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Keeping track of your kids online

Laura Willard is a law school grad who has successfully avoided using her education for eight years and counting. She's a wife and an adoptive mom to two kids. Motherhood is the best job she never knew she wanted so much until she had it...

Monitoring online activity

Things certainly have changed since we were kids. How often do you find yourself saying that? It’s true, though! The internet didn’t exist and that alone has rocked the technological world, giving us more opportunities and, unfortunately, creating more dangers. As a result, parents find themselves in the position of striking a balance between watching their child’s every move online to protect them and allowing them freedom to explore the world – from their computer.

Monitoring online activity

How you approach controlling or patrolling your child's internet time depends largely on both your child's age and your parenting style, but it is important you do something.

Monitoring or blocking: what's best?

When it comes to patrolling your child's online activity, you have a few options. Leo Bletnitsky, CEO of Las Vegas Med I.T., says there are two schools of thought about the issue: (1) blocking everything inappropriate, simply making it impossible for your child to ever view pages you deem unacceptable, and (2) not blocking anything, but silently monitoring your child's online activity.

The route you take will probably depend on both your child's age and your unique parenting style. However, Bletnitsky, who is also a parent, feels the latter approach is best. He explains that you certainly do not want your children accessing inappropriate content. However, by blocking such content, you're only blocking their access to it at your home, on that particular computer. Kids have friends, and friends have computers -- and, let's be honest, not all parents have the same rules.

Bletnitsky believes that by silently monitoring your child's online activity, you can counsel him in a non-confrontational manner when he accesses content that is inappropriate. For example, you can bring up a co-worker or friend whose child visited a certain type of site and discuss the dangers and ramifications with him. Basically, Bletnitsky advocates a little bit of deception because the point is to avoid letting your child know you're monitoring his computer time.

Again, your parenting philosophy will dictate whether you choose this method, but it makes sense. If you simply block content, you'll never know what your child does on the computer because he'll just do it on another computer. And the third option, doing nothing at all, hardly seems like a good one in this day and age.

"This is a situation where you don't dwell on privacy," Bletnitsky says. At the same time, you can't use your child's Facebook chat with a friend against him because of something as simple as language. The point is to keep an eye on your child's activities so that if you see he is in danger, for example, by planning to meet with someone he met online, you then intervene. As Bletnitsky notes, "I would rather temporarily lose my child's trust" than put his safety at risk.

Monitoring Methods

While you can review the browser history, keep in mind that children and teens are tech savvy. Erasing online activities is as easy as hitting a delete button. If you choose to take the monitoring route, various software is available that will allow you to review your child's online actions.

Some software is basic and simply records where your child has been, while other software gives you detailed views of your child's online activity. For very comprehensive monitoring, Bletnitsky recommends software by Spector Soft. eBlaster will forward copies of email, chats and instant messages to you. The equally priced, but more advanced, Spector Pro records emails, instant messages, chats, web searches, key strokes, file transfers and more. You can then set up email alerts so that when certain key words are typed, you receive an immediate email notification.

And, of course, if you choose to simply block content, you can do that, too. Some internet providers offer filtering and blocking services and if they don't, you can accomplish it with reasonably priced software. Net Nanny and CYBERsitter give you control of your child's internet activities for less than $40. There are many programs to choose from, so before you purchase one, check a website such as Top Ten Reviews to compare.

Whatever you do, assuming your child is using his good judgment – even if he truly is a great kid with a wonderful head on his shoulders – can be dangerous. While monitoring isn't for everyone, staying involved in and asking questions about your child's online activity is, at a minimum, necessary. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it can also be a dangerous one.

More online safety ideas for parents


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