Now that my boys are five and (almost) seven, and are regular users of the computer and the Internet, I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about online safety. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about NetSmartz and its efforts to keep kids safe online, including a list of tips for safe surfing. This week, I’m looking at a new tool called Norton Online Family (NOF) designed to help parents monitor and modify their kids’ online behaviour.

(Disclosure: I’ll receive a $20 gift card from Amazon for being a part of the MomCentral blog tour supporting the launch of Norton Online Family.)


The latest version of the NOF mascot. Like NOF, itself, mascot is still in beta…

I wanted to be a part of this tour because I’ve been curious for some time about the ‘net nanny’ tools that are available. Symantec’s Norton Online Family lets you set up a personalized family account with information about each member of your family, and offers the following services:

  • Check a child’s activity or modify a child’s profile, preferences, or time allotment anytime and anywhere using any Internet-connected device.
  • All online activities are reported in chronological order and only show the Web sites a child intended to visit – eliminating all the extra URLs, like ads, from Web sites.
  • Easily view what words and phrases a child uses to search and where those searches lead online.
  • Control the Web content that flows into the home by prohibiting more than 40 topic categories.
  • Track, report and prevent personal information that a child may purposely or accidentally try to send via e-mail, IM or social networking site.
  • Monitor activity on social networks like Facebook and MySpace with the ability to see how kids represent themselves, when they login and how often.
  • Built-in messaging allows parents to have real-time discussions with children about activities and better understand their intentions when visiting a Web site.
  • Children are able to view the “house rules” they established with parents at any time and are notified when Norton Online Family is active, so there is no “stealth” mode.
  • Parents can customize e-mail alerts to address urgent events so they know immediately when a child has reached a time limit or visited a blocked site, etc.
  • An easy-to-use time management feature that – if parents find it necessary – gives each child a “curfew” that will limit computer usage.

I have to be totally honest here: when I first signed up for this tour, I did so because I liked the idea of having some sort of filter to keep the scariest parts of the Internet at bay. We’ve been caught off guard with searches as simple as ‘Princess Leia Star Wars Lego’. But I stopped about half way into the process of setting up an account for this service. It’s a great service if you want this kind of monitoring and control — but I don’t think it’s right for us, at least not right now. I’d much rather set the kids up with a few favourites and help them find new sites when they are looking for something. Maybe, in a few years, we’ll need this kind of scrutiny and monitoring but this seems a little bit too extensive for our needs right now.

My husband and I debated our need for this kind of software. He thinks it’s an excellent and necessary tool. I think it’s our role as parents to provide this kind of filter, especially while the kids are very young. Then, again, he also says they’ll ‘never’ be allowed to have a Facebook or MySpace page, an argument I think he’ll lose, sooner rather than later.

On other hand, and getting back on point, I was totally impressed yesterday when I stumbled across this: Kid Rex, a safe-search engine from the people at Google. From their ‘info for parents‘ page:

KidRex is a fun and safe search for kids, by kids! KidRex searches emphasize kid-related Web pages from across the entire Web and are powered by Google Custom Search and use Google SafeSearch technology.

Google’s SafeSearch screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your child’s search results. Google’s filter uses advanced technology to check keywords, phrases, and URLs. No filter is 100 percent accurate but SafeSearch should eliminate most inappropriate material.

In addition to Google SafeSearch, KidRex maintains its own database of inappropriate Web sites and keywords. KidRex researchers test KidRex daily to insure that you and your child have the best Web experience possible.

This is the tool that we need right now for our family. Love the idea, love the interface. If you want to keep a closer eye on what your kids are doing online when you aren’t able to be there, the Norton Online Family service looks like an excellent choice. But if you just want a simple, fun kid-friendly search engine, I love KidRex.


Danielle Donders is the author of the popular blog Postcards from the Mothership, where a copy of this column appears today. She graces us with her take on how technology impacts the parenting (and motherhood) process each Thursday in this space.

One Response to More ideas for keeping kids safe online

  1. Clint Fralick
    Apr 10, 2009

    I agree with you about Norton Online Family. It sure as heck monitors well, but I feel like it’s a little too full-featured for my needs, and I’d rather teach and set guidelines than just set up a very tight filter.

    Thanks for the recommendations.


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