Many grandparents get a kick out of spoiling their grandchildren when they come to visit. Maybe it's an extra cupcake, maybe the kids can stay up later, or they're allowed to watch a movie that maybe wouldn't fly at home. |
But breaking rules on the computer can be more dangerous. I spoke with Parry Aftab, an attorney specializing in Internet privacy and security, executive director of WiredSafety.org and author of the book, "The Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace."
"If you see kids sitting quietly who close their browser windows when you walk by, it's like a child hiding something behind her back," Aftab said. "It may be trouble."
Technology can be abused, and such is the case with the newest fad sweeping the computer screens of kids around the world: Chatroulette.
Designed by 17-year-old high school student Andrey Turnovskiy in Moscow, Russia, Chatroulette allows users to chat with random people anywhere in the world. The site features real time video and audio.
Many computers feature built-in Web cameras and microphones, so accessing Chatroulette is a matter of going to the Web site and pressing play.
While many users are curious kids, some are older men engaged in behavior that has no place on the family computer. "I do not see that Chatroulette is doing what they need to do to protect the user," Aftab said. "I recommend people stay away from the site."
Aftab cited a poll by WiredSafety.org that found that 71 percent of teenage girls use a Webcam in their bedrooms and 21 percent regretted something they had done on camera. She pointed out that kids can be tempted into foolish activities, which they may regret later.
So what can parents and grandparents do to help ensure kids are not exposed to inappropriate activity online?
The answer lies in your computer's Windows Control Panel. These directions are for Microsoft Vista, but XP and Windows 7 are similar. First, shut down the webcam. Open the start menu, select Control Panel, and then find and open the Device Manager.
Look under Sound, Video and Game Controllers and select the monitor Webcam. Open the Driver tab and select "Disable." Second, set up a separate user account for the kids. In the Control Panel, select User Accounts and then open Manage User Accounts. Choose to Add a New User.
Once the Add New User window opens, select standard user, which will allow kids and other guests to use the computer, but won't allow them to make system changes like turning the Webcam back on. The third step is protecting kids while they browse online.
Browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox contain parental control settings to block objectionable material. If you use more than one browser, you may have to adjust the settings for each one. Window's Internet Explorer versions 6, 7 and 8 offer a feature called Content Advisor that allows you to control the types of Internet content that can be viewed on your computer.
Content Advisor uses ratings that Web sites voluntarily provide to block or allow certain content. Unrated Web sites are automatically blocked. To switch on this feature, open Internet Explorer and find Tools in the upper portion of the window. In IE8, it's in the upper right corner.
Open the dropdown menu and select Internet Options, open the Content tab and then select "Enable" Content Advisor. If you want to block particular sites, go to the Approved Sites tab, type in the Web address, and then click "Never," which will override the site rating.
Mozilla, creator of Firefox, recommends two parental control add-ons for Firefox, both of which are free. Glubble for Families is designed for parents with children younger than 12 and offers games, chat, safe surfing and a kid-friendly safe search.
Parents also might consider ProCon Latte, which filters out objectionable language, replacing letters with asterisks, and makes it easy to create a site "Blacklist" -- a list of blocked sites.
Google's Chrome browser does not offer parental controls. Families also might consider purchasing an Internet filter software program, which may offer more features than those available in browsers.
These types of controls probably will not come as a shock to the kids. If they use a computer at school, they are familiar with blocked access to sites.
Ogden, Utah-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question? Email Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org or join her at AskLeslie on Facebook.