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Your Digital Kids

Hands-on Advice for Keeping Kids Safer

Here’s a cheat sheet to help block content and insure safe profiles on some of the most popular teen tools.

iTunes: There’s a parental tab under the Preference setting in iTunes that can filter out lyrics and video labeled explicit. This can be password-protected so only the administrator of the account can change the setting.

Google’s Safe Search: Google has a safe search option that filters out adult content, including images found using Google Images. Anyone can override the setting and reset it, but most kids aren’t looking for trouble and this eliminates the potential for trouble to find them. To find the Safe Search, simply click on Preferences on the Google home page and then scroll down just below the Foreign Language preferences to Safe Search.

MS Internet Explorer: Though they were built to deliver a safe search, the parental controls called Content Advisor on Internet Explorer are so old they’re nearly useless. (The controls in the new Vista system are quite robust, though.) Click on Tools > Internet Options > Content, and then enable the content advisor.

Mozilla Firefox: Not the best browser for kids. Firefox does not have parental controls, but there is an add-on called the “Pro-Con Extension” that will block accidental trips to objectionable sites, but not purposeful visits.

Safari: Apple’s web browser contains parental controls that allow parents and kids to delineate which web sites kids can access in Safari Bookmarks. When kids try to go to a site not in the bookmarks, they get an error message telling them to request permission from their parents to go to the site.

MSN: MSN provides three safe search settings—strict, moderate, and off. Click on Options at the top of the search results page and choose your preferred setting.

TiVo: TiVo can block content by ratings based on maturity level. You access parental controls by going to the Messages and Settings menu and then selecting Parental Controls. TiVo also has KidZone settings that make expert opinion from a variety of sources available to help parents make good decisions.

Social Networks

MySpace: The most important settings can be found under your child’s profile under the Account Settings. Click on Account Settings and then Privacy Settings. You can, for instance, specify that you will only let those who know your email and/or last name to add you to their friends group—a good common sense precaution.

Gaming

Club Penguin: There are paid professionals monitoring the chat, but you can also opt for Ultimate Safe Chat, which limits the conversation to pull down menus. Even standard safe chat goes through a filter that looks for inappropriate words (including things like “hate”) and stops the message from being sent.

PlayStation 3: Parents can set up a unique ID PIN and then use it to control DVDs, video games, and content that’s age appropriate.

Xbox: You can configure parental controls to limit online friends, voice and text communications, video communications, gamer profile viewing, member content, and more. The Xbox website lists all of the step-by-step directions you’ll need.

Nintendo Wii: Go to the Wii System Settings menu and choose parental controls. Create a 4-digit PIN number. Enter the 4-digit PIN and select OK.

Video Games: The ESRB rating system is an unbiased, standardized way to help you determine whether a video game is appropriate for your child. Ratings are determined by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

Cellphones

There are special, limited functionality cellphones for young children like the Migo and the Firefly, but by the time that they’re 10 years old they’ve outgrown these.

AT&T Smart Limits Service: AT&T has heard the complaints from parents about high bills and too much texting by cellphone-carrying teens. The carrier is now offering a $4.99 add-on service that allows parents, tweens, and teens to set limits on calls and text messages to insure phones are not used during school hours and to help keep monthly bills in check.

Disney mobile phones have family monitoring controls to limit time spent texting or talking, and have a GPS location service to let you monitor your kids as they travel.