Keeping The Family Safe Online
Many parents install some sort of safety filter on their computers, but few take the extra step of installing monitoring software. Monitoring software is different than a safety filter in that it actually tracks keystrokes and takes screenshots (pictures) of Internet activity on the computer.
Most good, well-rounded software costs under $100 and has no monthly payment associated with it. It more than pays for itself. It offers the ability to view your children's IM conversations, emails and some (not all) postings made on the social networking sites. Monitoring software records and e-mails actual transcripts of IM conversations and emails directly to your inbox.
The intent is not to stalk your children's every online movement, but to make sure kids are using the technology responsibly. In addition to receiving transcripts of IM conversations, monitoring software emails a daily report of exactly which sites have been accessed, what time they were accessed and how much time was spent on each site. If you see sites that you are not familiar with or appear inappropriate, click through to check them out further.
A word of warning that monitoring software is controversial and many people are of the mindset that it is an invasion of privacy to use it. You might go so far as to say that it is irresponsible for parents not to monitor where their kids are going online, with whom they are talking and what they are saying. And you can rest assured that any number of predators are trolling the Web at any given time who are more than happy to communicate with your child, especially if they sense parents are disengaged or absent. A sobering thought, but in many cases, an accurate one.
If you choose to use monitoring software, it is appropriate to tell your children that you will be monitoring their online activity from time to time. Of course, there are exceptions to this policy of parental disclosure, such as when a parent has a reason to believe that their child may be involved in dangerous behaviors. An example would be a child that a parent suspects is drinking, doing drugs, or could be at risk for suicide. It is a parent's responsibility to not only intercede to protect this child from harming himself or herself, but to head the problem off at the pass before he/she harms others. It is also a good idea to install the software when your children are young. Continue to reassure your kids that while you trust them, you do not necessarily trust others who were making contact with them from the outside.
I believe our children, deep down inside, want us to be engaged in their lives, and to draw boundaries for their protection. I can't promise you that you'll get a shout-out from your child in an IM transcript that lands in your inbox, but I can promise you that you are doing the right thing by getting involved in their wired worlds.