In my recent article Protecting Our Kids On The Internet I referred to a US-CERT help article on Internet safety. That article recommended using the browser’s parental controls feature to help protect our young users. In this article we’ll cover how to set up and use Internet Explorer’s Parental Control function.
Here’s the issue. First let me say that I recently set up parental controls for a seven and a nine year old who are very near and dear to me. They’ve been using the Internet in my house for six months without any controls except my urging them to only use a set list of educational sites recommended by their school, and me checking in on them frequently. I’ve waited this long because I thought they were too young and inexperienced on the Internet to do any surfing and therefore were reasonably safe with their school’s list of sites. However, the nine year old showed me a “dress up” site for pregnant women. That got my attention. She was on a very benign site for little girls where you have a girl character on the screen and various garments and accessories around it that can be dragged and dropped to dress up the character. So, how did she get from the little girl site to the pregnant girl site you ask? Links on the site that she clicked to see if that site was fun too. Clicking on links from a safe site also landed her on one that, in addition to the game it housed, there was a discussion board that used language that shouldn’t be on any website, anywhere.
Here’s what action I took. First, I asked each one to list the sites they liked and wanted to continue to visit. Then I visited each site and evaluated it for safety. I used criteria such as the age group it targeted to see if it was appropriate material for a 7 or 9 year old, I checked Microsoft’s SmartScreen Filter function to see if the site had been reported as unsafe, and I also looked for objectionable content on each site. The results of my evaluation were; of the 10 sites they listed, 7 were for an older age group, 1 of which carried a link to an inappropriate YouTube video, and 1 with bad language (mentioned above); the remaining 3 were found to be acceptable.
I then explained to the kids that some of the sites they’ve been visiting weren’t good ones for them and that I was going to limit them to visiting the 3 sites found acceptable in the evaluation plus the sites recommended, and vetted, by their school.
Next, I used Internet Explorer’s Parental Controls feature (click Tools, Internet Options, Content, Parental Controls) to set up a list of acceptable websites they can access. I set up individual accounts for them so that I could vary the list of acceptable sites each could visit. There are other controls that limit what times the browsing can take place and what game ratings are acceptable, however, I am happy with the access list approach for now. There’s a capability to get a report on each user’s Internet activity too. And if they want to visit a new site they’ll come to me to evaluate it, and if it’s okay add it to the list. The kids took to the new sign-on very quickly, and after a few “bumps in the road”, they were again happily using the Internet…albeit more safely. If you have youngsters of any age, consider parental controls as a tool to help keep them safe on the Internet.
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