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Pornography & Violence On The Web

With more than 4.2 million pornographic web sites (by one estimate), it's not hard for your kids to stumble across pornographic imagery on the Web. You probably know that. But you may not realize that shockingly violent photos and videos are commonplace, too - sometimes even on highly popular sites like YouTube, which attempt to ban them. What can you do to safeguard your kids?

Start with what might be the most difficult part: an open and honest conversation with your kids. We suggest telling them:
  • How you feel about online pornography and extreme violence, and why you feel that way - for example, why this content violates your values, your religious faith, or your commitment to respect other human beings
  • Why some "bad" sites put your entire family at risk - for example, by placing illegal child pornography on your computer, or trying to install software which could steal your parents' financial information
  • What to do if they accidentally find themselves on a site that contains inappropriate content: for example, "click the 'X' button to close the browser, and then tell me about it"
  • What your "house rules" are about viewing pornography and extreme violence on the Internet
  • What you'll do if your kids violate your rules - and what you'll do if you suspect they are (for example, randomly monitoring the web sites they're visiting)
  • What you want your kids to do if they're at someone else's house and they start showing you pornography or extreme violence on the Internet. (For example, "tell your friend you're not comfortable with that stuff; suggest doing something different; involve a parent; call home.")
  • That some sites just aren't intended for kids. For example, many folks don't know it, but YouTube is supposed to be off-limits for kids under 13.
Your Technical Options

Now that you've got the "human" side of the equation under control - or, as “under control” as anything involving kids can be - let's turn to the technical side. If you'd like to control the sites your kids can visit and the content they can see, you have some options - none foolproof, but all potentially helpful. They all start by taking control of your own computer. Set yourself up as your computer's Administrator, give yourself an administrator's password, and then set up non-administrator accounts for your kids. With their accounts, they won't be able to install software or perform many other tasks without your permission.

Once you've done that, consider some of these steps:
  1. Use your operating system's parental controls. For example, Windows Vista will allow you to block specific sites, block all sites that have been given a specific content "rating," or only allow your kids to view sites you permit. Mac OS X Leopard has similar controls.
  2. Purchase and install Internet filtering software such as Net Nanny, customizing its configuration to reflect your family's preferences and values.
  3. Use the free OpenDNS service. This service replaces the Internet's standard system for translating the Web addresses you type in into numerical network addresses the Internet "understands." Once you've set up OpenDNS, you can instruct it simply not to translate the addresses of any inappropriate site. While OpenDNS can be evaded, you need fairly sophisticated technical knowledge to do it.
  4. Make sure appropriate controls and settings are turned on at the key sites your kids visit. For example, by default, Google uses "Moderate SafeSearch," which excludes most explicit images from Google's image search features, but doesn't filter ordinary Web searches. If that's not restrictive enough for you, turn on Strict Filtering for your computer here. (Other search engines, like Yahoo!, have their own similar settings pages.)

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