The internet is an amazing resource for kids, but there are also many dangers, and keeping your kids safe from the web's darker corners can take a little work.

Your ISP is often a good place to start, as many companies give away parental controls for free.

In the UK, for instance, providers such as BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media can all offer help, and the Safer Internet site can tell you more.

There are some excellent web-based tools, too. If you're concerned about exactly what your kids are doing on social networking sites, for instance, Avira Social Network Protection and Web Services can tell you more and alert you to any problems.

And if you'd prefer to install software locally, then there are plenty of options available. Some are powerful and wide-ranging, others can protect you with a single click, but they're all entirely free. Read on to find out more.

1. Norton Family

Download Norton Family

Norton Family is a powerful parental control system with plenty of very useful features. You can set the times when your kids are allowed to use the computer, and block access to sites by type ("hate", "pornography", "shopping", "social networks" - there are 40+ categories) or URL.

Norton Family

You get to see which sites your kids are visiting, their web searches and more. And you can configure the program separately for each child, as long as they have their own account on your computer.

This is easy to set up, with a password-protected icon in your system tray giving access to the main settings. Email alerts warn of problems (attempts to reach blocked sites, say), and detailed reports are available online, so you can access them wherever you are.

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2. DNS Angel

Download DNS Angel

DNS Angel is small, simple and only does one thing - but by way of compensation, it does it very well.

To try the program out, just launch DNS Angel, click "MetaCert DNS" - and that's it. Whenever you try to access a website from your PC, on any browser, it'll now send the request to the MetaCert DNS server. Try to visit a porn site and it'll be blocked, while everything else works as normal.

DNSAngel

If this doesn't suit your needs, then the other DNS options (Norton ConnectSafe and OpenDNS) provide similar functions.

And if you want to undo your changes, click Restore DNS to restore your last network settings, or Default DNS to use your ISP's default settings.

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3. Bitdefender Parental Control Free

Download Bitdefender Parental Control Free

Trying to block web access for your kids isn't always effective, as they can often get online from devices which you don't control.

Another option is simply to monitor their web activities to see exactly what they're doing, and that's where Bitdefender Parental Control Free comes in.

Bitdefender Parental Control Free

The program can track the websites your children are visiting, the programs they run, even their instant messaging conversations (if you have Yahoo Messenger or MSN, anyway).

There's an Android version which also includes SMS and call monitoring. And as you'd expect from a big name like Bitdefender, it's all very straightforward, with helpful wizards walking you through the setup process.

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4. KuruPira WebFilter

Download KuruPira WebFilter

If you're not quite sure which parental control functions you need, try KuruPira WebFilter - it covers virtually everything.

The program can block websites, for instance, and prevent your kids instant messaging or visiting social networks. You can choose when they're allowed to go online. The Application Filter restricts the programs they can run, and there are lots of ways to monitor what's happening (including regular screen captures).

KuruPira

Despite all these features, KuruPira is generally easy to use. But it can also be a little basic. There's no way to change the web blocking to suit the child's age, for instance, so whether they're 6 or 16, it works in precisely the same way.