Monitoring your kids’ online activities

While my previous article “Parenting Teenage Children Don’t Have to Always be Difficult” (click here) focuses on general rules in disciplining your teenage kids in age-appropriate ways, this one focuses on having a grasp on their online activities.

Many parents find this an uncharted territory because they don’t grow up in the digital age. We didn’t either, but communication technology actually comes with measures to prevent inappropriate use, if we only know how to find and use them. So here’s some of the measures we have put in place for our child:

1. Check history on your child’s web browser. You can go to Safari, Firefox, or Internet Explorer (or any other browser), click “history” and see the list of websites your child visited. This is easiest, but at the same time also the simplest “footprints” for your child to erase. As well you can see which sites they have visited, but you cannot restrict their access to inappropriate or offensive content. Which brings me to my next two points:

2. Use parental control in the computer. Since I am a Mac user, I can say that all Mac computers come with built-in parental control that we can enable and customize depending on needs. For example, I block access to the computer during my son’s bed time, restrict access to inappropriate sites, and keep a log of all the websites my son visits, with an option to restrict or allow each one of them. He cannot trick this because the computer will continue to keep a log of the websites he visits even after his browser history is already cleared up.

Having said that, I don’t know if all computers come with built-in parental control, so the next solution is:

3. Install parental control software on the computer. Out of necessity (our kid is starting to show early signs of computer/game addiction), we decided to install a parental control software. His computer already comes with it, but there are additional features in the software (we use Content Barrier X5 from http://www.intego.com) that are not available in the computer itself. For example allows me to determine when he can use the computer each day (e.g. 2 hours max between 5pm to 9pm on weekdays – but the computer will log off between 7-8pm so he doesn’t forget to eat dinner. And the computer can’t be accessed on Tuesdays until 6pm because that’s his tennis day).

Content Barrier also keeps a screen shot at regular interval so I could see the look of the websites he visits. Other than that, it keeps track of keyboard movement so I could see if he is using appropriate language in his chats, or if he is being abused online.

Oh, come on … You don’t really have to be that strict!

I bet I started sounding too draconian by now. However, we do this out of necessity. Twelve months ago, there was no parental control whatsoever on his computer. We didn’t need to use it back then! We had the software, but told him that we will only install it if he gave us reasons to. After a string of game access while he was supposed to be in bed, dwindling grades, tendency to become anti-social, absolutely zero interest in anything but computer and games, plus a couple of visits to porn sites – plus many hard talks to no avail,  he really gave us no option but to put all the above measures to prevent him from being addicted to online activities, especially games and porn.

Other than that, would you rather sound a bit too draconian, or see your kid become a game addict or a victim of an online predator? I would prefer to monitor my kid’s online activities just like I ensure that he does his school work and chores, rather than see my kid not knowing the risk of addiction, predator and digital abuse, and then falling victim to one of those.

Research also proved that children who were given directions and boundaries on their online and computer use became much more responsible user of the internet once they’ve become an adult.

But when my children can’t access internet from their computer, they steal my computer!

Another thing you need to be alert for is when you have more than one computer in the house. We are a family of 3 with three laptops. The trick here is to enable parental control in every computer in the house. You don’t have to restrict access to any sites, but at least it will keep track of the web visits so you could see any irregularities. Through this we found out that just last night my son used my husband’s computer to play games while we were out.

These all sound good, but I don’t even know how to turn on the computer!

If the above measures sound too complicated to you, there are actually simple ways that you can implement in the house without being computer savvy:

  • Keep the computer in an open space where parents can see the screen. Insist that the computer (esp. if it’s a laptop) should not be moved.
  • Use shared computer instead of giving each kid a computer. This way they learn to share and won’t be able to hog the computer when their siblings need to do homework on it. There are downsides to this though, e.g. a lot of assignments may require typing, printing and online research … this may not be finished in 30-60 minutes and when you have more than 1 kid, this can be a challenge
  • Tell to your kid that they need to add you in their Facebook / Twitter / whatever social networking site and chat programs they’re on. This way you can go to their Profile and check their online updates. What if they don’t want to add you? Oh, well, too bad … then they can’t go on Facebook from home. However, note that this is not a tamper-proof arrangement. The kids can have more than one Facebook account and only add you on the one they don’t use. You can curb this by doing name search on Facebook from time to time, who knows the exact same name in the exact same location with the exact same face appears🙂
  • Apply an open door policy. We have an open door policy at home, whereby the only time when door must be closed is when we are in the bathroom, changing or sleeping. Other than that .. be it we are doing homework, working from home, whatever … doors are open. Several months ago we started noticing that our son always closed his door when he was in his room (his computer is in his room, with the screen facing the door so we could monitor), which to us was a weird change. And, true enough, not long after that we found out that instead of doing homework, he was chatting with friends all evening and occasionally accessing internet porn. A serious chat about “open door policy”, being a responsible internet user, or losing his computer for good settled the matter.

I hope this helps … I can’t even start counting how many parents have shared with us their frustration on their inability to control their children when it comes to their online world. It doesn’t have to be like this, if you follow the above and all the general rules in my previous article. Happy trying!🙂

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