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Web filtering software just a start to net safety

Web filters do a good job on sex but fail badly when it comes to hate speech and violence. In addition to Web worries, there's game machines, cellphones and social networks. A wild world for kids to deal with.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor on

Quick and handy access to Web. We all want it on our computers, cellphones, iPods and handhelds devices. But when it comes to our children, we want control. We want to know where they've been, what they've seen and who they've been talking to. But keeping kids safe on the Internet can seem daunting to many parents, reports the San Francisco Chronicle

Many parents are reluctant to put on filtering software, either because they don't know how or they don't want to encroach on their kid's new found privacy. But East Bay police officer Steve DeWarns advises parents that they must set limits, and teach their teens how to use the Internet wisely.

"Parents need to have some sort of parental control or filtering software on the computer," said DeWarns, who has pulled together many tips and suggestions on his Internet Child Safety Web site.

Children are going to be exposed to questionable stuff on the Net. If it's banned at your house, it's likely that it won't be at the neighbor's. A straight conversation about why kids should stay away from vieweing porn sites and giving out personal information is probably the best place to start.

Filtering software is getting better, although it's not a perfect solution.

A Consumer Reports review of 11 Web-filtering products found that they "keep (out) most but not all porn," but do a lousy job of preventing access to Web sites that promote "hatred, illegal drugs or violence."

Some filtering software can monitor and control how much time kids spend on the web, as well as filter out porn. Filtering software on the family computer can't be the only solution, as there are gaming devices and cellphones to worry about. Kids have buddy lists on social networking sites that can expose them sexual predators.

DeWarns tells teens, as well as parents, to be careful about revealing personal information on the web.

"My main thing is to teach awareness," he said, "to educate both students and parents on online safety."
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