With graphic and violent websites inciting criminal activity even in children as young as the 12 year-old kids arrested for stabbing their friend in response to Internet memes, many parents are coming to a realization that the Web isn’t always friendly.
Kids are hacked and/or cyberbullied, they become cyberbullies, they ‘meet’ and chat with strangers – and sometimes even meet those strangers in real life, with tragic consequences.
Thankfully, there are ways parents can monitor their kids’ online activity. Parental monitoring software can help you track the amount of time your kids spend online, limit overuse, and even see what sites they’re visiting. Making simple changes to your router settings can give you a list of every site anyone on your network visits.
However, if you think flipping a switch or downloading some software to limit your kids’ Internet activities is enough to keep your kids safe, you’re dead wrong. Every method of limiting a child or teen’s access to the Internet has limits.
Parental Monitoring Software: How it Works and Why it Doesn’t
There’s a huge variety of parental control software – some comes as pre-installed software with a tablet, PC or laptop and some you have to download and install. They offer features from time limits to restricted sites and a full report of every site your child visited while using that particular computer.
Sounds great, and many of the software applications come with glowing reviews from parents – but in reality, there hasn’t been a software that some kid somewhere couldn’t hack or crack… if they even need to go that far, which, realistically, they probably don’t.
Why doesn’t this work? In order for it to work effectively, parents have to configure even the most secure software properly, and the child must not have access to any other devices.
Configured properly – what does that mean? At a minimum:
- Shut off your child’s ability to boot from disk, optical drive, or external drive. (Booting into another OS such as Linux completely defeats the parental controls and monitoring.)
- Remove your child’s ability to install software – such as another browser which can bypass the parental controls.
- Make sure your child’s account does not have admin privileges. That should go without saying – but let’s just say I know more than one family whose child has admin access because the child is the one who knows the most about computers.
Once you’ve tightened up your child’s account, make sure *your* account (which I will assume has admin privileges) has an adequate password that’s *not* written on a sticky note under your keyboard or stuck on the corkboard next to your desk, and is not common knowledge around the house. Then check your child’s account settings frequently to make sure nothing has changed without your knowledge.
Router Configuration: How it Works and Why it Doesn’t
Most routers allow you to monitor the IP addresses (Internet Protocol address – that’s the number associated with the domain name, something like a street address, which tells a computer where to go when it wants to see a website or visit a network) visited via that Internet connection – and even block objectionable IPs.
That means you can check the IP list to make sure that no one’s visiting sites they shouldn’t. Just paste the URL into your web browser, and you’ll see the site.
Why wouldn’t this work? There are a number of ways kids can bypass this trick, including using a proxy site (When your kid goes to a proxy site, and surfs via that site – your router will only log the IP address of the proxy server, which means you have no idea what your child has been doing.) or simply using another device such a smartphone, or connecting from an alternate location – even your neighbor’s unsecured wireless network.
Parental Controls: Great Idea; Understand the Limitations
Parental monitoring software is the equivalent of rolling up your car window and locking the door. It’s a mild deterrent, at best, ‘keeping honest people honest.’
Anyone, child included, who really wants to bypass the controls will do so – whether it’s by hacking the software, or simply going over to a friend’s house or to the library, where they can do whatever they want.
Sneakernet: It’s an old term that means physically walking information from one computer to another, and it’s the only way to move information without leaving any data trail.
In reverse, the same concept applies here. Over-the-shoulder monitoring – physically keeping an eye on your kids’ screen-time – is the only way to really prevent your kids from accessing sites that concern you.
There’s a reason that library Internet Rooms look the way they do – all screens facing out for visibility.
Education and Real-Life Monitoring For Safety
Teach your kids and teens about the dangers of the Internet. Ask yourself – would you let your child play or hang out alone at a playground right in the middle of a strange city, surrounded by gang members, drug dealers, violent crime, and human trafficking operations?
There’s a whole lot of dangerous real estate on the Web – and it all looks like a playground to kids, even teens, and sometimes adults. Whether you choose to monitor, trust your kids, or just lock down all the computers: Talk to your kids, educate yourself, and don’t assume that flipping a switch or setting up software will keep your kids out of trouble. It won’t.