Children's Security

The disadvantages of a child's Internet use can almost outweigh the advantages if parents and caretakers do not take certain steps. Children are the most vulnerable Internet users, and many sites that are seemingly child-friendly are simply vehicles for installing spyware on your computer. However, with some effort, children can securely use the Internet.

The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was enacted into law in 1998 and provides for specific rules that ISPs and Web sites must follow. Importantly, any Web site geared toward children cannot collect personal information about a child under 13 without posting its privacy policy and obtaining parental consent.

Sidebar: The FTC maintains a special Web site for kids and parents that explains COPPA

Schools and libraries receiving certain types of funding are required to implement filtering programs under the provisions of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Obscene, pornographic and other visual materials that are "harmful to minors (under 17 years old)" must be filtered on all computers with Internet access at those facilities.

The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), now a part of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSA), is a nonprofit organization that works to have Web sites labeled as appropriate for children. Parents use filtering software that allows or disallows access to Web sites based on the labeling information.

The label indicates if the site contains or depicts nudity, violence, sexual content, profanity, alcohol use, gambling and/or drugs. The Web sites are ranked from Level 1 to Level 4, with Level 1 being the least offensive. The ICRA also offers a free filter.

Sidebar: The ICRA does not rate the Web sites; the Web sites are self-rated by the site's administrator.

With the right software or minimal computer knowledge, certain Web sites can be "blocked" based on their content. A blocked Web site cannot be accessed by the computer's browser.

Although parents may seek to shield their children from some types of Internet content, the children themselves often misuse the Internet by seeking out inappropriate Web sites that contain adult themes, violence, drugs and alcohol. Additionally, children are using the Internet to harass other children and even perpetrate hate crimes.

Sidebar: The FBI has published information concerning safe Internet use by children here.

How does a Web site get parental consent?

The Web site asks for the parent's e-mail address then e-mails the parent that the child has accessed the Web site. For example, you should get an e-mail if your 10-year-old enters a sweepstakes contest for a free skateboard on the big amusement park Web site.

Can I limit the sites my child can access on the Internet?

Yes. "Filtering" software allows you to prevent your child from accessing sites that contain nudity, sexual or violent content or that advocate the use of drugs, tobacco or alcohol.

TIP: Check your browser for built-in filtering software. For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer has a filter than can be activated so only sites that are rated as appropriate for children can be accessed.

How do I keep track of what sites my child has been browsing?

You can check the Web site addresses in your search engine's Internet history files.

TIP: There are many search engines that filter out inappropriate content. Have your child use those "safe" search engines rather than the one used by adults in the home. Search for "kid-safe search engines."

My child received an e-mail with obscene photographs. What can I do?

You should immediately deactivate the e-mail address, notify your ISP of the e-mail and forward it to the FTC at If the e-mail is threatening, contact local law enforcement as well.

Sidebar: CIPA requires only images to be filtered. Text is not covered under CIPA.

How do I start blocking Web sites?

You can start by checking to see if your browser has built-in filters that can be activated. If you want more control, there is a variety of software available to block Web sites you designate or Web sites with inappropriate content.

Our browser is Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). How do I get to the filter?

  • Open IE and click on "Tools" on the toolbar at the top of page.
  • On the "Tools" pull-down menu, click on "Internet Options."
  • Click on the "Content" tab in the "Internet Options" window.
  • At the top of the "Content" page is the "Content Advisor" section. Click on the "Enable" button.
  • Click on the "Ratings" tab.

From here you can adjust settings for language, nudity, sex and violence. Using the sliding bar for each category, you can decide how much or what level of violence, for example, on a Web site can be accessed.

TIP: The greatest filtering is at the "0" level which allows access to Web sites with inoffensive slang, no nudity, no sex and no violence.

How do I know if a Web site is appropriate for children?

You can use rating systems. The FTC explains entertainment ratings on its Web site.

Is there any place on the Internet where my child can safely get e-mail?

Yes. Your child can register a domain name here. This Web site is a child-friendly, online "safe zone" created as a result the recently enacted Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act.

My child plays games on the Internet. How do I know if the games are age appropriate?

Computer and video games have a rating system, just like movies. The different levels are:

  • early childhood (EC)
  • everyone
  • teen
  • mature
  • adult only (AO)

What is cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying is a term that describes a child's use of the Internet, instant and text messaging and other forms of communication to intimidate and harass other children. These types of communications are known as hate speech.

Is cyber bullying illegal?

Yes. Constant harassment can violate stalking laws. Communications or Web sites devoted to criticism of other students or teachers may violate their civil rights if the hate speech is spread based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability.

My child is a victim of cyber bullying. What can I do?

Immediately report any incident of online harassment and physical threats to local law enforcement, your ISP and the ISP where the hate speech originated. ISPs are becoming more willing to disclose the identity of users who are involved in cyber bullying.

TIP: If your child is being bullied through e-mails or instant messaging, block the sender's messages. Do not reply to threatening or harassing messages.

What should I do if my child receives pornographic e-mails?

If you become aware of the transmission, use or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline at 800.843.5678.

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