Table of Contents

What is the Internet?

Useful Tools
Time Management

Search Engines
Natural Language
Sample Search


Server Filters
Proxies & Ad Filters
A Few Cautions

Finding Internet Access in Your Community

Web Resources
Science & Math


Although using the Internet can be fun and interesting, there are several security and safety issues that need to be considered when online. The intention of this section is to provide you with the information necessary to prevent students from harm. The Internet is a network of computers but also a way for people to interact with each other. Behind each computer there is a human being.

Educators and parents need to realize that the Internet can be a way for your students to reach inappropriate material or participate in conversations and get in contact with people with different sets of values and ethics than yours. It is your responsibility to create the safe environment that your students need when online.

Your students should:

  • Never give out personal information (including their name, home address, phone number, age, race, family income, school name or location, or friends' names) or use a credit card online without permission.

  • Never share their password, even with friends.

  • Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online unless you approve of the meeting and go with them to a public place.

  • Never respond to messages that make them feel confused or uncomfortable. They should ignore the sender, end the communication, and tell you right away.

  • Never use bad language or send rude messages.

  • Never download unknown programs or email attachments. They may contain viruses.


Viruses are programs that can do damage to your computer. They are pieces of programming code which may hide inside other programs and be transmitted from computer to computer by way of a disk or a downloaded file. Like the kinds of viruses humans catch, they can be contagious, insidious, destructive, and hard to get rid of.

Viruses can activate themselves any time the computer is turned on, and can do damaging things like erasing all or part of your hard drive, formatting floppy disks or hard drives, transmitting information over the Internet to their creator, or interfering with normal operations of the computer. The best way to get rid of viruses is to run a virus scan program from a CD-ROM (that is, with the scan program still on the CD-ROM so that it cannot be interfered with).

It is possible to help prevent viruses. You can download or buy virus-protection software which scans incoming files and disks for known viruses or suspicious code. Using software like this that scans continuously is very effective in preventing "infections" -- but always download the latest version as soon as it becomes available! Some programs, like F-Prot, will tell you when they think you should upgrade. This does not mean there is a new version, because the program doesn't know, but it means that it has been a while since the old version was released, and it's a good idea to check.

Safety Software

You may wish to limit your children's exposure to certain topics on which information is available by way of the web. There is material that is not appropriate for children, and you may not wish them to stumble across some of it, just as you might keep your six-year-old from watching R-rated movies. You may also reasonably be worried about your children finding advice on the web that goes against the morals or ethics you as parents try to teach them, is criminal in nature or purpose, or is outright dangerous to their health. This is no different from other media; we remember examples of magazines aimed at preteen girls giving makeup tips which sounded reasonable but could lead to poisoning. However, it is somewhat harder to know what your child has seen on the Internet than what magazines she reads.

One good thing you can do is be with your child when he is exploring the Internet. This is not always possible; it takes a lot of your time and may leave older children feeling suffocated. Older children can often be trusted to uphold family morals as well as you could, but your common sense helps them sift materials, and an occasional guiding hand is a good thing.

Perhaps you allow your children to explore the Internet while you are not around, and want them to be able to wander with gentle barriers that do not allow them to wander into dangerous areas. Playgrounds have fences; you may have put up "gates" at the top of stairwells when your children were toddlers. These same kind of "for-their-own-good" barriers can be erected on the Internet via filtering or blocking software. The equivalent of a baby monitor also exists (although it is more a baby tape-recorder), so that you may, for example, watch after the fact what happened in a chat room that day, perhaps catching a person who is tricking your child into trusting them more than they should.

