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Are Your Grandkids Safe Online?

Tips to help make sure they steer clear of trouble on the Internet

Software Assistance

There are plenty of software solutions for monitoring and controlling a child's use of the Internet. While not foolproof (particularly when confronted by a wily teenager), they can be useful tools in your online safety arsenal.

One of my favorites is available free for Windows and Macintosh computers. Norton Online Family, from leading security software creator Symantec, is available for download in both a free and a paid version.

The Norton program is easy to install and to customize. Every computer user will need his or her own user ID, so you can tailor the program's security settings to match that individual's needs. You start by indicating an age range for each user; that gives you basic controls over what Internet sites are appropriate, whether or not the user can access social networking or chat sites, control over searchable words and time limits for using the computer. You also have the opportunity to block specific information from ever being entered into an online form, such as Social Security numbers, email or real-world address, phone number, school name, etc. You can always tweak these settings, allowing access to sites the software questions (for some unknown reason, this included on my machine), for example, or blocking specific destinations.

You can also access a full report on what sites the child visited, or attempted to visit, along with search terms that were used. And both the settings and the reports are available from any computer, via a password-protected website, so you don't have to use the same computer as your child to know what he or she has been up to.

The paid "Premier" version of Norton Online Family (regularly $49.99, reduced to $29.99 at this writing) adds a few potentially useful features: video monitoring, time summaries of the child's Internet usage, weekly and monthly emailed reports and an activity history that goes back 90 days (versus seven days for the free version). For most of us, though, the free version will probably suffice.

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