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How to keep an eye on your kids’ web habits

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With these tips and tools, you and your child will be on the same page

Whether they're doing homework research or just goofing off, kids are on the internet more than ever before. In addition to great educational resources, they're finding games and even social networks — all just for kids. Of course, along with all of that good, there's plenty of bad out there. So how can you be sure that your children are staying on the right path online?

Sit down and set boundaries
It all starts with that heart-to-heart family talk. You can't expect your kids to behave if they don't know what your expectations are, right? Sit down with them and outline what kind of online activities and websites you approve of. For example, do you want your children to visit YouTube? While much of the site is harmless enough, there is plenty of inappropriate content available there as well — and even that will vary depending on your standards.

Once you've established the ground rules, then you can move on to making sure the rules are followed. After all, it's really easy for anyone to get distracted by the wrong advertisement or accidentally end up on the wrong website. We even do it as adults.

From blocking bad sites to monitoring web activity, let's take a look at what you can do to follow up and ensure your children are following your rules and staying safe while surfing the 'net.

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Online tools for advanced protection
While there are many programs out there for parental monitoring, filtering, and advanced security, OpenDNS is our favorite (free!) choice, thanks to its robust feature set. With OpenDNS (available for Windows or Mac) set up, you will not only be able to filter and block offensive sites, you will also be able to use reporting features to see which websites have been visited by every web-enabled device on your network. To get started using OpenDNS, you'll need to register for free and set up an account. Once you've got things set up on your computer and home network, it's time to dive into customizing the settings to keep your kids safe.

Web filters and security
At the highest level, web content filtering will weed out all adult-related sites, illegal activity, social networking, video sharing, and other general time wasters. For most people, this is probably overkill. The moderate level of filtering will probably appeal to the average family, filtering out adult-related sites and illegal activity. Keep in mind that any sites automatically filtered out can be edited and allowed as you see fit. You can add sites that aren't already filtered to the filter list, as well.

On the security side, OpenDNS can filter out sites that appear to have malware, provide protection against phishing activities, and block suspicious IP address requests that attempt to gain control over your computer. We recommend activating all of these security features for optimal protection on your home network. We don't suggest changing anything under the advanced settings unless you're ahead of the curve on internet security and know what you're doing.

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Keep your kids happy and safe online

Beyond blocking
Finally, you can customize the messages that are displayed whenever a filtered site is blocked. This is a very unique tool that can open up a dialog between you and your kids. Imagine their surprise when they try to hit a site you've blocked and get a message saying something like, "Let's talk about this... Love, Mom and Dad."

Last but not least, for total monitoring, visit the Stats and Logs settings menu and enable data collection. This allows you to pull up reports showing exactly what websites are being viewed, how often, and more. This is where you'll go to find out what's been going on while you're away from home, if you choose to take it to that level. The free version of OpenDNS will track up to two weeks' worth of data; for $9.95 annually per household, this service will collect up to a year's worth of data.

Other ways to keep kids safe
Beyond monitoring software, there are plenty of other ways to keep your kids safe and sound on the web. Beyond our commonsense tipskid-friendly web browsers can automate the process of deciding which sites are safe with little set-up hassle. Otherwise, you can tweak the settings in any of the most popular normal web browsers to protect your kids against questionable online content.

Spend time with them online
Despite all of the advances in monitoring technology, there's no replacement for one-on-one personal time with your kids. Spend some time with them online. See what they are interested in. Share some of your favorite sites that you think might interest them too. Building that bond between parent and child is the number one way to ensure that kids understand and follow your directives, even when you're not around.

This article was written by Michael Arcand and originally appeared on Tecca

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