| Fact Sheet
Internet Filters: Making Web Surfing Safer
The internet, initially the domain of adult
users, has rapidly become a place where people
of all ages surf for fun and information.
Children increasingly have easy access to
the internet through school, the library,
and home computers. The world of information
is at a child's fingertips for school projects,
homework, interest areas, hobbies, and play.
Many children carve out their own space on
the Web with homepages they construct.
The Web has responded to this with thousands
of sites geared to children, from teenagers
to the youngest preschool computer user. Many
educational institutions, organizations, companies,
and corporations have their own kidpages or
kidpages linked with information geared for
parents and other adults. Children can then
experience what's happening in the world in
a whole new dimension with links to real people
and sites around the world. Some sites offer
the opportunity to visit with children from
other countries, exchanging news, ideas, pictures,
and writings. Whole classrooms link up with
classrooms around the world.
The danger for children on the World Wide
Web comes with its openness. The web is completely
unregulated. Anyone can post information on
the Web and provide links to other pages.
The danger for children lies in four areas:
How can a parent provide some cyber safety?
- Children may link to a page with information,
pictures or conversation that the parent
deems too sexual, violent, racist, or offensive.
- In chat rooms the child may become a target
of unwanted attention from adults, older
teens, or other children.
- Children have become a target market on
the net, with companies offering prizes,
games, etc. for family information.
- Some commercial sites seemingly offering
educational information or entertainment
are really deceptive advertising, selling
products to children.
Internet filtering comes in two categories:
- By using internet blocking or filtering
- By providing education, talking to your
child about safety on the World Wide Web.
- Establishing family rules about internet
- Making it a rule that the child not give
out family information without the parents
The filtering mechanism on these programs
- Software that the parent can load onto
the computer at home.
- Programs that can be activated through
the internet provider, which will filter
web sites for you.
Limits of internet filtering software (Consumer
Reports, May, 1997):
- Scanning sites and blocking those that
contain specific words.
- Blocking sites that are found to contain
sexually explicit, violent or hateful material.
- Limiting a child's search to a predefined
set of sites or to sites that meet certain
To help with some of these difficulties,
Consumer Reports urges that the filter
- Children who know a lot about computers
can (sometimes easily) find ways to by-pass
or disable filtering devices.
- The filter may block a site that is acceptable
to the parent.
- None of the devices are totally effective
in blocking all objectionable sites. The
web is too big and changes too quickly.
- A blocking program may not work with your
online service provider. AOLTM,
ProdigyTM, and CompuServeTM
all offer the services of Cyber Patrol free
to their online customers. Check with your
service provider before using another product.
- Some blocking devices may disable your
computer if they are tampered with. Make
sure you back-up your hard drive in case
your child does not heed the warning.
- Blockers such as Internet Explorer, rely
on sites using the industry's voluntary
ratings guide. Often, these are not effective
because not all adult sites use or post
- Publish the criteria for blocking sites.
- Give users access to the list of blocked
The bottom line, however, is that no product
will work 100% to keep your child from accessing
sites that you deem inappropriate. To help
keep children safe it is still best to monitor
your child's internet use, and discuss with
your child how to safely use the net.
Some tips for parents:
(These tips for safeguarding your child's
internet use are from the U.S. Department
of Education: Parents Guide to the Internet.)
Interacting with Others on the Internet
Just as we tell our children to be wary
of strangers they meet, we need to tell them
to be wary of strangers on the Internet. Most
people behave reasonably and decently online,
but some are rude, mean, or even criminal.
Teach your children that they should:
Limiting Children to Appropriate Content
on the Internet
- Never give out personal information (including
their name, home address, phone number,
age, race, family income, school name or
location, or friends' names) or use a credit
card online without your permission.
- Never share their password, even with
- Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with
someone they meet online unless you approve
of the meeting and go with them to a public
- Never respond to messages that make them
feel confused or uncomfortable. They should
ignore the sender, end the communication,
and tell you or another trusted adult right
- Never use bad language or send mean messages
- Also, make sure your children know that
people they meet online are not always who
they say they are and that online information
is not necessarily private.
Even without trying, your children can come
across materials on the Internet that are
obscene, pornographic, violent, hate-filled,
racist, or offensive in other ways. One type
of material--child pornography--is illegal.
You should report it to the Center
for Missing and Exploited Children by
calling 1-800-THE LOST (843-5678) or going
to http://www.missingkids.org/. While other
offensive material is not illegal, there are
steps you can take to keep it away from your
children and out of your home.
Find out what the Internet use policy is
at your local library
- Make sure your children understand what
you consider appropriate for them. What
kinds of sites are they welcome to visit?
What areas are off limits? How much time
can they spend, and when? How much money,
if any, can they spend? Set out clear,
reasonable rules and consequences for breaking
- Make online exploration a family activity.
Put the computer in the living room or family
room. This arrangement involves everyone
and helps you monitor what your children
- Pay attention to games your older child
might download or copy. Some are violent
or contain sexual content.
- Look into software or online services
that filter out offensive materials and
sites. Options include stand alone software
that can be installed on your computer,
and devices that label or filter content
directly on the web. In addition, many Internet
Service Providers and commercial online
services offer site blocking, restrictions
on incoming email, and children's accounts
that access specific services. Often, these
controls are available at no additional
cost. Be aware, however, children are often
smart enough to get around these restrictions.
Nothing can replace your supervision and
Ask about the Internet use policy at your child's
Encouraging Information Literacy:
- Show your children how to use and evaluate
information they find on the Internet. Not
all online information is reliable. Some
individuals and organizations are very careful
about the accuracy of the information they
post, but others are not. Some even mislead
on purpose. Remind your children not to
copy online information and claim it's their
own or copy software unless it is clearly
labeled as free."
- "Help children understand the nature
of commercial information, advertising,
and marketing, including who created it
and why it exists. Encourage them to think
about why something is provided and appears
in a specific way. Steer your children to
noncommercial sites and other places that
don't sell products specifically to children.
It is important to be aware of the potential
risks involved in going online, but it is
also important to keep them in perspective.
Common sense and clear guidelines are the
place to start."
- Kids Online Project. Outgrowth of the
Internet Online Summit: Focus on Children
held in Washington D.C., December, 1997.
Center for Missing and Exploited Children,
(at http://www.missingkids.com) Child
safety on the information highway.
- Consumer Reports. June,1997 and
Last revised: 2/4/00