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Protecting your kids online. Parental controls for monitoring kids internet use.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Protecting your kids online

The online landscape that kids today face is complex and multifaceted, characterized by both opportunities and challenges. When you think about it, your children have unprecedented access to information, learning resources, and global communication. They can explore, learn, and connect with others far beyond their immediate environment. With the various tools and platforms for children to express themselves creatively, learn digital skills, and prepare for a technology-driven future, it's truly amazing. Protecting your kids online is a necessity and is not a one dimensional task. Even before implementing parental controls for monitoring kids internet use, education should be the first line of defense.


Guidance From A Young Age:

Child talking to a man pretending to be another child.
Child talking to a man pretending to be another child.

With the ubiquity of digital devices, children are being introduced to the internet at increasingly younger ages. Some may start interacting with digital devices as toddlers or preschoolers, usually under supervision. By age 8, sometimes earlier many children begin to experience more unsupervised access as they gain competence and their parents become more confident in their ability to navigate online spaces. It's important to note that "unsupervised" can mean different things. It might not mean that children are completely without guidance or rules, but rather that they are browsing the internet or using devices in their own time, perhaps with certain parental control in place. Most experts would agree that the age a child has more freedom online will depend on the child's maturity, understanding of safe internet practices, and the parent's ability to guide and monitor their online activities. Experts emphasize the importance of ongoing conversations about online safety, behavior, and critical consumption of information from an early age, gradually adjusting the level of supervision as the child grows older and more responsible.


Good Intentions:

The conversations and education are vital but the reality is that kids are kids and they can unintentionally put themselves at risk on the internet in various ways. A few common scenarios include...


Oversharing Personal Information: Children might share personal details such as their name, address, school, or phone number on social media, or with another "kid" they meet online. When caught up in comparing notes about what school they go to, teams they play on, and mutual friends they might have, it's easy to forget that these details can be used to identify, contact, and even physically locate them.


Interacting with Strangers: Parents can't pretend they don't remember the thrill of building their friend network online. From our first friend request, likely from "Tom" on MySpace), the number of friends is clout in social media. Declining friend requests isn't easy for adults and nearly impossible for kids. A child today who interacts regularly on social media is nearly guaranteed to interact with an adult pretending to be someone they are not at some point. These strangers and their intentions range from trolls and troublemakers to cyber bullies and predators presenting a very real mental and physical risk. Predators and bullying top the list of what we, as parents, are concerned about when it comes to our children. However these are not the only concerns we need to consider.

Clicking on Unsafe Links: Though they will likely be more internet-savvy than their parents in just a few years, at a young age they can still make mistakes. It only takes one click on a malicious link to expose the family's devices to malware or scams. They might also be tricked into downloading harmful content or infected apps.

Inadvertent Access to Inappropriate Content: It's not hard to type in a seemingly innocent phrase and stumble upon violent, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate content while browsing the internet. Such exposure can be disturbing and have lasting psychological effects.

Using Unsecured Networks: Kids are all about free wifi hotspots at the local Starbucks, McDonalds, or wherever they gather with friends, making their, and their family's data and personal information vulnerable to interception by cybercriminals.

Participating in Risky Challenges or Trends: We'd all like to think our children are immune to the influence of peers or internet celebrities when it comes to doing dangerous and often outright stupid "challenges" they saw on TikTok. But then I think about my childhood and I see the very real possibility.

Posting Photos or Videos: Social media and selfies go hand in hand. Photos of any kind can be shared widely and viewed by strangers. Potentially used to identify kids that they have accumulated other information on as well. That's one very serious downside to our children having social media accounts.


Girl upset that she has done something regretful.
You can't undo what you upload to the web

Pictures are Permanent: The other far more common occurrence that can also be devastating for a child and their family is posting or sending an inappropriate picture of themselves. You cannot tell your children enough times that PICTURES ARE PERMANENT. Once you upload, email, text, message, or any variation of transmitting a digital image of yourself from your device to anywhere, that pic may reappear from that moment to forever. You cannot take it back. You cannot recall the image or think that because it was a Snapchat or IG Story it will just disappear. You cannot be certain it is gone even if you go to your account and delete the pic. Not even if you delete your whole account. Once that picture is out there it is out there and may come back. As an investigator, I've worked with more than a few distraught parents willing to pay a steep price to get a picture of their child off the internet. In the early days of the internet, we could sometimes get that done. But now media moves too fast and far more people view content in a very short amount of time. Any one of them with the ability to capture an image that appeared for just a moment.


Parental Controls for Monitoring Kids Internet Use.

There is no perfect solution for protecting our children from the dangers that exist online just like there's no perfect solution for assuring their safety when they walk to school or eventually drive a car. Your first line of defense should be education and communication from a young age combined with parental controls.

Parental Controls:

Parental controls are like guard rails. A way for parents to create a safer and more appropriate digital environment for young children. They are intended to support, not replace, open communication about digital habits and online safety between parents and children. Parental controls offer features such as:

  1. Content Filtering: Block or allow websites based on age-appropriateness, content categories (like violence, adult content, or gambling), and specific website lists. This helps ensure children don't access harmful or inappropriate content.

  2. Time Management: Set time limits for computer use or for specific applications or websites. Parents can define usage schedules, like bedtime, homework time, or total daily or weekly use limits.

  3. App Management: Control which applications can be installed or run on the device. Parents can approve or block apps and games based on their ratings or specific titles.

  4. Monitoring and Reporting: Provide reports on the child's online activity, including websites visited, time spent on different apps or websites, and search history. Some tools allow real-time monitoring or alerts for specific activities.

  5. Privacy Protection: Manage privacy settings and control who can contact the child through messaging or social media. This can include blocking unknown contacts or monitoring communications.

  6. Social Media Supervision: Monitor or limit activity on social media platforms, including time spent, posts viewed, and interactions.

  7. Restrict Explicit Content: Block or filter explicit content in search results and on streaming services to prevent exposure to inappropriate material.

Monitoring Software

As the children get more independent there is inherently more risk. Parental controls at this stage are more of a nuisance to the child and they simply find or borrow devices without them. At this point, I believe monitoring software is a necessary safety net. We live in a time when cyberbullying and trolling start when our children are in grade school and it doesn't let up until they go off to work or college. The psychological toll it must take to be a kid these days is beyond what I can imagine. For a parent, having the ability to see what's going on when you sense something is off with your child is priceless. It can be the key to knowing how to help when they won't ask for help. In some cases the difference between their long-term well-being and a worst case scenario. Keep in mind that the parent doesn't have to monitor the software like a hawk or really at all under normal circumstances. Keywords and phrases interpreted as harmful will trigger alerts so you know when to log in for more details. Important features of advanced monitoring software include...

  1. Keystrokes and Passwords Typed

  2. Websites Visited and Online Searches

  3. How Long Websites are Visited

  4. Screenshots of User Activity

  5. Windows Interacted With

  6. Internet Connections Made

  7. Applications Usage

  8. How Long Applications are Used

  9. All Files Opened, Deleted and Modified

  10. Location Changes

  11. Text Copied to the Clipboard

  12. Chatroom Conversations

  13. Computer Usage Sessions

  14. Forwards Emails Sent/Received*

Recommendations

Several companies make monitoring software but they are not all created equal. Do your research, compare features, and read reviews. I have used several different monitoring programs in my work and personally. I recommend a product called Realtime-Spy which I will link to below. I recommend this particular one as it has all of the features I feel are necessary. They (Spytech) has actual customer service which is rare these days, and they have been in business since 1998. There are other options, but I can guarantee this one is a very good product.






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