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Ask an expert: I'm really worried about my young children coming across age inappropriate materials on the web...

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Zoe E Breen Zoe E Breen | 10:38 UK time, Tuesday, 7 February 2012

...is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of that happening?

Question in full:

I have young children at home. We allow them to use my iPad and the family computer and I try to supervise their use when they go on the internet, but you cannot be there 100% of the time. I am really worried about the possibility of them coming across horrible, and by that I mean age inappropriate, materials on the web. I’m thinking mainly about violent images or pornography. Even if I’m stood there with them it only takes one click of a mouse by either child to take us to somewhere very undesirable. Is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of that happening?

Answered by our panel of experts:

Undesirable, age inappropriate content can very easily slip through the net and appear on a child’s computer screen/iPad, very often as the result of wholly innocent activity or an unintentional slip.

These kinds of mistakes often occur, especially among children, when they use one of the well-known search engines to find something where you do not already have the address, or maybe they just typed in the name of a favourite toy or band to see what came up.

One solution to this is to turn on ‘strict filtering’/ ‘family filters’ under the preferences options available on search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing. There are also some search engines designed especially for young children. BBC  WebWise has more information about these.

Alternatively, you will normally access search engines such as Google or Bing or Yahoo! through a web browser. Some browsers will allow you to set the controls to prevent adult material being presented as the result of a search. No software is ever going to be 100% foolproof so it always a good idea to stay close and stay engaged, particularly when younger children go online.

Not every browser has a filtering capability built-in, alternatively you might want to have greater control over a wider range of activity that your children could undertake on their machines. If that is so there are filtering programmes you can use that will help. The company you pay for your internet access may provide you with a free copy.

Finally, remember it is possible for children and young people to access the internet from a variety of devices, not just computers. Almost all new mobile phones and games consoles have internet access built in, usually with Wi-Fi.  Also don’t forget if you, or even a nearby neighbour, has unsecured Wi-Fi it might be possible for your child to use it to go online from any room in your house.

If you are a parent and are worried about your teen or child over-sharing online visit the Share Take Care: Ask an expert page to read the advice our panel of experts gave other parents.

Visit the Share Take Care website for more information on help and support for parents.


  • Comment number 1.

    Its important for parents to set up their internet protection before kids use a computer, we cant blame the search engines for producing results that can offend.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sorry but you will have to supervise your young kids all the time they use the internet even when parental controls are set. You'd do this anyway when they're out and about, surely --- since there are more opportunities outdoors for them to hear and see "inappropriate" behaviours.

    Like you, my daughter didn't always do this and discovered that her 12 year-old son had typed a false date of birth into the PlayStation Network (via his Sony playstation console) and was then able to use his junior bank account debit card to make payments to Sony --- totaling £305 in a series of payments over two months. 

    My daughter wasn't aware her son could access the PlayStation Network simply by lying about his age --- and without any validity checks, and despite parental controls in place. She realised what he'd done when he told her "my card doesn't work" and she eyeballed his bank statements. 

    Clearly, Sony --- and ALL websites should do their bit. Sony do nothing to prevent underage access and have showed no interest when this was pointed out in a phone call and registered letter. And they refuse to recognise that the 'contract' between Sony and my grandson is not legal and continues to refused to refund his £305. An expensive lesson but crucial learning. Now, she supervises his internet access 24/7.


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