This is the kind of thing that gives parents the heebie-jeebies:
A child types in an Internet search for "toys" and up comes a typical list of Web sites. Among all the fun stuff, right there in the No. 3 position, is "Cyber-Sex-Toys Main Menu."
Should a youngster want to narrow the search, he can click on several options, including "gifts," "Galoob" (a toy maker) and "games." Or he could click onto "grownups" and "flogged."
Execute on those last two, and zip! a new list brings up both "The Anne of Green Gables Mercantile" and "The Bondage/Dominance/Sadism/Masochism Page," plus many more of similar tone (and far fewer like Anne).
The Internet is fascinating, a little tricky and, a small amount of the time, completely inappropriate for children. Which is why most experts familiar with Net-working advise mothers and fathers not to let their kids go online unsupervised.
Having an adult around does three good things:
It keeps children from straying, deliberately or by accident, into Web sites with violent or sexual content. Though a recent university study indicates that less than 1 percent of Internet sites contain sexually explicit material, experiences like the search for "toys" shows you can never be certain where it will appear.
An adult also can help children sort through the vast number of choices available when surfing the Net. Digging through the piles of information is often frustrating, since some searches result in thousands of matches. In a newsletter from the American Library Association, cyberspace is compared to "a library with all the books dumped on the floor."
And not least, surfing together is a good way for parents to find what interests their children. It's like a trip into their imaginations. Plus, it's time together.
Look at what Bruce Pinchbeck Jr. did on the Internet with his father. Together, they built one of the easiest-to-use and most inclusive "homework helper" pages on the Web. "BJ Pinchbeck's Homework Page" lists general reference sites and specific places to go for help in any subject. He gives a brief description of each site (with a "Wow!" here and a warning that the site may take time to download there). Going through BJ cuts down on a lot of misdirected searches. His are student-friendly.
His address is http://tristate.pgh.net/~pinch13/.
There are lots of places to find good sites. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Children's Department has its own list of cool places to surf, including two joke sites: http://www.needham.org.uk/kids/answers.htm and http://spiderwebb.com/jokes.htm.
Kids can also go to several popular tourist attractions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, http:/www.rockhall.com, and Seaworld, http://www.bev.net/education/SeaWorld/infobook.html.
One of the most thorough collections of Web sites that are safe for kids is "The Internet Kids & Family Yellow Pages" (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $19.99). The book describes thousands of sites that have been reviewed by Jean Armour Polly, a k a "Net-mom," a former librarian from Jamesville. She tells you how to find out who shares your birthday (http://www.eb.com/bio.html), where to get your own "virtual pet" (http://www.virtualpet.com/vp/) and yes, where to find even more jokes and riddles. There's a new one every day at http://www.dujour.com/riddle/.
Where does a general keep his armies?
In his sleevies, of course!
But if you don't want your children to know more about other people's body parts, or about the lowest forms of human discourse, keep in mind that censorship is not always a dirty word. Sometimes it translates to freedom of choice.
PC Magazine's 1997 Utility Guide lists the leading Internet screening programs, with the software costing between $20 and $50. Some can be downloaded for a free trial before purchase.
Among the top sellers are Cyber Patrol, http://www.cyberpatrol.com; Cybersitter, http://www.solidoak.com; Net Nanny, http://www.netnanny.com, and X-Stop, http://www.xstop.com.
Remember that the filters are an uneven safeguard. Some screen out information containing certain words like "sex" and certain word endings, such as "-uck." This keeps out much of the trash, but also blocks information about "Sussex" and "good luck charms."
Encourage children to use the kid-friendly search sites like http://www/yahooligans.com and http://www.4kidz.com.
And many adults suggest keeping children away from chat rooms. Younger kids can get in over their heads; older ones, especially troubled teens, may cause more trouble.
Remember the 14-year-old Rochester girl who ran off with a serviceman she met in an online vampire game? According to the girl's mother, the girl told the 22-year-old man she was in a bad home situation, so he helped her run away.
Parents need to monitor their children's time in cyberspace and set up specific rules. Guidelines recommended by the library:
Don't give out any personal information, not even the name of your school. This is the biggest don't on the list.
Tell an adult if anything uncomfortable comes to you on the Internet.
Never agree to meet anyone in person without first checking with your parents.
Never send a picture of yourself to anyone you haven't met.
Don't respond to mean or rude messages. Have you parents notify the Internet server -- this stuff is against the rules for all users.
And when in doubt, or your parents are out, stay offline and use a CD-ROM.