By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use and following the guidelines below, you could greatly minimise any potential risks of them viewing unsuitable sites.
The older children get the more likely they are to use search engines like Yahoo, AltaVista and Excite. These sites are great for finding out lots of information, but they can also locate sites you would rather your children didn't visit.
There are search engines that filter out any potentially bad sites for children. They will not return sexually explicit, violent, or hateful content. This is the general idea, but it is not one hundred per cent fool proof. You shouldn't let this deter you, but just be aware of it.
There are great search engines out there that will provide great entertainment for your children like Yahooligans, Ask Jeeves for kids and SuperSnooper. These will restrict searches to appropriate sites for children. If you feel this option would be easy to manipulate, you can apply a filtering programme yourself.
Filtering programmes are also available to buy. Some are designed especially for parents - they give parents total control for designating appropriate websites and blocking objectionable ones.
Filtering programmes do a variety of things; some can allow the parents to monitor incoming and outgoing messages. Others allow multi-user access with customisable profiles for each family member, allowing you complete internet access, while your child can only access a number of safe sites.
Chat Rooms and Bulletin Board Safety
You or your child should never give out identifying information in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards and make sure that both you and your child know and trust the people you give this information to via e-mail. Also be aware of the services your child uses; find out the information they offer and whether there are ways for you to block out objectionable material.
You should also set reasonable rules and guidelines for using the computer. Set time limits and avoid letting children use the computer late at night. If your child has made an online buddy, get to know them like you get to know their school friends. Don't allow your child to meet up with another computer user that they've met online. If you do, make sure the first meeting takes place in a public place and accompany them yourself. Remember, it's easy for someone to misrepresent himself or herself. Someone saying they are a 13 year-old girl could easily be a 50 year-old man.
If you or your child becomes aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography, or receive obscene, lewd or indecent messages and/or images whilst online, you should contact your service provider and report it to the Internet Watch Foundation (http://www.iwf.org.uk/). You can also go to the CyberTipLine (http://www.safekids.com/cybertip.htm) and report it online.
There are plenty of options to help secure the Internet for your children. You should find the best option for you and apply it immediately. A good tip for younger children is to consider having the computer in a family room as opposed to their bedroom. This will reduce the time they spend on the computer that you might be unaware off. Safe surfing!