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This question was inspired by this one: How do I monitor what my kids do on the computer? which was deemed off topic.

Hopefully this is more on topic as I'm not interested in the specifics of how to monitor what my kids do on the internet. But what general approach I should take, and what approaches others have used?

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+1 for a question that I'm also very interested in! Not relevant yet with my toddler, but I'm wary of what he'll come across once he wants to surf. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 2 '11 at 11:45
    
Consider putting your thoughts so far into an answer and just leave the first two paragraphs in the question. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 2 '11 at 11:45
    
@Torben thanks, moved my own answer. It's also not quite relevant for me yet, but expecting to have to give this some thought in the future. –  Tom Jefferys Sep 2 '11 at 11:58
    
The (UK) term is 'e-safety'. Some resources: kidsmart.org.uk/parents childnet.com/parents-and-carers/hot-topics/… –  A E Nov 12 at 12:03

13 Answers 13

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Yes, I think that children's online activities should be monitored but I don't think it's feasible in practice except for very young children. Older kids will always find a way to circumvent your control -- but the good news is that they get more computer-literate in the process :-)

To me it's the same as having someone supervise small children at the playground or any other public place. The purpose is to make sure that they're not hurting themselves or others, aren't hurt by others, and know/learn how to engage their social environment properly. The problem is that it's much harder to supervise a computer without being intrusive.

  • Blocking is effective but also very obvious, so it would only work as long as the kids are young enough to not think of alternative ways.
  • Monitoring is probably only feasible as long as it's invisible to the user. Once your kids suspect that you're monitoring their actions, they might just use other means (computing at school or a friends' place). Another drawback with monitoring is that you've got to spend time evaluating the log files, which is probably quite tedious.

Alternative suggestion

Instead of blocking and/or monitoring, approach the computer and the Internet the same way you would the playground:

Why do you trust your 16-year-old to be unmonitored? Because you've spent time together and taught by word and by example what's right and wrong. You've seen that your child is able to fend for himself and can recognize and avoid bullies and bad places, and that he's not a bully himself.

This is much harder to do at the computer -- who'd want to spend hours surfing Facebook or other "juicy" sites with their dad?! And with all the mobile devices existing today, and crawling into classrooms too, this will likely become even harder in the future. I don't have a future-proof solution! :-(

One approach I've seen (which works for the time being) is to have a computer in the living room or family room, or make sure in other ways that nobody can hide out in front of the computer. Whatever you do at the computer should be okay to do while others are watching -- otherwise, what exactly are you doing?

I've recently moved my computer from a "work" room into a "work" corner of the living room, and even for me it's much more social now. Highly recommended. I just now realize that it incidentally supports the "show, don't tell" philosophy. I'm not sure that's feasible for the kids when we only have one computer there, though. You could have a few laptops and a house rule that they're only used in the living room, but that might be hard to enforce consistently (especially if the kids have laptops for school, which they could then simply use outside the home).

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+1 for living room - this beats "technical solutions" much more, and makes using the computer a social something. Don't use monitoring software on your kids, you're not hanging camera's all around your house either (I hope) –  Konerak Sep 2 '11 at 22:27
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If you control the gateway, you control the internet, as far as clients are concerned. The only way around that is to find another route to the internet. It does require a certain level of technical skill though. –  afrazier Sep 5 '11 at 14:21
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I'd second the 'living room' answer for a laptop. For older kids with smartphones the situation is more complex since they don't even need to be at home to get to the interwebs. In that case you just have to make sure they have the nous and confidence to manage themselves on the web. My rule of thumb is that if you wouldn't send it on a postcard, don't email it or post it on the web. –  Stephen Connolly Sep 8 '11 at 12:41
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"To me it's the same as having someone supervise small children at the playground or any other public place." This would be a good analogy if playgrounds were full of goatse.cx. Fortunately they are not. The internet is a cesspool. –  Koveras Nov 21 at 16:50
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Thanks a lot, @Koveras, now when I go to a playground I'm going to imagine it full of goatse. –  Wayne Werner Dec 9 at 19:21

In answer to my own question, this is one approach I've thought about, and it would be age dependent, so something like:

  • 0-7 years, no unsupervised access.
  • 8-13, unsupervised access allowed to a white list of sites, everything else blocked.
  • 14-16, no blocking, but everything logged, so I can keep an eye on them.
  • 16+, no blocking, no logging. (Presumably I should respect their privacy at some point, and if I've had any success as a parent, they'll know about proxy servers by now).
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I don't think logging is a good thing at any age unless you suspect something is very wrong. It's somewhat like reading a diary; needed in some cases, but not to be done without cause. I'd simply reduce the blocking as they are older. –  William Grobman Sep 2 '11 at 13:12
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+1 for the idea of having levels of decreasing strictness as the child gets older. Whether the supervision is feasible in the first place is another matter - see my answer for my thoughts on that. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 2 '11 at 13:55
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I like the decreasing supervision, as to logging I don't see a problem with that. You can always just review the sites they are going to, not the individual pages - so you at least know where they are going. –  MichaelF Sep 2 '11 at 20:24
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logging might very well be your first hint that something is up... assuming you have a decent tool for filtering that log. –  cabbey Sep 23 '11 at 3:17
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I agree with the idea. The Internet is a very, very... bad... place. Visiting random at 4chan can scar for life. –  Dariusz Dec 5 '13 at 17:50

I use Trend Micro software on all of the computers in my house, which also includes internet filters. As suggested in other posts, I started out with very strict rules on which websites the computers could allow. My kids (now 12 and 10) each have their own logins so that I can set up different rules for each.

