Things aren't like they used to be. Remember when our parents instructed us to go outside and play in the dirt with sticks? You really couldn't get into much trouble with sticks, void of an eye poke or a scratch. We'd spend hours drawing masterpieces in the dirt, "sword" fighting or building miniature outbuildings.

Today, things are much more complex. Teenagers spend their idle time surfing the net rather than engaging in extracurricular activities. Younger kids follow suit too, mastering hand-eye coordination with the mere touch of an IPhone screen. All this new-fangled technology puts extra responsibility on parents to shield our precious ones from cyber-bullying, inappropriate websites or, the unthinkable—perpetrators.

Fortunately, IT wizards have concocted software aimed at keeping our children safe on the net—some are free, some are pricey. Yet, with so many to choose from, it's impossible to decipher them all. I've outlined the specifics on the top-rated programs in each category. Hopefully this will guide you towards a suitable product that offers a solid piece of mind.

The FREE Ones

Norton Safety Minder: In the FREE category, Norton's product ranks high. In fact, it's considered the most comprehensive free computer-monitoring program available. The Safety Minder filters and monitors web surfing, social networking, email, instant messaging, and contacts. It includes features not found in other free monitoring software, such as email alerts and stored safety settings. Upgrade to the paid version to employ daily usage quotas or for handling multiple accounts.

KidZui K2: Kidzui's innovative kid-specific browser keeps kids engaged. Supplying your little one with parentally pre-approved access to games, videos and content means there's little time spent tweaking settings. Kidzui's default setting automatically launches it into full browser mode, preventing access to the other Windows or Apps on your computer. For a hassle-free monitoring device suited for young children, Kidzui tops the list.

For more information, outlines the specifics on five FREE parental control systems.

The Mid-priced Ones

NetNanny: Winning PC Mag's editors choice award, Net Nanny boasts real-time content analysis. This means it distinguishes between the good and bad web pages within a site as they load. NetNanny flags dangerous conversations, gathers detailed info from social networking sites, and provides local and remote interactive activity reports. Unlike its competition, NetNanny goes the extra mile to prevent hacking, making it virtually impossible for sneaky kids to trip up the system.

CyberSitter : Cybersitter delivers one of the strongest filtering systems available. It errs on the conservative side, blocking sites that may otherwise be deemed okay. But, rest assured, it lets nothing evil through. The default settings block content and video related to sex, drugs, hate, and violence. An additional feature allows parents to choose blocks from 32 other categories. And, lastly, Cybersitter records and emails both sides of IM conversations without your child knowing.

For quick purchase links and product specs, visit TopTen Reviews internet-filter review page.

The Mac Daddies

Puresight PC: Relatively new to the consumer software protection market, Puresight hops right in, achieving one of the highest ratings on parental control software. Similar to NetNanny, Puresight filters content in real time, yet uses a protocol level to analyze communication. Puresight stands apart from its competitors by not only sending email alerts, but also by thwarting the communication of any account sending offensive words. This feature further protects from cyber-bullying or possible online perpetrators. Additionally, you can limit your child's time online or take it one step further by also rationing the amount of IM use by contact.

imView: imView is a heavy hitter in the parental control world. Considered the "ultimate watchguard" of monitoring software, imView seems a bit invasive. Yet, for parents wanting full control of their teenager's online sessions, it gets the job done. imView differs from the above filtering products by allowing five levels of monitoring. It reports on your child’s internet, web chat and email activity after the fact and in stealth mode. You can capture all inbound and outbound email messages, including attachments, and monitor Facebook and MySpace activity by capturing screen shots. The system also permits a full view into IM chats, their length and duration. imView's only drawback, other than providing 100% transparency into your teen's life, is its limited browser compatibility (Internet Explorer and Firefox only).

Knowing today's world is not always comprised of tulips and hugs is very disconcerting. As a parent, researching protective options for your child can sometimes trigger an enhanced state of fear. However, with a supportive household and a lot of love (plus, sneaking in a minor monitoring system), most children will learn to filter their social interactions appropriately. Still, it's nice to know there are options for gently purifying computer-time.

 This has been a guest post by Christina from Tetonia, ID
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