Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
There's a lot of garbage on the internet and it's difficult to prevent your children from seeing it. There are tools to help and steps to take.
How can I keep my kids safe from internet garbage?
If you've been on the internet for any length of time you probably feel like its main purpose is to distribute pornography, drug ads, and questionable financial solicitations. If you've got kids you're probably also worried about pedophiles, cyber-stalkers, and other nefarious net inhabitants.
While things aren't nearly as bad as the press might make it all out to be, it is bad enough. What's a responsible adult to do? Internet monitoring or filtering comes to mind but are they right for you?
First let me be clear about something - in my opinion technology is no substitute parental involvement. If you honestly can't trust your child on the internet then no technology in the world is going to fix that. That's a parenting issue that needs some serious attention away from the computer.
End of sermon.
There are two types of software that most parents are interested in:
Internet monitoring software simply records what activity has been taking place on your computer. It's normally hidden or at least unobtrusive and works in the background to keep track of several types of activities. Depending on the package this type of package can at a minimum track websites visited but can often also record email sent and received as well as instant messages and chat text sent and received. While many might consider this a "Big Brother" approach (one of the packages is even named as such) it can be an appropriate way to monitor without controlling.
Internet filtering software takes a more active role by blocking or "filtering out" content that is deemed objectionable be it web pages, email content, or other forms of communication. Most have password overrides and many have updated databases to track the ever changing landscape of what is and is not objectionable - not unlike spam filtering. The problem with internet filtering is much like the problem with spam filtering: false positives. The classic case is that internet filtering software may prevent access to legitimate sources of information regarding, say, "breast cancer". Most are configurable to a point.
And that really brings us to a very important thing to remember here ... just like those spam filters internet filters are not perfect. Not only will they occasionally block out legitimate content but they'll also occasionally let inappropriate content through as well. And since even what's "inappropriate" is open to debate; there's simply no way a perfect filter could be written.
Also remember is that for the determined there are ways around everything. Internet site PeaceFire.org includes tools and instructions for circumventing most filtering programs. Interestingly enough this site illustrates the difficulty of defining "appropriate content". The techniques outlined can also be used by folks in oppressed countries to gain access to internet content outside of that filtered out by their government.