How Can I Know What My Children are Doing Online?
Hometown Computers owner Michael Oliver is frequently asked by Fenton parents how they can keep a watchful eye on their children while they are online.
How to know what children are doing online is very frequent and valid concern expressed to me by many parents in the shop.
Many are afraid they aren’t entirely sure what their kids are doing online, and who they may be talking to day to day. Often parents will ask about computer monitoring software options and while those solutions certainly do exist, it isn’t the first thing I suggest to concerned parents.
There are many things that you can do to keep an eye on what your children are doing on the net.
The first thing that I will ask people is where their children’s computer is located. More often then not, the answer will be that the computer is in the child’s bedroom. Probably the biggest and simplest thing you can do to keep an eye on what your children are doing on the net is to take the computer out of their bedrooms and put it in a public living area. This applies to laptops and mobile devices as well.
I know a particular parent that has a rule that after a certain time in the evening, all of her children’s Internet capable devices are to be put out on the kitchen table and that is where they stay until morning. This includes laptops, iPods, cell phones, and anything else has access to the net, or texting, etc.
Having the computer someplace where there is frequent parent traffic is likely to discourage the child from wandering out to questionable places on the net to explore or exercise curiosity. It also makes it easy to keep an eye on what the child is doing, who they are talking to, and it will give you a better idea of your child’s browsing habits on the computer.
Probably even more important then having the computer in an open viewing area is to actually communicate with your children about what is online.
Children may often wander off to inappropriate places, not out of some misbehavior but because they are seeing something for the very first time and find it interesting. Curiosity gets the best of them, and one click leads to another.
Talking to your children and making them aware of what some of the things that are that are out there will help to reduce that curiosity when it comes, it won’t be unexpected, and they will know how to handle it when it happens.
Keeping an eye on your children’s browsing history is also a very important and useful tool in seeing what your children are doing online. Every web browser has a feature available to view the history for days, weeks, months and even years at a time of every site that has been visited along with date and time stamps. Make yourself familiar with the web browser that your children are using and know how to check the web history.
These browsers also have the ability to clear recent or even the entire web history, so make it clear to your children that you want the history to remain available. If you sit down to view the web history and find that it has been wiped clean, then that may be a sign that someone is trying to hide something.
There are other options as well that involve a little more technical understanding.
If you’re concerned that your children are online during times you can’t be there to monitor their browsing, you can program most modern routers to allow for scheduled internet access, even to specific devices.
For example, you can configure your router so that from the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. the router will not allow Internet access to the child’s desktop computer, laptop computer, and even mobile devices, but can still allow access to your own devices. If this solution seems like it would work best for you, but you’re not certain how to implement it, you’re welcome to contact me at Hometown Computers in downtown Fenton and we can help you with that.
Lastly, there are computer monitoring software solutions, costing betwee $30 and $80. While I imagine that there are freeware and shareware versions of this type of software, I haven’t found one yet that I would consider a strong viable, or secure option.
Some of the better software is completely undetectable by most people using the computer. Most of this type of software can be configured to take random screenshots of what is on the screen at specified intervals and save it to the computer’s hard drive, or even email it out over the net to a specified email address. There are video options that will record entire lengths of video during computer use, though these will quickly eat up hard drive space and on most computers will reduce computer performance.
These solutions don’t always come cheap, and they often require a moderate to advanced amount of technical computer knowledge to use and configure properly. Most technicians or computer businesses won’t install these on customer’s computers, even by request, because of the sketchy and unpredictable nature of its use.
I still firmly believe that communication and supervision are your biggest tools in knowing what your children are doing online. This will also help protect them online when you may not be able to be there with them. Let them know what sorts of scenarios are possible, what sorts of threats are out online so that when they are presented with the situation, it isn’t a surprise and they will know how to handle it appropriately.
It is important that you tell your children to NEVER give out their or your personal information to anyone online, even to their online "friends".
In the same way you would teach your children not to get into a stranger’s car, you should spend time with your children and talk to them about what scenarios they may be faced with online.