Since that article ran, I've received many e-mail messages and telephone
calls, expressing gratitude for detailing some tools parents can use to
monitor online usage and also urgent requests for more detailed information.
Moms and dads everywhere are finding themselves completely ill equipped
to apply good parenting guidelines to this new electronic playground where
the kids truly know more than the adults.
Throughout the feedback I received, there was a common thread: "How
can I exercise more control over my child's online use of the computer?"
Since the last column focused on tracking-down inappropriate use of online
services, here's a more pro-active approach with some preventive steps
that you can take before the problems arise.
In America Online you can exert some discipline and control over how
your child uses this online resource. Expect your kids to shriek and balk
at first, but eventually it will be accepted, grudgingly, just like a Learner's
You must sign onto AOL as the primary account holder to change any preferences
for the screen names in your account. Press CONTROL+K and type the keywords
"Parental Controls". Here, you'll see all the screen names in your account
as well as the assigned controls over the type of online content accessed
through America Online.
A "Child Access" setting is recommended for children up to the age of
12, and will allow access only to content and services found within the
Kids Only channel of America Online. Additionally, this will limit any
entry to Internet sites accessed through AOL to only those deemed appropriate
for this age group.
A Child account cannot send or receive Instant Messages, enter member-created
chat rooms, or use premium services. Only text-based e-mail is allowed
and no file attachments or downloading are permitted with a Child account.
"Teen" accounts can go anywhere on America Online, and use any America
Online feature, but their access to Internet Web sites through America
Online is restricted to those sites selected for their age group (13-16).
They are also blocked from Internet newsgroups that allow file attachments,
and they cannot use premium services.
As the Primary account user, you can customize both Child and Teen accounts.
If you want your child to have full access to America Online, for example,
but want to prohibit all chat room activity, you can click on Custom Controls
and specify exact settings for your child's access to Chat Rooms, Newsgroups,
World Wide Web, Downloading and Mail.
The last two options, Downloading and Mail, are very important if you
suspect your child might be downloading inappropriate content from the
Internet or cavorting with unsavory sorts online. Personally, I don't see
any reason children should download anything from the Internet without
strict parental approval.
Downloading images, games or other software goes directly to your hard
disk and eats away at your valuable storage space. These files are also
a prime source of computer viruses that could seriously damage your system.
I'd block all AOL Downloads and any FTP file transfers. If the kids need
something desperately downloaded, you can sign on with your username and
execute the download if it's deemed suitable.
From Custom Controls you can also totally block all e-mail or you can
specify the e-mail addresses of people that you authorize your child to
communicate with. Therefore, your children can freely exchange electronic
correspondence with friends, family or fellow students with you're approval.
If new friends come online, these Mail controls can be edited at anytime.
If you connect to the Internet directly, rather than through a service
such as AOL, you'll need to install a filtering software application, such
as SurfWatch, to stand vigil over your computer when you're not on duty.
While there are many filtering applications, SurfWatch is one of the best
and most effective. The price is reasonable and regular updates are available.
The network version, SurfWatch Proserver, is popular among businesses interested
in curbing the extra-curricular surfing activities of on-duty employees.
With a little diligence you can remove temptation and create a safe
online environment for your family. After all, there are so many exciting
and positive things to discover on the Internet. Let's keep the focus there!