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Family online basics

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on October 27, 2000
(Issue 1843, Family Fun)

I just helped a friend get hooked up to the Internet for the first time, and seeing the excitement of her three kids – who had never had the opportunity to go online from home before – reminded me anew what a tremendous resource the Internet really is.

It's easy for those of us who have been online for awhile (since '87 for me) to forget just how incredible the 'Net is. My kids, for instance, have had access to the Web their entire lives. While they enjoy it and use it for homework as well as fun, they are, to be honest, rather blase about the whole thing. But Jamila, Lucas and Benjamin were jumping up and down screaming at the prospect of access to AOL, Disney, Nickelodeon and other kid-oriented sites.

Still, before letting the young'uns venture online, it's best to make sure you've covered all your bases – like deciding how much of the 'Net you want to let them have access to.Nobody wants to see your fourth-grader type in "" (rather than while doing a homework assignment on the presidential race and find out the hard way that there's some pretty nasty stuff out there. That can be prevented by using one of the filtering products that you can set up to block certain types of Web sites from your home computer.

I can't vouch for any of the filters, as I've not used one – I make sure I'm in the room with my kids whenever they venture online. But not all parents have that option, and for those who need it, a filter is a perfectly legitimate parenting tool. The ideologues who try to portray filters as some sort of censorship must also believe kids ought to be able to buy pornography and cigarettes, too. You control what TV shows your kids watch, what magazines they read, even what friends they can hang out with – of course you should be able to protect them on the Internet, just as you do in real life.


SurfControl offers the popular Cyber Patrol program for home use. Cyber Patrol lets you set up your home browser to keep your kids out of certain kinds of sites as well as limit the amount of time your kids spend on the 'Net each day. (Somebody needs to offer a product like this for TV.) There is also an override function, so if there is a particular site that might be blocked, you can go ahead and let your kids in there. Cyber Patrol is available for both Windows and Mac, and is reasonably priced at less than $50.

Yahoo's Child Safety Page

This is a nice starting point for learning more about protecting your kids while they're online. There are sub-directories off of here with lists of filtering programs, child protection organizations, and Web site ratings services.

Yahooligans Parents Guide

Yahooligans is Yahoo's Web guide for kids – in and of itself a pretty safe starting point to steer your kids toward. The Parents Guide contains another set of links to filtering programs and browser plugins, how-to guides to safe surfing, and a how-to guide to fun surfing.

America Links Up

America Links Up is a nonprofit program designed to give parents the tools they need to ensure their children's well-being while online. The site is organized into areas for parents and areas for kids, with plenty of resources and links off both. One of the link pages off the parents area is a list of parental control filters, with more than three dozen listed there (more than on Yahoo's child safety page, although it doesn't seem as current). It's one of the truly nonpartisan efforts to help kids – I mean, how often do the conservative Focus on the Family and the liberal Children's Defense Fund ever agree on anythign? is a public service site run by, a huge advertising agency. Whatever their motivation in offering it, this is a pretty good site. There are tips on helping your kids be safe while online, yet another list of links to filtering programs and plugins, a links list of other parenting sites, and a list of Internet Service Providers that offer server-side filtering services (i.e., they bock offensive and/or inappropriate sites for you, making it tougher for imaginative kids to bypass your protections).

Quick update

In the Sept. 29 column, I highlighted the Fax4Free site, which allowed you to fax Word and WordPerfect documents anywhere in the U.S. at no charge (they tacked ads on to the fax. Fax4Free has now been purchased by JFax (now renamed J2 Communications) and the free fax sending service has been discontinued.

While I was unable to find another service offering free fax sending, Send2Fax offers 25 free faxes when you sign up for their service. (Once you're past that, there's a charge of 15 cents per page.