Our Church leaders have counseled us regularly to avoid pornographic, vulgar, or otherwise questionable material on the Internet. As parents, how can you and I protect our children? You may already be familiar with these helpful suggestions: Place computers in high-traffic rooms in your home, ensure that a responsible adult is nearby when your children are using the Internet, and teach your children to immediately log off whenever they see questionable material.
What follows are more techniques to help you further protect your family members as they use the Internet.
Monitor what sites have been visited on your computer. Teach your children to inform you when they come across an objectionable Web site, and train them what to do if an inappropriate site or image appears, explaining that they may actually have to shut the system down. In addition, monitor the Web sites they have visited by checking your browser’s history. If you do not know how to locate the history, check your browser’s online help.
In many cases you can specify the number of days or the number of visited sites that you would like to track. Review the history at set intervals. The intervals should be short enough that you can go through the history effectively and thoroughly. You may also want to maintain a schedule for clearing out the history. An empty history at an unscheduled time may indicate a problem.
Use an Internet filtering tool. Internet filters are programs that “preview” text before it is sent to your computer. If the filter encounters an objectionable site, the computer user will be notified that the site is not appropriate or will be sent to another Web site. There are many methods of filtering, and no filters are foolproof. But they can help.
You can purchase and install a filter yourself or download a filter from the Internet. Some Internet service providers include filters with their Internet service. You might research the filters that will best meet your needs by visiting reputable Web sites that review and recommend filters.
Filters must be used correctly and updated regularly to be of benefit. You should also monitor passwords to make sure your filter has not been compromised. Bear in mind that filters look for inappropriate text, not images. A filter cannot examine a photograph and determine whether it is objectionable.
You may also want to find out about your children’s school and public library policies regarding filters and Internet use.
Teach your children to use favorites or bookmarks. Most browsers allow you to bookmark or designate a Web site as a favorite. This feature allows you to navigate quickly and easily to a Web site without having to remember its name or search for it each time. Creating a family favorites list is a good way to let the family help decide what is appropriate for viewing on the Internet.
Some operators of pornographic Web sites use common misspellings of popular sites or searches in their URLs—their Web page addresses. Using favorites or bookmarks rather than just surfing, doing a search, or typing in a URL can help Internet users avoid this problem.
Teach your children to use credible search engines. Many small search engines are revenue driven. Predators or pornography peddlers can actually purchase specific phrases so that their Web sites will be included in the results of an Internet search for that phrase, whether or not the site is related to the phrase. For example, a child searching for information about a popular toy can unintentionally access a pornographic Web site. Therefore, it is best to use a large, well-known search engine.
However, any search on any search engine could turn up questionable material. You may want to teach your children to use sites such as online encyclopedias rather than immediately using a search engine. These encyclopedia sites often have other links pertinent to the topic being searched.
Use a pop-up blocker on the Internet. Pop-up windows appear automatically on a computer screen and usually have nothing to do with the Web page a user is viewing. Some pop-up windows contain pornographic material or direct the user to offensive Web sites. Most major Internet service providers and some search engines provide free pop-up blockers for download. Some browsers have pop-up blockers already built in.
Teach your children to be cautious in downloading free software from the Internet. Many seemingly harmless programs available for download on the Internet contain additional software that may be installed simultaneously with or without the user’s consent. These programs are known as “adware” or “spyware”; sometimes you can see their icon in the lower right corner of your computer screen. Spyware can also become embedded into your computer via a virus.
Adware and spyware usually track your activity on the Internet and then send advertising banners or pop-up windows to your computer based on the Web sites you have visited. However, some spyware is maintained by sponsors who pay to have their Web pages sent to your computer, regardless of the sites you have visited. Because this type of software runs from its own program on your computer, it can’t be caught by a pop-up blocker or by other tools you have in place for protection.
Spyware can capture keystrokes and send them to a central server, where the creators can see everything you type on your computer. They may be able to identify credit card numbers, passwords, e-mail addresses, and other personal information you type in, as well as scanning files on your hard drive.
Antivirus software will not remove these programs. But you can purchase software specifically designed to remove adware and spyware from your computer.
Teach your children not to use free peer-to-peer or chat-based programs to download material. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing or networking enables computer users to download or “share” music or media for little or no cost. Because copyright violations abound, most peer-to-peer file sharing is illegal, especially when computer users trade files with people they don’t know. And most Internet filters cannot block peer-to-peer file sharing.
Many common viruses and vulgar materials are spread through peer-to-peer file sharing. Deceptive individuals rename pornography and viruses with the names of popular songs, artists, and movies in an attempt to lure unsuspecting users to their material. Once that material is downloaded and opened on a computer, the computer user is subject to whatever the contents may be. There is no way to filter out files that have been altered to hide their true content.
Teach your children not to open spam e-mail. Unsolicited bulk e-mail, or spam, is a major source of pornography on the Internet. To avoid accessing pornography this way, instruct your family members to delete any e-mail from unknown senders rather than opening it. Do not try to unsubscribe from spam; you will likely get more of it because the sender will know that he or she has reached a valid e-mail address. Opening spam can cause you to get more spam and see things you don’t want to see.
Discourage your children from visiting chat rooms. Chat rooms are a popular means by which children can communicate with other children around the world. But they can also be a favorite place for predators. Discourage your children from using chat rooms. Consider either removing the chat software from your computer or using a filter that blocks chatting.
If your children must visit a chat room, dictate the time of day and the length of time in which they are allowed to chat and make sure they visit a reputable chat room designed for children only, with a monitor who watches for offensive content. And be sure to monitor the conversation yourself.
Teach your children never to give out their real name, age, school, password, or any other personal information. Even the most innocent-seeming visitor could be a predator assuming a false identity. Additionally, tell your children to avoid instant messaging or private messaging. Viruses, pornographic pictures, or other objectionable content can be sent through private messages.
Like any major means of communication, the Internet can be a powerful tool for good or ill. It is invaluable for gathering information and staying in touch with friends and loved ones. Your children likely use it often for school and entertainment purposes. And when they get older, they may find that Internet skills are essential for their jobs.
It is impractical to teach your children to avoid using the Internet. But as a parent, you have the responsibility to keep yourself up-to-date and to be vigilant in your efforts to prevent your children from being exposed to harmful material. Be sure your children understand what your family’s standards are so they can monitor their own behavior on the Internet when they are away from home.
These suggestions for protecting your family are not comprehensive; there are many more things you can do. For example, you might want to consider taking an Internet class through a community education program, if such is offered in your area.
It is important not to let down your guard or to give up because you feel overwhelmed. Resources are available, and you can make a difference in what your family views on the Internet.
Browser: A program that allows users to navigate and view pages on the World Wide Web. Two common browsers are Explorer and Netscape, but there are many others.
Chat room: An online forum where users can communicate with each other in real time.
Instant messaging: Exchanging messages in real time between two or more computer users.
Internet service provider (ISP): The service you subscribe to for Internet access.
Search engine: An online service that enables you to find information in Web pages on the Internet by searching for specific words or phrases.
URL: Uniform resource locator, or the address of a Web page.
Virus: A program designed for malicious purposes to “infect” and disrupt the normal functioning of a computer.
“Our youth … need the help of their parents in resisting [temptation]. They need a tremendous amount of self-control. They need the strength of good friends. They need prayer to fortify them against this flood tide of filth.
“The problem of parental direction of sons and daughters is not new. It is perhaps more acute than it has ever been, but every generation has faced some aspect of it.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children,” Liahona, Jan. 2001, 62; Ensign, Nov. 2000, 51.