The internet is often billed as a scary place full of predators and temptations. It is, however, a great learning tool and source of information for all ages when used correctly. Parents are left in the precarious position of protecting their children and their home computer from unwanted attention.

Confusingly, anti-virus and nannying software programmes are numerous and varied and can be expensive. Deciphering what you need and what they can do is an unenviable task, but with a bit of research you can find the best solution for you.

Anti-virus software aims to stop viral e-mails and spyware from uploading onto your computer and then reading information, perhaps personal, without your knowledge. Nannying or content control software, however, is designed to allow the parent to block access to certain types of sites and images on the internet. Children and teens, however, are usually quite savvy in finding ways around this type of software.

Understanding that no anti-virus or nanny software is better than simply having a good, open relationship with your child is crucial. The best way to start is to sit down with them to explain the rules and risks of using the internet as well as making it clear that they can come to you if they're unsure or upset by something they've encountered. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) advises parents to "teach young people how to block someone online and report them if they feel uncomfortable."

Guidelines from CEOP also recommend that parents "help their children to understand that they should never give out personal details to online friends," including messenger ID, e-mail addresses, mobile numbers or pictures of themselves, family or friends. "If your child publishes a picture or video online - anyone can change it or share it." (For more information on cyber-bullying see page 20.)

Spam or junk e-mails also create a problem as they initiate unsolicited interaction and often have tempting subject lines. Never open or respond to these e-mails or use the "unsubscribe" tool as they may contain viruses or spyware that could be passed on though your address book. It is best just to delete them.

Thinking about the location of the family computer could also help. Keeping it in an open area of the house such as a family room or dining room will enable parents to monitor what children are looking at and how much time they are spending on the internet.

One of the best tools for keeping you and your computer safe is education. Knowing where to look for advice when something goes wrong will mean you have the upper hand.

WEB WATCH

Think U Know

How to stay safe online and report suspicious behaviour

www.thinkuknow.co.uk

Sorted

Advice on how to protect your computer and useful downloads

www.childnet-int.org/sorted

Department for Children, School & Families

Government advice on how to tackle cyber-bullying

www.dfes.gov.uk/bullying

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