Protect kids online By Chris Rettstatt


It’s summer, so your kids are going to be spending a lot more time at home--and on the computer. It may be the right time to invest in some parental control software.

Only 2 percent of Web sites are pornographic, but they seem to be everywhere. The sites are aggressively promoted via spam and search engines and they are extremely easy to stumble upon by accident. An innocent search engine query can turn up thousands of not-so-innocent results.

In addition, there are countless other sites promoting hate, illegal drug use and violence. Even more sobering is the possibility your child will get involved in risky relationships with strangers.

The need is clear, but which program is best? Do you want a program that’s simple and easy to use without too many confusing options? Or do you want the power to customize the controls? Are you only interested in blocking access to certain content or do you want to monitor all activities? Last, is there information you don’t want your children giving out online, such as phone numbers?

Here are my thoughts on a few of the more popular programs.

Cyber Sentinel, by Security Software Systems; $39.95 one-time charge. Cyber Sentinel offers customizeable filters and allows parents to define words and phrases--such as telephone numbers--they don’t want their children to give out over the Internet. Parents can also use the software to set time limits on their children’s Internet access. When a child comes across inappropriate content, Cyber Sentinel can be set up to warn the child, take a screen shot of the violation, close the application and notify the parent by e-mail. Cyber Sentinel is able to scan and filter content in all Windows programs, not just online applications like e-mail and chat.

Cyber Sentinel gets my vote as the best in its category. I’m particularly impressed with the “predator protection” features, which allow parents to monitor e-mail, chat and instant messaging, as well as its emphasis on preventing children from divulging personal information online, a danger parents cannot overlook. Learn more at

AOL Parental Controls. Free with an AOL subscription. There are three levels: Kids Only (12 and under), Young Teen (13-15) and Mature Teen (16-17). For parents who only want to limit the sites their children can access, AOL Parental Controls are sufficient. Parents who want to monitor their children’s activities or customize filtering options should look elsewhere.

Cyber Patrol 6, by Surf Control; $39 annual subscription. Cyber Patrol puts Web sites into 13 categories and allows parents to customize the setup for each user. The software also filters chat or blocks it completely, and can block Windows programs for specific users. Parents can can use the software to manage the time their children spend online. Cyber Patrol gets credit for its 2-way filtering of chat, e-mail and instant messaging content. Visit to sign up for a 14-day free trial.

Net Nanny 5, by BioNet Systems; $39.95 one-time charge. Net Nanny provides customizeable filters and allows parents to set time limits on Internet activity. Also allows parents to restrict online chat and Internet games and configure the software to monitor activity, with regular reports by e-mail. Net Nanny cannot filter Instant Messaging or e-mail text. Visit to sign up for a 15-day free trial.

Cybersitter, by Solid Oak Software; $39.95 one-time charge. Cybersitter provides 30 categories of filtering, ranging from sex to cults to gambling. The 2-year Premium Subscription offers free upgrades and customer support. The software gets high marks for being nearly tamper-proof. Visit to sign up for a 10-day free trial.

--Chris Rettstatt is a Chicago-based Internet safety advocate and CEO of



Fred Koch is an award-winning music educator, children’s musician and nationally recognized workshop clinician. His Web site, www.BestChildrens, includes additional information on his CDs as well as general information about selecting quality children’s music and past Chicago Parent reviews. Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son. Please e-mail notes and comments to


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