Keeping children under five safe online
Unless you're a particularly lazy laid-back parent, when your children are aged under five, you still have control over their computer - and internet - access. For littlies, a whitelist is ideal. It works by enabling your child to view only pages from internet sites you allow – so for a small child you enable just one or two sites he enjoys, and – for the moment at least – that will limit the cyberworld to a few carefully chosen, and extremely safe, locations.
Mumsnet top tips for keeping under-fives safe on the internet
- Always keep the computer in a family / communal room, and keep your children's use supervised. MrsWeasley
- Talk openly with your child about games / sites they're visiting, show interest and get involved. Biza
- Use some suitable parental control software to ensure your child doesn't accidentally stray into sites that are unsuitable, and don't take it off even if they promise not to go on websites they shouldn't - they might not realise the website is suspect till it's too late. Freckle
- Try to make computer usage something that you do together, rather than as a substitute babysitter/childminder. Robinpud
You need to install filtering tools that block access to content. If that sounds complex then even the most internet illiterate amongst us should be able to create a favourites folder in a child's name and add some safe sites to it (on PCs click on Tools, on Macs click on Bookmarks to do this).
Then show your child this is where they can find their favourite sites and they don't need to bother with anything else.
Tools that limit your child's time online might also be useful - some tools allow parents to block out times of the day when the child can or cannot go online, though for this age group the chances are you're going to be monitoring use pretty closely (or hogging the computer Mumsnetting).
"Mine aren't old enough to be surfing parts of the net I don't approve of (unless Cbeebies/Playhouse Disney has a social networking part I have not yet discovered) but I think the most crucial thing is to ensure children are aware of potential dangers." wannaBe
There are tons of different brands and types of parental control software options out there. So with Mumsnetters' help we've narrowed it down to four possible options:
- Google SafeSearch
- Net Nanny
- Windows Vista
- Mac OS X
Of course, you're welcome to try (and please report back to us if you do) any of the other offerings out there, but these all do a good job of, at the very least, blocking questionable websites and monitoring kids' time online. Each has advantages and disadvantages and will suit different folks, so it's worth reading up on all of them to see what will be best for you and your family.
Safesearch enables parents to filter sexually explicit websites and images from search results. As well as making it possible for parents to 'lock' this setting, sneakily it's also possible for you to see if someone has deactivated it. It's unlikely children under five will be quite that computer savvy, but it's useful if the computer is being shared between children of different ages.
CyberPatrol is versatile. It gives parents heaps of options, so you can make the features it offers apply to just some users, or all users. All parental control software lets you restrict your child/ren's access to external internet applications like chat or web browsing, but CyberPatrol can also restrict access to programmes on the computer's hard drive, like games.
The downside is that CyberPatrol can only be installed on one computer, so it could end up being pricey if you have a house full of laptops, plus it's not compatible with Macs. It does however get a good write up from Mumsnetters:
"Cyber Patrol is very good indeed. Blocks everything unsuitable. We also have the ability to view anything our daughter is using on the net. She only ever goes on the msn chatroom with friends from school (mind you, I wish we could ban that for all the arguments it causes)." smartiejake
This is allegedly the easiest parental filter to use. Net Nanny blocks peer-to-peer networks, allows remote management (helpful if your child needs access to a blocked site or needs extra time online and you're at work) and provides effective filtering.
Additional licenses for more than one computer must be bought separately, so again it might get pricey if you need to make more than one computer child-friendly. The big attraction is that while even non-netty parents found set up and use easy, it's supposedly hard for children to get round it, although this is only true if you set a tricky password:
"My daughter (eight years old at the time) hacked the password on Net Nanny - although in Net Nanny's defence my husband does say that he did not set a particularly strong password." soapbox
If you're thinking of buying a new computer or upgrading to Windows Vista, it's worth trying the parental controls included in this package before buying any additional software. Vista offers most of the major features that the other stand alone software provides: time limit settings, adjustable levels of site and application blocking, and usage logging
It doesn't allow you to manage the computer remotely and some say it doesn't allow parents to customise time limits as well as some of the other programmes on offer, but if this isn't that important to you, it's worth a try.
This is a Mac-operated system, which again comes with the controls built in and offers similar features to Vista. Favoured by the Mac fans on Mumsnet, it seems to get the thumbs up:
"It's very intuitive and I prefer it to Windows Vista. The safeguards work well and it allows you to limit time spent on the internet to an allocation you have chosen. I find the filtering easier as well and you can private browse if there are things you want to look at and don't have time to clear the browser." Peanutbear
As with all these systems though the security is only as good as the adults in charge of it:
"Although a breeze to set up, no system is completely infallible and the Mac system, like any, falls down if you give your child administrative rights to the computer (they can simply then override your settings – or if they're really mean lock you out!)." Geekboy