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Kids' Worlds Online

Kid safety online seems to be the big buzz-term lately. Maybe it's because of the news around children are being bullied by "anonymous" friends. Maybe it's because of the potential of sexual predators instant messaging kids. Or maybe, as consumers of the Internet, we parents are more in tune with the potential dangers lurking in the ether for our children.

To help us monitor while not standing guard 24/7, PC Magazine wrote a detailed look at monitoring software and devices earlier this month. Some, like Net Nanny and BsafeOnline let you control your kids' behavior. And while this is practical for a younger child, it is not for a teenager. Others, like SnoopStick and PC Pandora let you spy on your kids unnoticed, writes PC Magazine. And if you're looking for a solution to control your child's instant messages, there's nothing like having a real chat with your kid about IM decorum such as not talking with people he hasn't met in person. Particularly because your child can use Web-based instant messaging software to get around you even if you try to block IM from the computer.

With younger kids, you can try letting them loose on the ever-expanding list of online world/game sites that call themselves safe havens for kids. There's Webkinz, Disney's Club Penguin, Nickelodeon's Nicktropolis and Barbie Girls World to name few of the more popular spots.

Or if you've got kids like mine, who can't get enough of YouTube videos, Lego instructions and jigsaw puzzles, there's a new subscription-based browser that vets sites for you called KidZui. KidZui, which currently costs $4.95 per month though its official listing price is $9.95 per month, acts as a kid-friendly browser. Parents and teachers approve content from around the Web for inclusion in what the site calls an Internet built for kids ages 3 to 12. It then presents the content (currently more than 500,000 Web pages, videos and photos) in a kid-friendly format, with large type, lots of images and categories such as animals, science, games and most popular. The site tracks kids' usage and e-mails reports to parents. And what may be one of its most useful features: Kids can't click through online ads or unapproved links and the browser doesn't allow downloads, so a kid can't inadvertently cause a major virus cleanup.

Though I'm not usually a fan of paying for anything online, this one may just be worth it. What's your current computer setup in your house? Do you use any monitoring software or devices? Are you pleased with them? Does a service like KidZui appeal to you?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 21, 2008; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Tweens
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Comments


Is it just me or do kids even need to be online so young? I see no real reason for my almost 6 yr old to go web surfing. So, for now, we don't have to worry about online safety. At what age is it appropriate or necesary for kids to get online?

Posted by: online? | March 21, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse

My 6 year old is allowed to go on webkinz, but that is the extent of her internet usage. My 9 year old has had to do a few projects that required research. My husband and I sat with her and guided her search. We set up the parent controls through windows and every site they acces must first be granted permission from the administrator. It was obnoxious for the first few times they got online, but now we have approved all of the sites they want to use regularly (like webkinz). The computer is in the dining room and no one is allowed on line without permission. My 3 year olds watch their big sisters play, but have never done so themselves.

Posted by: Momof5 | March 21, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

fr online?:

>... At what age is it appropriate or necesary for kids to get online?

I would say starting about age 8 or so, when they have to do reports for school and need up to date (NOT 20-year-old encyclopedias, that, for example, refer to Zimbabwe as Liberia, or that the last President was Bush, Sr.)

Posted by: Alex | March 21, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

fr online?:

>... At what age is it appropriate or necesary for kids to get online?

I would say starting about age 8 or so, when they have to do reports for school and need up to date (NOT 20-year-old encyclopedias, that, for example, refer to Zimbabwe as Liberia, or that the last President was Bush, Sr.)

Posted by: Alex | March 21, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I thought Zimbabwe used to be called Rhodesia. Isn't Liberia still Liberia?

Posted by: Annapolis | March 21, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Been Looking at KidZui as a teaching tool. Unfortunately, my impression is that it's a bit too commercialized. There's little proof I have at the moment, but when I can't run a search without unrelated Disney or PBS Kids pages popping up I tend to suspect that advertising dollars are heavily shaping those results.

Inaccurate search of this kind means it's poor to be used in an academic environment regardless, but it might also be a concern for parents who don't want their children exposed to excessive advertising.

Posted by: David S | March 21, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

5 children - ages 4 to 13 - none on-line ever except for homework and then I tell them to try to find the information in a book first.

Childhood is short - why waste their time with on-line or tv? Why not let them play? Go outside, play inside - run around. I don't understand a nation that encourages inactivity and then obsesses about obesity crisis and children who don't read.

It will take 5 to 7 minutes for my children to catch up on-line once they are old enough to need to - no disadvantage in waiting so why start? There is plenty of time to sit around and stare at a computer screen in adulthood.

Posted by: Amelia | March 21, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

a friend of mine offered me this advice - put the computer in a public space like the kitchen or dining room when your children are young. that way by the time they get old enough to want privacy on the computer it's not up for debate. it's in the kitchen.

Posted by: quark | March 21, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

We've never used any of the "Net Nanny" software. The problem for us is that most (if not all) block sites related to our religion. We're Wiccan, and we'd rather discuss some inappropriate site with our kids, than have them locked out of sites we feel are valuable for their religious content.

Posted by: Sue | March 21, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

While I agree with some of your sentiment and believe that sitting at a computer, online, should be limited for kids, I think you're severely underestimating how much time it will take a kid who is not allowed on the computer at ALL to "catch up." And, they're missing out on a wealth of information -and FAST information- (for school and such) that books alone don't have.

I think that for us, the approach is somewhere less than what you have identified. Computer in common area only. Oversight by parents. Limited time periods allowed. Have open discussions around the common issues re: internet/email usage (which I won't rehash here). But, we will allow it for school research/projects as it is a valuable tool to have. Just my two cents.

Posted by: To Amelia | March 21, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Out of curiosity, why do kids need large type? How is that more helpful to them? Kids in the 6 to 10 age set have the best eyesight of any age group. So, why treat them like they're over 40 and have started to lose their close vision?

It reminds me of those stupid HUGE pencils that people seem to think kids need. Why would a child, with smaller hands than adults, find a LARGER pencil easier to use?

Final question: Even if we figure out why the manufacturers make such things, why are parents dumb enough to buy them?

Posted by: Ryan | March 21, 2008 7:42 PM | Report abuse

"Why would a child, with smaller hands than adults, find a LARGER pencil easier to use?"
Because their fine motor skills are not refined yet. Why can't a 6-year-old child, with such tiny hands, paint a picture as well as an adult? Same concept.

The print? I don't know a reason behind that

Posted by: RT | March 24, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

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