Several types of protective software are available:

Blocking Software
These are the fences and stairway gates of the Internet. Programs like SurfWatch, Cybersitter and Cyberpatrol keep lists of places they think you don't want your child to "fall down." You can turn on or off certain sets of them as you think different types of restrictions are important. Some such programs give you free updates every so often as new sites are always being created; others require a subscription, for a fee. Prices are usually in the range of $30 initially; subscriptions run around $30 a year when they are required.
Filtering software
Unlike blocking software, filtering software such as Net Nanny does not keep lists. It reads a web site before it presents it to your child, scans it for keywords (which you or the program may define) and key phrases, and blocks the site if it detects too many. Net Nanny and CyberSitter also have an option of displaying the page with the keywords removed.
Snooping software
These are the baby monitors and closed-circuit video of the Internet. Programs like CyberSnoop, and Cybersitter can log transmissions to and from your computer, including web pages received with questionable content, questionable (or all) email your child sends and receives, chat room posts, etc. SmartAlex ICU takes snapshots of the screen every so often, complete with times and dates. Triple Exposure scans your hard drive for downloaded files with questionable material (which works because browsers like Netscape keep copies of recently-visited sites).
Server filters
Many sites with "adult content" genuinely mean well... at least well enough to try to prevent children from seeing them. Passwords are often required. Age-rating systems have also been developed, and many sites are PICS (earlier system) or SafeSurf (a later version of PICS) rated. Programs on your computer like InterGO's Kinderguard read these ratings and use them to block or warn about sites with adult content. The rating systems are very specific and exist in various areas (profanity, for example, can be restricted separately from nudity, which can be separated from violence and from sex education).
Proxies and ad filters
This is the equivalent of call-screening. Internet Junkbuster, for example, removes unwanted banner ads from web pages. These are a bit harder to set up, but are well worth the effort. Banner ads are annoying to almost everyone, waste space, CPU (for animations, which most have), and bandwidth (re-downloading themselves). They can lure a child into places you as parents would not want them to go. They may be ads for web-chat rooms, 1-900 numbers, sites with sexual content, sites that request personal information (or invisibly draw it from your web browser preferences), and almost always link to commercial sites with little informative value.

A few cautions from another point of view:

Keyword removal works very well for expletives, but tends to mangle the meaning of certain types of statements, sometimes in the diametrical opposite of the intended manner. An example given by Peacefire ( "Gary Bauer is a staunch anti-homosexual conservative who sees the gay movement as absolutely pure fascism and thinks that movies of men with men are the greatest terror." is shown under this CyberSitter function as "Gary Bauer is a staunch anti-conservative who sees the gay movement as absolutely pure and thinks that movies of men with men are the greatest." No information was available on whether the more-configurable alternatives, like Net Nanny, had such odd side effects. Net Nanny does claim to have eliminated the problem with incidentally blocking recipes for chicken breasts, the newspapers of Middlesex and such.

Blocking lists are not usually editable, and often, especially in the case of CyberSitter, are overzealous in blocking sites. Some blacklisted sites are not sites parents would consider offensive. CyberSitter in particular tries to apply a certain moral code which may or may not be the same as your family's. Some feminist sites such as the National Organization for Women are blocked, for example. Both CyberSitter and CyberPatrol have some problems with blocking more of a domain than is necessary, and accidentally not allowing some perfectly good sites. On the other hand, we did find one filtering/blocking program, WizGuard, which erred on the side of under-zealousness (blocking only pornography) and allowed the parent to input (in plain-text under password protection) their own personal list of sites they wished to block. Third-party lists could also be used.

The use of blocking, filtering, and especially snooping software can encourage distrust rather than trust within your family. With well-meaning kids who agree the software should be there (which is definitely possible with limited blocking software), these measures are effective. However, once a child perceives a lack of your trust in them, they may become frustrated and earn that distrust by going around any restriction you put in place. It is possible to circumvent any security program that can be put in place, with more or less ease on the part of the child. Some, such as SmartAlex ICU, force them to go to a lot of trouble if they want to make it not obviously "hacked". That does not keep them from doing so, or even blatantly disabling it. It is difficult to keep passwords away from children; they can usually guess or locate them. The climate of distrust can only get worse and worse. We suggest two rules of thumb. For younger children, do not put any software in place that you cannot explain to them so that they agree it is for their own good. Remember also that they will outgrow this software! If they want more freedom, they need to know you will respect their wishes. This does not mean that you give it to them, but discuss or consider it, and give them a reason for any refusal. For older children and teens, do not use any software on them that places restrictions you cannot live under. If there is a filter you want them to use, use it yourself. They will respect it a lot more.

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