prove to be the
most powerful force in setting the tone of what dominates the
World Wide Web.
Also visit these related
Online Safety Resources Guide - More than 60 individual resources aimed helping you stay safe online, including resources for safe online shopping, identity theft resources and more.
Stole Your Identity? - Some suprising revelations about how
identity theft is really being committed and what you
can do to protect yourself.
Your Wireless Network From Snoops - Unless you've taken specific
measures, the wireless router you installed at home or work is
probably wide open to poachers and hackers. Learn how to lock
it up in only minutes.
Fact Monster - It's a kid-friendly online almanac, dictionary, encyclopedia and homework help.
Kids Know It - Thousands of free educational games and activities.
Get Net Wise - A
public awareness program for kids and parents to use the net
safely. Tips for parents and kids, plus recommended safe sites.