Mom, Dad and the Big Brother

Software for parental control is a useful tool, if applied right. Millions of parents in the USA alone do check their kids' online behavior. In November 2004 a telephone survey made by the Pew Internet and American Life Project showed that:

54% of families with computers connected to the Internet either used filtering technologies to block potentially harmful content or have some kind of monitoring software installed.

Nearly three-quarters of the teens surveyed said that their home computer is located in a place like living room, 64 percent of parents said they set rules about their children's time online.

One can find anything in the Internet, and a certain share of its content isn't suitable for kids or even teenagers. Filtering Web content becomes common in American families, and nobody argues that it is reasonable. Restricting the time teenagers spend in front of the screen is a good idea, too--we care for our kids' health.

But should everybody who has a teenage son or a daughter apply software for monitoring his or her computer activity? Not just checking the browsing history, but monitoring every keystroke your kid makes? Do we have to do it? Please think a bit.

My opinion is that monitoring software is "strong medicine". Like any medicine, it has its own side effects which can be worse than the disease. Any medicine, if overused, can do harm.

I am well aware about threats children can face in cyberspace. We all are. You sure know about these dangers, too. Predators lure kids away from home to rape and kill. Suspicious "friends" your kid meets online --who knows who they are and what they might teach your son or daughter? What is he or she chatting about--and with whom? All this never leaves minds of overworked, ever-busy parents.

But all the same--monitoring software isn't a panacea, though advertising sometimes tries to prove the opposite. If you are going to install a program that logs everything done on a computer, answer this question:

What exactly do you want to achieve? Make your kid obey the rules or to catch him/her red-handed?

Most likely, first. Have you exhausted all other means? If yes, try to answer the next question:

If you are prohibiting something, does your teenager know why?

Remember what most people usually say to a toddler if he plays with a knife. They try to EXPLAIN -- even to such a small kid -- WHY NOT. Are you sure your much-older-and-smarter teenager knows WHY he or she shouldn't reveal phone numbers, address, and other personal information?

As for not visiting sleazy sites, your teenager is much more likely to obey rules if you say you care not only for him/her (but of course you do), but also for the computer. So, now you are not lecturing your almost-grown-up kid, you are reminding about information security.

Viruses, worms, Trojan Horses--teenagers know these words, and they do know where they are most likely to pick this crap. If your kid doesn't know it (though it's unlikely), EXPLAIN. If you don't know it, LEARN about it and explain.

Where to learn? In lots of places. For example, here are good sources of information. What's more, they are interesting and in plain English:

http://www.msn.staysafeonline.com/

http://www.staysafeonline.info/home-tips.htm l http://www.getnetwise.org/

Look at these as well. Tastes differ, but your teenager might find them interesting:

http://www.msn.staysafeonline.com/default2.htm http://www.safekids.com/

A simple search will bring you much more information. It will be very useful for you as well.

If you think you should apply monitoring software anyway, consider this:

Think at first what if tour son or daughter finds out that you have been logging every keystroke? Be prepared to face it.

Computer monitoring is the last resort. It means the situation is out of control. Is it really?

Aexandra Gamanenko currently works at Raytown Corporation, LLC --an independent monitoring and anti-monitoring software developing company that provides various solutions for information security.

Learn more about these products -- visit the company's website http://www.softsecurity.com

In The News:

Three ways to avoid parenting entitled children  The Independent | SUindependent.com
Three Ways to Change Your Parenting in the Teenage Years  Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
What is platonic parenting?  The Week Magazine
Picky, Picky  Slate
SMART PARENTING: Toxic parents  New Straits Times

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