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I would like to monitor my 16 year old boy's web activities, but I have been struggling to do so. Since he started his interest in computer programming, it's become an arms race. I've tried setting up a firewall blocking system, but he managed to get around it. I'm trying to monitor what sites he visits and block unfavourable sites.

I didn't originally tell him about this, but he must have found out, although neither of us have brought it up in conversation.

How do I deal with this?

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    Welcome to Parenting.SE. This Question may be a duplicate: see Should I monitor my child's internet usage? – Acire Jun 6 '15 at 21:16
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    1)Talk to him! Set rules. Just like staying out late, getting homework done, and when he can drive your car - computers can have rules too. 2) Besides computer software, you can monitor your routers traffic to get a sampling of everything that goes through your internet, but this is an advanced thing to do. 3) Feel a little better because getting around your blocks is making him a better IT guy. I know it doesn't help but at least you can smile at the fact that your kid's smart. :) – user7678 Jun 6 '15 at 22:10
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    You might consider asking this question on the information security stackexchange - I suspect you will get a plethora of eye opening answers on why it's not just recommended but almost mandatory in the US. As far as talking to him, i'd say the most important points to get across to him is that privacy and anonymity on the internet is almost impossible anymore for even the above average person, and that what you post or do on the internet can ruin your life (to the point where the EU had to pass a law to give you the right to be "forgotten") – Jim B Jun 7 '15 at 3:01
  • The computer being in a public space that people walk in and out of frequently can be quite helpful, in addition to blocking and/or monitoring and setting up total time limits. – aparente001 Jun 7 '15 at 6:17
  • Discussions of the technical methods and/or challenges should please be taken to SuperUser; they're off-topic, even for a technically-inclined Parenting community like ours tends to be. – Acire Jun 8 '15 at 11:14
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Step 1: talk to him about this.

He's 16, which means he's fairly close to being an adult and probably at least somewhat responsible. Let him know what you think is acceptable and what is not, and make some rules about computers in the house.

Make sure to explain why you want to monitor his activities and block access to certain sites. This could include things like "dangerous malware" and "I don't want junk on the family computer".

Step 2: realise this is a fight you cannot win.

If your son really wants to see something, he will. He'll just do it on a smartphone, someone elses computer or find a way to circumvent your filters. Unless you learn more about computers than he does and continue the arms race, you will not be able to stop him from finding whatever he wants to find. (And even then, you cannot control what he does on a computer that you have no access to.)

It is very difficult to simply tell a 16-year old "you cannot look at this" and expect to succeed. You can probably tell him that he can't do it on certain devices and if he's raised in any way properly he will most likely respect that, though. That'll limit the damage he can do to shared computers (either through damaging content or because he keeps stuff lying around for younger kids to find)

  • I completely disagree that you cannot control what sites you can view in your own house. you can control what apps can be run with family safety on your windows PC (windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/family-safety) so disable other browsers, so you can control ( and or monitor ) what sites are visited. Also ensure he does not have admin rights. Remember that in the US you are responsible for what is downloaded via your internet connection. IANAL but unless you make at least some effort you could be in deep financial trouble if one of the copyright agencies are ever involved. – Jim B Jun 7 '15 at 2:48
  • @JimB I used to use the same filter and it was very convenient. Then it failed spectacularly about a month ago, when MS changed the way the software worked. I have switched to the free version of Qustodio, and it's working pretty well for me. – aparente001 Jun 7 '15 at 6:11
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    I agree that you can block access in your own home, if you have a lot of knowledge about how to set up computer security. He'll still just look at the information on another device. The question was how to stop a child from viewing certain content. That part cannot be done. – Erik Jun 7 '15 at 7:38
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    @Oxinabox and DavidMulder - If there's a challenge to prove, remember: you can always use chat. Take up any further discussion there, please. ;-) – anongoodnurse Jun 7 '15 at 18:24
  • @JimB if I have unsupervised physical access to your computer there isn't much you can do to stop me. At the more trivial, watching someone type their password in when you ask them to install something makes it pretty easy to learn their password. To get around blocked webaccess I can use proxies or sign up for a free AWS server and use it's browser. At the most extreme a bootdisk can be used to boot up a computer without any security and manually modify files on the system to say whatever I want them to say If resourceful enough the kid can do whatever he wants. – dsollen Aug 17 '17 at 20:42
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At sixteen years, the influence you have on the personality of your son is so minor as to be nonexistent.

