The computer helper: Kid-friendly searching
Nov 8, 2008, 6:31 GMT
Washington - Kids love the Internet. Unfortunately, as every parent knows, there's a lot of trouble they can get into while wandering through cyberspace. The challenge is to allow youngsters to learn from and enjoy the Internet while keeping them safe from harmful influences. That's the focus of this week's questions.
Q: My kids have their own accounts on my computer. I would like to set up their Web browsers so that a kid-friendly search engine appears automatically. Can you recommend some?
A: Yes, there are several search engines that are aimed specifically at kids. One of the most innovative new entrants is KidZui (http://www.kidzui.com), which is both a browser and learning environment that was created by parents for kids. You'll need to download the KidZui browser, sign up, and then click a link in an activation e-mail that you'll receive in order to get started. Once signed up, your child can begin using KidZui, and you'll likely be impressed immediately.
The KidZui interface is not only colourful and filled with Internet-based learning and entertainment opportunities, but it also simplifies the Web in virtually every way, from making the search field friendlier in appearance to presenting search results as a series of animated 'snapshots' of the Web pages themselves. Sounds are integrated into the interface, too. When you click a search result, for instance, a fun sound introduces the page.
KidZui starts out full screen, and with its immersive and self- contained feeling, your child may never leave its confines, which is good because all content is deemed child safe. Your child can click on categories such as games, science, animals, sports, and 'awesome stuff' to stay entertained and educated for hours. Best of all, as the parent who sets up KidZui for your child, you'll receive an e- mail message at the end of each KidZui session in which a report of your child's activities is recorded - including searches conducted and sites viewed.
You could also turn to kid-friendly versions of the most powerful search engines. The first is Ask for Kids (http://www.askkids.com), based on the Ask Jeeves search engine. With a friendly interface adorned by special category buttons for 'school,' 'movies,' 'games,' and 'video,' Ask Kids presents learning opportunities at every turn for youngsters who conduct searches here. Search for 'hamster,' for instance,' and in addition to a list of search results, kids will see a dictionary definition of a hamster as well as additional relevant search categories, including 'hamster care.'
Yahoo! Kids (http://kids.yahoo.com) is another good option, although the page seems more static - updated less frequently with current goings-on - than the other sites. Yahoo! Kids is bright and colourful and contains top-of-the-age links to games, music, movies, jokes, sports, and more.
Google is conspicuously absent from the kid-safe search engine mix. Google's SafeSearch site (http://www.safesearchWeb.com/index.html) purportedly filters out potentially harmful sites, but a test showed that the filtering results were less than impressive.
Q: How can I know if a Web contains content appropriate for my family before I visit it? We are using Windows.
A: You'll need to employ one or several content filtering options available to you.
There are controls in Internet Explorer that will help to block harmful or malicious sites. You should spend some time adjusting these controls to meet your preferences, since most of them are set to very low thresholds by default.
In Internet Explorer, open the Tool menus, and select Internet Options. From the resulting Internet Options dialog box, select the Content tab, and then click the Enable button in the Content Advisor section.
In the Content Advisor dialog box, you'll see a list of categories of sites that you can control. Categories include 'content that creates fear, intimidation, etc.,' 'content that sets a bad example for young children,' and 'depiction of drug use.' Scroll through the list of options, selecting each that you wish to enforce, and use the slider to determine the level of restriction. Then click the OK button. You'll be asked to supply a password so that no one can change the settings without your permission.
The content restrictions work surprisingly well. When someone tries to visit a restricted site, a dialog box pops up before the page is loaded, indicating to the user that the site contains restricted content and is blocked.
Firefox, the second most popular Web browser, has plenty of controls that help to prevent phishing and protect your privacy, but to get the kind of content protection you seek, you'd have to turn to add-ons.
The most secure type of filtering will come from a dedicated filtering software packages such as Net Nanny (http://www.netnanny.com) or Safe Eyes (http://www.Internetsafety.com), both available for PC and Mac. These solutions are more elegant - and effective - for Windows XP users because they work regardless of which Web browser you use - and they can control content seen not only over the Web but within instant messengers and e-mail.
Q: What can I do to keep my child safe on the Web?
A: First, take the steps discussed above - Set up a kid-friendly home page and employ good filtering software. If you're using Windows Vista, you have filtering software built in to the operating system. Look in the Vista Control Panel, set up a user account for your child, and then apply the content filter to that new user account.
In addition, you should talk to your child about what constitutes safe behaviour. Tell your child never to give out an e-mail address or personal information to people they don't know and not to open e- mail messages or attachments from unknown sources, either. Your child should also be told always to consult you if he or she visits a Web site or receives some form of communication over the Internet that makes him or her feel uncomfortable.
As a parent, you can go a long way toward ensuring safety by limiting your child's time online - and monitoring, when possible, the online activities he or she engages in.
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