About 42 percent of Internet users from ages 10 to 17 say they’ve viewed porn in the last year, reports The Associated Press via The Hartford Courant. Of those kids, 66 percent said they had not sought out the images. And about 16 percent of kids 10- to 11-years-old were exposed to porn against their will, according to the survey. Keep in mind that the porn threshold used by the study is fairly low: a naked body.
But there is no question that children are exposed to unacceptable images and videos. The problem is blamed on a variety of factors: kids, many technically more capable than their parents, employ tools such as file sharing, chat and online games. And of course there are sites such as MySpace and Flickr, where monitoring against porn can be difficult.
But a number of respondents say that an ordinary web search can result in porn popping onto their screens. If that is happening, it is highly likely that these computers are teeming with spyware. (I wrote this article (doc) for the Los Angeles Times a few years ago to explain spyware.)
Rather than pontificate about how parents should do this or that, I’m just going to offer suggestions on the jump on how to keep your children safe from pornography if it is important to you:
1. Computers should be kept in open view of parents, wherever they hang out most (kitchen, family room.) Parents cannot monitor computers in a child’s room through a solid door unless they’re using sophisticated spy software. Keeping the computer in open view means you can watch for unintentional porn ads caused by spyware or teen boys exploring the darker side of sexuality.
2. Create separate logons for each person in the household and set stricter security levels for the kids. Children should never be allowed to install programs, for example, without consulting a parent first.
How-to on XP: Go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, User Accounts where you can create a new account if needed. To change access level: Click on Change an Account, your child’s account, Change My Account Type and choose the “Limited” button. Keep in mind, the Limited account stops kids from installing some programs, but not all.
3. Don’t give your children your account password, which should have higher authority. If your kids already know the password, change it.
4. Some of the brand-name Virus protection companies offer Internet controls that limit children’s access.
5. SoftwareTime allows even more control over the computer, such as limiting usage to predetermined hours each day. The software can also block Internet access when parents are away from home. (Disclosure: I’m friends with the owner of this company.)
6. Make sure that ALL accounts on every home computer is password protected. Even the one in the family room.
7. Make sure you keep your computer safe from viruses and spyware. This means a firewall, virus protection and spyware protection. Make sure your subscriptions are up to date and that your computer is scanned at least a couple times a week.
8. Your computer should receive Operating System updates automatically.
How-to for XP: Start, Settings, Control Panel, Security Center, Automatic Updates. Set to “Automatic, Every Day,” then choose a time. Don’t worry if a computer will be off during that time frame, the computer will check the next time it is running.
9. If a particular website your child regularly visits is contaminated with porn, block those sites using the tools mentioned above. Or, if you have a limited budget, you can block sites using your web browser tools.
How-to for Internet Explorer: With Internet Explorer running, click on Tools, Internet Options, the Security tab and then Restricted Sites. Click on Sites where you can type or paste in web addresses you want blocked. As kids get more savvy, some will figure out how to remove this roadblock.
10. Limit your child’s access to only one web browser. You may find yourself blocking your children on Internet Explorer, but they use Firefox instead.
11. Beware Internet Chat programs that are open to predators. Monitor your children’s chats for porn and solicitations from strange people. Consider changing service and/or your children’s screen names if you are seeing problems.
12. Do not allow installation of file sharing or peer-to-peer software. Not only do these programs bring in spyware and viruses, but they also allow children access to other personal computers that might have a stash of porn photos and videos.
13. E-mail can contain pornographic photos and video. Anti-spam and anti-phishing software are musts, which often come with Virus protection software. Some e-mail services also allow you to block image content. If you use Outlook e-mail you can turn off automatic downloading of images, though a simple right-click will let the user see the images.
How-to in Outlook: Go to Tools, Options, Security, then turn on the “Don’t download pictures or other content automatically in HTML e-mail,” setting. For extra safety, turn off the two buttons underneath.
14. Another option with e-mail is to buy an account using your own domain name. Then create a catch-all account under your name where you can monitor your children’s incoming e-mail this way. GoDaddy – where I keep my domain names and e-mail – and other Internet providers offer these kinds of accounts. Or, know your children’s e-mail passwords and check their accounts for spam, pornography etc. Whether you want to do this depends greatly on your parenting style.
15. Google and Yahoo have safe search buttons. I’ve never heard of a way to lock these settings, but you can change the level of smutty sites and images through the preferences field.
How-to Google: Click on Preferences link, then scroll down to “SafeSearch Filtering.” The default setting is “Use Moderate filtering.” While this setting keeps out a lot of pornography, parents might prefer “Use strict filtering,” which lives up to its name. If the setting is on “Do not filter my search results,” Google images becomes a virtual porn search engine.
How-to Yahoo: Initiate a search for a random term like food. When the search results come back, the Preferences link will be at the top far right. Click on edit, which is to the right of the “Safe Search” header. Pick the level you feel comfortable with.
These are just some of the methods you can use to limit your children’s exposure to porn, and I’m sure there are more. Feel free to add additional ideas in the comments section.
Also, if more than 15 people say they want it, I’ll update this post with screen grabs of some of these settings.