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How can I Protect My Child?

pro_fil_arrow1_blank Understanding Maturity and Vulnerability
pro_fil_arrow2_blank Setting Rules for Internet Use
pro_fil_arrow3 Filtering and Monitoring: Tools for Safety
Tools for Safety Filtering And Monitoring: Tools for Safety
pro_fil_arrow4_blank Something Happened! Now What?
pro_fil_arrow5_blank Reporting an Incident
pro_fil_arrow6_blank Schools, Libraries, and the Community

family using a laptop


Filters are perhaps the most widely used of all the technological tools intended to protect children from exposure to inappropriate materials. Filtering is very effective at keeping out unwanted materials, and there are a number of options to choose from, including client-side filters; content-limited Internet service providers; server-side filters; and search-engine filters.

Pros and Cons
Filters can be configured to deny access to a substantial amount of adult-oriented sexually explicit material from commercial Web sites. No filter is perfect, however, because filtering software can’t wholly substitute for human judgment. Nevertheless, as part of an intelligent, proactive strategy for protecting kids, a filter can be very useful. Here are some specific drawbacks that you should know about:

  • Overblocking: A filter that is highly effective at screening out content can “overblock” by filtering out acceptable material, such as health-related information. But some parents will accept the consequences of overblocking if they place a very high priority on preventing exposure to certain materials.
  • Underblocking: Because new material appears on the Internet constantly, filters can “underblock” content if responsible parties don’t update their systems. (Content-based filtering systems aren’t subject to this problem.)

  • Denying responsible choice: The use of filters doesn’t allow children, including older adolescents, the opportunity to develop their own decision-making skills, which are what children rely on when they surf away from home.
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Note: Most filters have default settings that take effect if you do nothing. Often, these settings block every possible category of materials that can be blocked: sexually explicit images, nudity, works of art that depict nudity or sexual behavior, sex education, violence, weapons, drugs, pro-choice or anti-abortion material, gay and lesbian lifestyles, and so on. By accepting the default setting, you’ll be blocking a great deal of material you might not want to block.

Types of Filters

  • Client-side filters: This type of filter, installed as software on your computer, can be customized to meet your family’s needs and disabled only by someone with the password. Client-side filters work well for places like libraries, where only some access points need to be filtered, such as the computers in the children’s reading room. back to top

  • Content-limited (or filtered) ISPs: These Internet service providers offer access to only a subset of Internet content. Whoever subscribes to this service is subject to the same restrictions. Content-limited ISPs intended for kids offer Web pages that have been carefully reviewed and assessed for their appropriateness and safety, as well as for content that’s developmentally appropriate, educational, and entertaining. Chat rooms and bulletin boards are monitored, and those who break the rules are uninvited. E-mail and instant messages can be received only from specified parties or other users of the system.

    Other content-limited ISPs, intended for both children and adults, allow access to everything except content that the ISP specifically considers inappropriate. Monitoring and limits on e-mail are less strict or don’t exist at all.

    Some ISPs provide both filtered and unfiltered access. Filtered access—sometimes at different levels—is usually available from those ISPs that offer parental controls, allowing you to decide what content family members can access.
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  • Server-side filters: This type of filtering is useful in institutional settings, such as school or library systems. Users at all access points within the institution’s purview are subject to the access policy defined by the institution. Filtering within the system can come from the institution’s ISP or from the institution itself, and can be customized. For example, a school district’s high-school library could have a different filtering profile than the district’s middle-school library. back to top

  • Search-engine filters: Many search engines, such as Google and AltaVista, offer users the option of turning on a safety filter, which, when activated, filters out inappropriate links from search results. But someone who already knows the URL of a site featuring sexually explicit content could still access it without using a search engine.

    Other search engines, such as Lycos and Yahoo!, offer kid-oriented versions of their search engines that permit searches of only child-friendly sites.

For more details on specific filtering tools, visit

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