If you haven't managed to teach your son how to live well by now, you won't be able to overcome the influence of his friends and the current (internet active) culture.

In my opinion it is best to stop controlling your son and to begin trusting him.

If you don't trust him and worry about him doing things that will get him or you in jail (hacking, file sharing, looking at child pornography), unsubscribe from your internet access in your home. If you think your son is not stupid and not criminal, talking to him about the legal, social and psychological consequences of certain internet activities should be enough to keep him out of harms way.

Beyond that, it is now his task to find out who he is, and this involves doing things that his parents disapprove of and that all healthy teens eventually grow out of.

It forever destroyed all trust between me and my mother when I found out she was reading my diary. Controlling your teen son's internet activities is a transgression that you will regret when he protects his privacy by withdrawing from you.

  • Most people don't grow out of watching pornography, if that's what you mean. – Erik Jun 6 '15 at 21:50
  • I grew out of masturbating to porn when I had sex with my first girlfriend. But I did not mean porn, specifically. – user4758 Jun 6 '15 at 21:59
  • You can trust all you want- but nobody ever thinks they get caught doing something stupid until it's too late. Remember that there is no privacy and everything you do is permanent on the internet. if 16 made you an adult this wouldn't be a topic on a parenting forum. As far as the diary concept, if your son wants data privacy and security you can either teach him about data security in the modern world (bitlocker to go and Azure RMS, PGP come to mind) or let him know that unless he figures out how to secure his data, if it's on your machine it's your data – Jim B Jun 7 '15 at 2:50
  • It is your responsibility to present cases of teens caught filesharing to convince your child not to do it. And your child shouldn't need data encryption to protect his privacy from you. What kind of family is that?!? I mean, do you have him watched so he doesn't go shoplifting? Or do you have a camera in his room to watch what he does when girls are visiting? If he can be trusted out of the house, why can he not be trusted on the net? If he is allowed to be unobserved elsewhere, why do you need to monitor him online? – user4758 Jun 7 '15 at 6:19
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I've always been the computer geek of my family and it was probably easier in the days when we only had one computer per household (I have three of my own now. And spares!).

I've not been a parent, but from a kid's perspective...

Engage don't spy. Talk to your kid about what he's doing. Computer programming is a very useful life skill in this day and age. Ask him about what he's coding and what he's doing on the computer. Your kid is probably going to be better at computers than you so its better to find a social solution than a technical one.

If you have a single computer (or can have computers in a fixed place) put it in a private but shared space. (Dosen't work as well when he has his own.). We could close our door (airconditioner made it necessary anyway), we shared the system, and we had a reasonable amount of privacy over what we did.

If you want to put a block - talk to him, and explain why (and see if he has any better ideas). Yeah, he'll be able to get around it, but he is already, and its a sign of trust. I for one probably would have understood having filters so I don't accidentally come across content that some may consider inappropriate.

While I didn't know it at the time, my parents trusted me. One of my grandmothers (wrongly) suspected I was looking at porn, and my mom defended me. I never heard about it until later.

Be supportive (Mine weren't and it was a pain) but draw clear lines in terms of time that can be spent on personal projects or general internet lookseeery. Homework needs to be done after all ;).

In short? The best way to monitor a teen is not to. If he feels he can talk about these things, he will.

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    +1 million for the last sentence. Make your child feel that he can come to you with his concerns. – user4758 Jun 7 '15 at 6:23
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I may be able to bring a new perspective to this discussion. Although I am not a parent, I was a child prodigy on the computer. I taught myself HTML when I was 8, and I learned tons of super useful skills from the ages of 10-16 that helped me start a career without a college education.

Did I get exposed to a lot of porn and other inappropriate content? Of course. