Parents should install screening software on home computers.
The time to start monitoring your children on the internet using software is from the time they start using the internet.
Monitoring where your kids are going on the internet is often a contentious issue for parents. Some believe it is an invasion of privacy. Others think it is spying on their kids. The truth is, these are poor excuses.
I remember my mother walking me to school at the age of five. She accompanied me across the crossing to the school gate and kissed me good bye.
As I became familiar with the route, I walked across the crossing by myself. Eventually, I walked the whole way on my own.
My mother didn't expect me to find my own way to school on the first day. So why do many parents do this on the internet?
Parents often find it difficult and time consuming to keep up with the latest technology, let alone, understand it.
Children seem to pick it up so easily, and parents may be misguided about what their children are doing on the internet.
Social media has really taken off in the past five years and sites such as Facebook have grown in popularity immensely. The age limit for Facebook is 13, yet up to 75 million users are under that age, according to some observers.
Perhaps when older brothers or sisters have a Facebook profile, younger ones want one, too.
Other social networking sites are being used by kids as young as five, sometimes without their parents' knowledge. Sites such as Club Penguin, MiniMonos and Togetherville all have a social-networking component aimed at the younger user.
Kids learn fast
Children learn quickly how to hide their tracks on the internet, using methods such as deleting history, employing the "private browsing" feature within latest browsers, or using proxy sites – all of which leave no trace of where the child has been.
Parents who have computers without search engine restrictions applied to them run the risk of their children stumbling across objectionable material accidentally. Female names, cartoon characters and misspelt words often return pornography in search results.
Allowing children to surf the internet unrestricted puts them at risk from predators and bullies, and leaves the child in a position of vulnerability.
The time to start monitoring your children on the internet using software is from the time they start using the internet. This will allow parents to decide what categories of sites are appropriate for their children. After all, you will not be over their shoulder 24/7. Let software manage the internet for you.
Also known as parental-control software or filtering software, it has the following functions:
Allows parents to block up to 50 categories of sites they choose
Allows specific sites to be blocked
Allows only listed sites to be accessed
Records all internet sites visited
Records all search terms used
Blocks / identifies chat programs and conversations
Additional features some products have are:
Records all email
Captures webcam activity
Takes screenshots of activity
Records bandwidth / printing
Prevents personal information such as phone numbers and addresses from being sent
Reports on all activity via email or remotely
Most products allow specific users to be monitored, and different settings can be applied to each profile. Ideally, as a child develops safe digital practices, their profile can be opened up to allow them to make positive choices for themselves.
What's the cost?Some products are available on the internet for free, while others cost. Free products provide the basics of restricting website categories and recording internet activity.
To protect a computer used only by young children, use the K9 product from getk9.com. It provides the basic restrictions.
If you have several children in the house of varying ages and using different computers, then Norton Online Family has a lot of features, but takes time to set up.
A product with all the bells and whistles, such as PC Pandora, will set you back just over $100 for a lifetime licence.
Software is available for Apple computers and solutions are available for wireless devices such as cellphones, gaming consoles and iPads.
How often?Remember, the purpose of monitoring software is to understand your child's internet surfing habits. It is important to know that what you have taught them is understood, and they are putting it into practice.
Review internet activity on a weekly basis. Look at the sites visited as well as the search terms used. These will provide a lot of information, and will allow you to question anything you may be concerned about.
Dean Stewart runs WebSafety NZ, a Christchurch firm that specialises in cyber safety for families and businesses, including installations.
- The Press