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December 2006

Protecting Your Children Online

I hope you have benefited from this year’s Consumer Checkpoint columns. We greatly enjoyed reading or hearing the many reader comments received, and I addressed a number of them in this monthly column. As I look back at 2006, few issues seem more important to readers than the concerns they have regarding the vulnerability of their children or grandchildren when they are on the Internet. We discussed this issue twice before—in the April and May editions of the magazine (see archived articles HERE). However, a number of readers have asked me to take those discussions even further.

First is a troubling statistic. According to Forrester Research and the Wall Street Journal, only 32 percent of online parents with teenaged children protect their computers with parental controls. More parents would likely protect their children online if they new what could be done and how to install the protection.

Fortunately, a wide variety of tracking software is available to parents, although I must acknowledge that I have not tried any of the software at home yet. You will want to do additional background research on the software before buying.

Some programs not only record where your child might be going on the Web but also note the content of their e-mails and instant messages. Other software may also include a feature where it will send you a flagging e-mail message if your child or his or her pen pal is engaging in potentially problematic behavior.

IMSafer offers free software at www.imsafer.com that you can download to your computer to determine if your child is instant messaging, and it will log suspicious phrases and conversations for your review.

Solid Oak Software offers a $39.95 CYBERsitter web-filtering tool that is available at www.cybersitter.com. The software blocks access to undesirable sites, records and allows a view of all websites that were visited, records both sides of instant messaging, sets time restrictions for Internet usage, and allows parents to block networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook.

Makers of BeNetSafe, available at www.benetsafe.com, advertise the software as “your automated Internet chaperone.” BeNetSafe offers an $80- per-year program that profiles social networking to determine if there are potential problems. The site also discreetly notifies you if your child has given out a phone number, e-mail address, home address, school information, or your child is linked in any way to a “dangerous or illegal activity.” Furthermore, the site tracks all of the social-networking sites your child might use as well as any alias names he or she uses.

SearchHelp, available at www.searchhelp.com, markets“Sentry at Home” for $49.95. It too allows you to block certain websites and look (from a separate computer) at what your children are doing on the Internet in real time, and it will notify you when your children type or search using certain keywords or phrases. The software also allows you to automatically shut down instant messaging or chat sessions when inappropriate words, questionable phrases, or slang references occur.

I hope you might find these tools to be helpful. Again, check them out carefully before you buy.

Have a safe Holiday Season!

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