We regularly discuss what types of sites they are allowed to access. If a site is blocked that they believe they should be able to access, I'll allow/not allow it after hearing their argument. The software also blocks ads that could be an issue as well.

I think the most important thing is to have open discussion about what is acceptable and the consequences of accessing content that is not allowed (loss of computer privileges etc.)

The software offers the ability to log sites that are visited, but I've never looked that deeply at it.

My rule of thumb is to let the kids know that I will trust them until they break that trust. So far, it's worked well as they even ask before watching questionable shows on television.

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I would also consider time caps like you would consider for television: perhaps 1-3 hours per day depending on the age.

Would be glad to hear in the comments what caps parents are using and how are they enforcing them.

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It's easy for us, we have two computers that my son could use. One is basically the main home machine, that I mainly use but its downstairs in the "office" and no one is allowed there unsupervised. Second computer is my wife's laptop that she uses a lot - we allow it to be used since it's generally in the room we are in so there is supervision. I don't see this changing for a long while. –  MichaelF Sep 2 '11 at 20:22

As an elementary school librarian, I was responsible for talking with students and parents about computer use. We focused a great deal about the very scary presence of predators on the internet. We encouraged parents to constantly talk with their children about what they are doing on the internet, who they are talking to, what sites they are visiting.

I know many parents felt like they were intruding, spying on their kids; however in reality just as it is our job as parents to monitor who our kids play with and what homes they are spending time in, it is also our job to monitor their internet usage.

I love the idea of keeping all use in family areas of the home. Not only does it help you be aware of what they are doing, it makes the dialogue that much easier - if your child is right there and comes across something questionable, they can ask.

It is also important to talk with your kids about internet safety in a similar way you talk with them about not taking a ride from strangers. Teach your child that sharing information that seems innocent can be dangerous. Every year there are cases of predators posing as children on the internet gathering crumbs of information from children for months before making their move. Children should never reveal their last name, phone number, address, school name - also, teach your children to carefully check the screen names of their friends - sometimes predators change one character and pose as a friend.

I know when my daughter is old enough to use the computer it will always be in the presence of myself or my husband so we are there to guide her internet use.

Good luck to all parents navigating internet use - it is a different world than when we were kids our parents only needed to monitor the neighborhood.

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"it is a different world than when we were kids" - you are so right, and it can be scary. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 10 '11 at 11:43
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No down vote, but I don't think the world is that much different. That's an illusion. –  Doug Dec 8 '11 at 22:35
    
It is different if you are old enough that there was not Internet when you were a child. Admittedly there were similar dangers from strangers, but they were local and easier to monitor. The Internet allows for dangerous adults to masquerade as children to gain children's trust. –  Erin Dec 10 '11 at 4:34
    
@Doug: The world might not be that different. The difference is that the world is closer to your home, and potential "predators" are closer and larger in numbers. –  awe Jun 15 '12 at 11:46
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Unknown and unnamed "predators" figure much higher on the perceived risk scale than they do as actual risks, it comes down to "reporting bias" in the media. This reporting bias means our children are (collectively) expected to live a decade less than us because society has become so risk averse that they don't play outside. In reality on the internet peer actions like cyber bullying are much more likely to ruin (and have taken) more lives. I'm not saying that we should ever ignore 'stranger danger' but the actual risks should outweigh the imaginary. –  James Snell Dec 31 '13 at 11:50

Do you monitor the books they read from the library? Do you monitor the music they listen to on the radio? Do you monitor the TV and Movies they watch? Do you monitor what they say and hear from their friends? If so, then I'd say yes... it's just yet another stream of content.

Honestly, the easiest way to monitor, is to put the computer in a communal space with the screen facing away from the wall. Then when they're on the computer, be in the room, even if it's only occasionally. I'm sure you'll recognize the quick window focus change in a panic they do when they realize you walked in on something they knew they shouldn't have had up. :)

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I exposed myself to a lot of terrible things whilst growing up and spending a lot of time on the Internet - things that I feel still affect me today. I had absolutely no supervision on Internet access from the age of about 8, although I greatly wish I did so I might not have seen and done what I have.

I believe the best solution is in putting the computer in a family living space so that they can expect someone to see what's on their screen at any given time.

Talk to your kids! Ask them personally what they're doing but don't be accusative, act interested. They will either happily tell you about whatever game they're interested in, or they'll act coy because they're hiding something. While they are young enough to be exposed to bad things or be at risk of bad people, I expect these signs will be obvious.

