Web Search 

Search engines like Bing and Google enable you to search the Web for information.

It’s so much easier than wading through books and newspapers and search can now be done from mobiles, games consoles and other portable devices, as well as the family computer. You can even search just for pictures, video or audio content.

What do I need to know about Web search? 

Search engines are key tools for young people – they’re often the first port of call when they want to research something for school or find out about something that’s in the news, for example. They simply type in a keyword and a long list of relevant websites to support their homework, hobbies or friendships appears on the screen.

According to Google, the top three search terms of 2013 were: 1) Paul Walker, 2) iPhone 5S and 3) Royal Baby.

Whilst the internet offers a huge online library and all the benefits that go with it, you might be concerned that your son or daughter could be exposed to unsuitable or illegal material online, even if they are searching on a seemingly harmless keyword or subject.

Many of the leading search engines have recognised this potential risk and offer personalised search options that you can set for younger internet users. Google SafeSearch screens for websites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results and lets you “lock” the search filters in place on your family’s computer. You can also choose to use search engines that have been designed specifically for younger internet users, like Yahooligans.

No internet filter is 100% accurate but setting up Safe Search or using a specialist search engine on your family’s computer should help to eliminate most inappropriate and harmful content.

At the same time, your children might create and post their own content – on social networking and video-sharing websites, for example – so they need to be aware that this will be available for other internet users to find online via a search engine, unless they set their profile to ‘private’.

What action can I take? 

Experiment on the family computer by typing in some terms your child might search for in relation to their schoolwork, hobbies or socialising. What websites come up? Is there anything you wouldn’t want them to see?

Make the most of Parental Controls to help protect your children when they’re online – but remember they might not be 100% accurate and they’re not a substitute for parental supervision

Set up Safe Search on any computers that your child uses, taking into account their age and maturity – you should be able to find this in the ‘Preferences’, ‘Help’ or ‘Settings’ area of the search engine. For example, Google SafeSearch offers three settings: Moderate filtering (this filters out most explicit images from Google Image Search results but doesn’t apply to ordinary Web search results. This is your default setting on Google so if you want stronger filters, you’ll have to change the setting); Strict filtering (this applies SafeSearch to all your search results (ie both image searches and ordinary Web searches); and No filtering (this turns off SafeSearch completely). You can find more information about Google SafeSearch here

Explain to your child that some search results are sponsored listings, which means that a company has paid for them to rank high up on the search engine and they’re not necessarily the most relevant or credible search result

Take a look at our articles about social networking and privacy, then talk to your kids about why they should keep their online profiles set to ‘private’

If, having set up a Safe Search filter, you still come across unsuitable or potentially illegal content, report it to the search provider so they can take action – look for the ‘Help’ or ‘Report’ buttons on their website

If, despite your best attempts at setting up Safe Search, you or your kids see evidence of potentially illegal material online, report the matter to the relevant internet hotline in your country – in the UK, that’s the Internet Watch Foundation