Safe Online Searching

Providing children with safe access to online information can be a challenge. Definitely no perfect search engine for keeping children safe online exists in the cyberworld of today. Teachers, parents, and caregivers must be vigilant with guiding children’s Web reading experiences.

Google offers a Safe Search feature that can be activated to different degrees (off/moderate/strict) and can be locked on an individual computer. Moderate is the default setting within Google, but this level may fail to filter out many inappropriate images and words from search results. Google also offers a YouTube safety mode, ensuring that videos with mature content or those with an age-restriction will not be displayed in a video search.

Unfortunately, even Safe Search, set on the strict level, may not filter out educational material on topics unsuitable for children. Also, even though efforts are made to lower the risk of children seeing inappropriate materials, there is no guarantee that the filters will catch everything.

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Google Junior seeks to “provide a safe Google search for the innocent minds of future generations!”. This search engine utilizes Google’s Safe Search tool, but I found no indication that the search engine itself is a Google product. Rather, the search engine is created by a mother and father of four daughters, living in Canada. Beyond the search bar, the site also provides links to a collection of online games, and learning tools, including Word of the Day, Today in History, and Quote of the Day. On the day I searched, the word was “proscribe”, and the quote was from Robert Herrick, “Who covets more is evermore a slave”.

Additional links include learning resources for setting up your UNIX shell and PHP programming language for creating a website. An Internet safety resources link led to Google Chrome and antivirus software downloads. Neither of these links seemed particularly helpful for children, parents, or teachers seeking a safe online search setting.

My search of the phrase Abraham Lincoln led to 9 million results, with the first 9 of these being advertisements. The remaining results on the first page did include several options written specifically for kids.

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Safe Search Kids, “the Google search engine for kids where safe search is always on” overrides the computer search settings to help remove potentially explicit material. The search engine is powered by Google, but does not claim to be a Google product. Safe Search Kids warns adults that this search engine is not a babysitter, but is an additional tool to help keep kids safe – advising children under 13 never use the Internet without adult supervision. A list of links to Internet Safety Strategies includes quality resources for promoting safe searching skills.

On the plus side, a search box for safe searching of images is prominently displayed near the top of the page. On the down side, two video advertisements are continually looping on both the left and right side of the page. Also, a row of ads appears directly under the image search box, including ads for crockpot recipes, work from home jobs, and best retirement investments.

My search for Abraham Lincoln redirected me to the KidzSearch website, indicating that Safe Search Kids is a pass-through website that promotes safe online searching. KidzSearch provided 9 million results, and 5 advertisements, then a list of websites with several written for children.

Safe online searching for children is critical for teaching and learning important Web literacy skills. While Google Junior and Safe Search Kids have some helpful features, they also have some drawbacks. It looks like I will have to keep on the hunt for quality search tools.

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