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Now that my boys can read and type, we're suddenly finding them on the Internet a lot more than we'd like. Worse, they love bathroom humour. How long will it be before the five-year-old types in "bum" to get a laugh out of his older brother and pulls up inappropriate images instead?

If you have a young family, you might also be thinking of running out to buy parental control software. But there are free options that you ought to be aware of first.

We've set up a separate user profile for the kids that lets them access only some applications and websites. We've set Google to SafeSearch and locked it. Google's own tips are handy and worth a quick read, if you are new to this (as we are). Firefox and Internet Explorer also let you set controls easily.

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There's also this great website run by the Media Awareness Network that has interactive games to teach your kids about safe Internet behaviour.

You might want to check your existing anti-virus software as well. Some, such as Norton, include parental controls.

There is also a range of free software that is relatively easy to install and use and is reasonably effective, based on reviews.

K9 Web Protection blocks a wide range of objectionable websites (including those with racism and gambling) and also sets time restrictions on Internet usage.

ChatShield is specifically for Internet messaging. The program checks the identities of people chatting with your children and blocks unidentifiable contacts.

Parental Control Bar is a toolbar that you can download. It blocks access to adult-oriented websites.

You can also buy good software that gives you more control over your kids' Internet activity. These typically let you keep an eye on what they're doing and set time controls for Internet use as well.

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NetNanny is one of the most popular options out there. It is easy to use and effective, according to reviews. You pay $40 a year and you get a detailed report of what your kids are doing, along with the standard blocking and filtering. However, it comes with just one licence -- if you want it for more than one computer, it will cost another $20 per machine.

PureSight PC also scores high on filtering websites and screening predators. It also has an eye on cyberbullying. You can set up to 10 different profiles, in case you have children at different levels of maturity.

WebWatcher comes with high praise. It lets you monitor more than one computer remotely, so you can see what your kids are surfing while you're still at work. It records practically everything -- e-mail, instant messaging, Facebook, etc. It also filters out blocked content. However, it may not work on a Mac. It costs about $100.

And beware: Kids are smart. There is this handy-dandy webpage out there that tells them how to get around parental control software. You may want to keep that link to yourself.

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