Never resort to technical means. These will only annoy your child and prove to them that you do not trust them or what they do on a computer. More than likely they will incorrectly flag websites they need to use for homework, too, AS WELL as giving you a completely false sense of security. They are easy to bypass (doubtless your child is or will be smarter than you at computers before you realise it ). Also, smart phones are ubiquitous these days which provide easy unrestricted Internet access, either by tethering or a neighbours open WiFi.

Technical solutions are far too passive a means of 'securing' your child's access to the Internet and, as I say, are easily bypassed yet at the same time teach your child to keep silent about their activity, when they must be encouraged to be open and share with you what they're doing.

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Welcome to the site! –  balanced mama Dec 12 '12 at 17:35

If your child is below 12 years of age, I believe you should still monitor his or her internet usage. As a parent, it is our responsibility to guide our children with the choices they make in using the internet. It is not about helicopter parenting, but I think this is still crucial time where your child still needs proper guidance. When your child reaches teen years, you can start giving him or her independence, but from time to time check their activities, so you can properly guide them.

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The best answer I've seen online for control kids internet usage, especially older kids ran something like the following:

Tell them that everything they have free access to the internet to research, play, and learn. However, What they look at will be tracked, and the logs reviewed. If they find something unsuitable, there will be an open frank discussion with both parents on why they feel it's necessary to view the material.

Nothing scares a teenager more than being faces with questions from Mommy on why they googled something perverted.

But, for younger kids, we just limit they times they have any access, using it as a reward after homework and chores are complete. The computer they use is in the living room and facing the room with someone around to monitor it. The younger kids tend just to play education or flash games.

For the older ones I've used the built in time restrictions that the mac has to limit usage, otherwise they can get a bit obsessed.

Also, you can put limits on the network level to stop the teens using phones, iPad, and kindles late into the night. On school nights it cuts off earlier than the weekends.

Also, below a certain age they have to give up their passwords so sites online (Facebook etc) can be monitored. No different to real life really. We know their friends and friends parents, no reason not to keep an overview on their online activity.

However, in everything they have a large amount of freedom - it's not about censorship so much as it's about keeping them on a good path and not wandering too much.

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I fear most older kids will be familiar with tools such as Chrome's Incognito mode, which makes tracking online activities much more difficult. –  Beofett Dec 26 '12 at 14:03
    
Track everything on the network level through the router. And yes, that might not get everything either. But, you're a parent, you can bluff. Or, just delete Chrome, etc. –  Alex Dec 26 '12 at 17:20
    
Unless you have the time to go through the logs on the router, that's not going to work. A better approach is light filtering at the router along with time spent with your kids. Limit their internet use to appropriate hours and limited time. –  Marc Dec 31 '13 at 17:14

I don't think monitoring kids is a good idea. What he is interested in on the internet is determined by his daily habit, so cultivating his good interests and hobbies is useful than monitoring him.

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Welcome to the community Haseen and thanks for your contribution. You must be addressing this from the perspective of not limiting time, but rather encouraging non-computer related activities so computer time doesn't become too much? What about making sure a six year old doesn't stumble upon pornography or an adolescent doesn't give an online predator her information? On SE it is really nice to add a little to tell the reader where your viewpoint is originating and what your experience in the matter is - or provide sitations to back your answer as reliable. –  balanced mama Jan 2 at 16:18

It's pretty simple to filter your home internet by setting OpenDNS as your DNS server on your router. You can then have OpenDNS block or allow specific sites or classes of sites, as you wish. You can also have all internet use logged if you choose. As long as you keep control of your router, they are unlikely to be able to change this, and if they do, you'll know. You'll also know your kid is being sneaky, and this behavior is likely in other areas of his life.

In my own home, I've set up OpenDNS to limit what they might accidentally stumble across, I've taught them about personal safety and security as well as appropriate behavior while using the Internet, and I loosely monitor the time they spend on the computer. I do not log anything. I feel like education with a bit of a safety net is the way to go.

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Welcome to the community Marc and thanks for your contribution. –  balanced mama Jan 1 at 14:36

I keep the computer in my room, so basically whenever, my 14 year step daughter wants to.use computer, she needs to sit near me and do her stuff. Also, my.husband puts password in the computer, so my step daughter can.use it only when.we type the password. So, this way we can keep a check on how much time she spends on computer . Also we encourage outdoor playing. She gets an.hour or 2 hrs everyday at computer which.is more than enough. Also we havent allowed her to be.on any social networking sites like Facebook or Instagram. Once, she turns 16 , we will lower the restrictions.

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Those people saying that kids internet usage should not be filtered are in for a life of pain, especially when their children develop mental problems, depression and addiction. Being liberal with your children and talking to them is not the same as opening the door and letting them into a porn shop and allowing them to browse the material whilst at the same time talking to them about the dangers of porn. I hope you don't learn the hard way that this stuff just shouldn't be available before a certain age, no matter what your moral persuasion.

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Can you add some citation linking pornography exposure to "mental problems, depression and addiction"? –  Erica Dec 8 at 13:14

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