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Find Kid-Friendly Videos

By Michelle Hainer

As her kids get older, Louise Crawford, a mother of two in Brooklyn, N.Y., has learned to be more vigilant about their Internet use. While her nine-year-old daughter's online outings are limited to doll shopping on American Girl or playing games on the kid-friendly Club Penguin, her 15-year-old son has graduated to popular sites like MySpace or You Tube where a host of videos -- and not just the G-rated variety -- are available.

"We live in an apartment and luckily our wireless connection doesn't reach into my son's bedroom," says Crawford, whose family often congregates around the dining room table simultaneously using their computers. "I'm always over his shoulder checking out his MySpace page, which he absolutely hates! Sometimes I'm bad and I even read it."

Who can blame her for snooping? With a proliferation of web sites like You Tube, TMZ, Yahoo, Google, and the infamous MySpace -- which all allow users to download videos in an instant -- it's virtually impossible for parents to monitor what their kids watch online 24/7. While thousands of harmless videos are available for their -- and your -- amusement, some are inappropriate for younger viewers because they contain sexual or adults-only content. You Tube even got press recently for featuring videos that show people engaged in violent fist fights.

With these concerns in mind, here are some tips to consider before letting your kid watch videos on the Net:

1. Know what you're dealing with The problem with sites that allow users to freely upload content is that "there are no clear guidelines," says Larry Magid, director of BlogSafety and co-author of MySpace Unraveled. "You don't know what users are going to post and sometimes kids can stumble upon things they shouldn't be looking at." Yahoo allows parents to turn on a "SafeSearch" feature that blocks their kids from accessing certain sites, but most sites that host videos don't prescreen their content, relying on users to report any inappropriate clips. If you're leery about a certain site, log on and wander around before letting your kids do so.

2. Install a filter on your computer Software programs like CYBERsitter, and NetNanny allow parents to block their kids from accessing certain sites. And monitoring programs like SpectorSoft or IAmBigBrother can actually track what your children do online. While filters may be appropriate for kids under age eight, Magid cautions using them if you have teenagers. "You don't want to alienate your child," he says. Plus, the filter will only work on your computer, so they can still access the Internet at friends' houses, in school, or even via their cell phones. "The key is talking to kids and getting them to understand how to be safe on the web. But if you're going to use a filter, let your kids know you're doing it," he says.

3. Look for alternative web watching  If you think some of the more popular video sites are too risque for your children, check out short films being made by videobloggers. Erin Nealey, a tech savvy South Carolina mom of two daughters, ages four and two, recommends 90 Seconds of Dave and Kity Kity. For more kid-friendly vlogs, log onto Technorati or Internet Archive. 

Crawford, for one, has already begun talking to her daughter about the dangers that lurk online. "I told her to let me know if someone is cursing or behaving badly on Club Penguin," she says. And as for downloading videos? "Thankfully, she doesn't know how to do that yet!" she says.

Michelle Hainer is a freelance writer and editor for popular national consumer publications and she is based in New York. She is also the author of Girl World Quiz Zone: 50 Quizzes to Unravel Your Future, Reveal Your Style, and Discover the Inner You.