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How To Monitor Kids' Internet Use
Lori Beldo, Denver PC

With the recent terrorism at Columbine High School and other schools across the country, many discussions are taking place about the role that the Internet is playing in our children’s lives. Today, children often know more about computers and the Internet than do their parents. It is time we as parents take responsibility for our children’s access to the Internet, just as we do in all other aspects of preparing our children for life.

Is the Internet alone to blame for the recent events at our schools? No. Timothy McVeigh learned how to make bombs from books and the public library. So did the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynsky. The Internet just makes it easier to get this information. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were Internet savvy and had created web sites for personal use. They had also helped to create the Columbine High School web site. Information on these web sites contained information on making pipe bombs. Neither the parents, nor the school, took the responsibility of monitoring the content of these web sites. Why?

Are your children in the driver’s seat in your family on the "Information Super Highway?" Have you been avoiding learning about the Internet? Don’t know where to start? Overwhelmed with the prospect of learning? Too busy working to support your family? These are all valid justifications for not taking control of the driver’s seat, but it is your responsibility as a parent to supervise the use of your home computer.

The Internet is a wonderful invention! It’s the world’s biggest encyclopedia and a great information tool for the use of the entire family. Combine all the inventions of the telephone, the radio, the movies, the television, the personal computer, and all the public libraries all into one and you have described the Internet. Would you allow your children unlimited access to any of these types of media individually? Of course not.

Our home computer is no longer just a computer anymore. It is not a toy. It is not a babysitter. It can be a potential threat to your child as well as be the greatest learning tool since the history of time. The home computer has rapidly risen from being a glorified typewriter to do school assignments to a machine that brings the real world right into your home. Or worse yet, your child’s bedroom, if you have allowed a computer to be placed there. We recommend to all of our clients to place the personal computer in a public family viewing area and not to allow unlimited access by a child behind closed doors.

Did you know there is a record in your Internet browser that shows a history of sites visited that you can monitor to see Internet sites that your children have visited? If they are viewing places they shouldn’t, what can you do as a responsible parent to protect your children from accessing undesirable places on the Internet? Software packages such as Net Nanny and Cyber Patrol were invented so that parents can set access parameters to the Internet on their home computer. America Online also has a section on their site called "Parental Controls" where the parent can set parameters for their children in age groups up to 18.

Each of these programs designates an administrator (the parent) that can set control parameters. They have a pre-designed set of "keywords" such as sex, XXX, etc. that closes down the Internet browser if a site is accessed using any of those words. The parent can also specifically list certain web sites that cannot be accessed by their children. It is your responsibility as a parent to take control of your children’s access to the Internet.

E-mail accounts can also have parameters set so that e-mail containing certain "keywords" is automatically deleted upon arrival to the mailbox. A good Internet Service Provider (ISP) also utilizes "spam filtering" software that does not allow pornographic material to filter down to your mailbox. All of these efforts of parental control, however, require the parent to know how to use their computer and navigate the Internet.

Denver PC offers classes on how to use the Internet. But if you don’t have time to take a class, make your learning the Internet a family project. Ask your children to show you how to use the programs on your computer and how to access the Internet. This could be a great bonding experience for all of you.

However you choose to exercise parental control over your family computer, remember you are the parent, and it is not only your right, but your responsibility to take control of the driver’s seat on the Information Super Highway.

Lori Beldo is the founder of the Women Business Owners Network, or wbo.net, a Denver-based Women###s Internet Group. For more information on the group call Lori at (303) 462-0955.