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 access. Here's how to keep them safe
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 that will limit the cyberworld to a few carefully chosen, and extremely safe, locations.
How can I limit the internet pages my child sees?
You need to install filtering tools that block access to content. If that sounds complex, don't worry - there's a cheat's way. Even the most internet-illiterate among 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 on Mumsnet yourself).
Best parental controls
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 five possible options:
Google SafeSearch / CyberPatrol / 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, it's also sneakily 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 its features apply to just some users or to all. 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 writeup from Mumsnetters.
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-techie parents found setup and use easy, it's supposedly hard for children to get round it, although this is only true if you set a tricky password.
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.
Mac OS X
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. As with all these systems though the security is only as good as the adults in charge of it.
What Mumsnetters say about parental controls
- "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 chat room with friends from school (mind you, I wish we could ban that for all the arguments it causes)."
- "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."
- "Mac OS X is 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."
- "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!)"
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Last updated: about 3 years ago