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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

China blocks porn from computers but you can do it yourself

As parents, we always worry about our kids. Whether they are in school or on the playing field, we always want them to be okay. But parents today have worries that many of our moms and dads couldn't have even dreamed of. We have to worry about what is showing up on our kids' cell phones, on their My Space pages or in the inboxes on their computers.

China has decided that it will take care of some of this for parents: Starting July 1, any computer sold in that country must be equipped with software that can filter out pornography and other "unhealthy information" from the Web.

Mom_computerkid I want to keep my children safe on the Web too, but that's MY job, not the government's. Who decides what the other "unhealthy information" is? What about sites that differ on political opinions? Sites that don't support certain business agendas? Sites that have different religious views? That's a slippery slope.

Yet the digital age is moving fast and kids are jumping online at earlier ages. This article estimates that 37 percent of U.S. kids ages 3-11 use virtual worlds at least once a month. By 2013, the estimate is 54 percent. So what's a concerned Momma to do?

In its June issue, Consumer Reports took a look at computers and security software, checking out the software. The free Spamfighter service got the highest overall score in the magazine's ratings for both free and fee services. But the magazine suggests that you combine some of these services to get the best deal. (To see the magazine's findings, though, you have to be a subscriber).Two other sites, here and here, also offer reviews of filters and blockers.

Still, you shouldn't expect some automated filter to do all your work, says Dr. Michael Berson, a professor in the University of South Florida who has done extensive research about kids and technology.

"Nothing's 100 percent," he said. "Parents must work hand in hand with the software" to keep kids safe. Berson said he and his wife, who's also a professor, have kids ages 16 and 13. The Bersons advocate what he calls "a combo approach. The filters are only one step. "Parents and caregivers have to work together with the technical side to help kids navigate the World Wide Web."

Parents today have a whole new set of responsibilities, he added, as we have to navigate our kids' real lives and their digital lives. "Some parents feel lost when we talk to them. ... But parents don't have to know everything," he said. "Life experience translates both in the real world and in the digital world."

If something would feel a little hinky to you in the real world, he says, trust that same gut feeling when you find your child is involved in something similar in the digital world.

One more thing. My friend Sharon offers this common-sense tip that she and her husband came up with: The very best filter is putting your computer in the middle of the living room so that the parents can always see what's on the children's screen.

-- Sherry Robinson

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:01am]

    

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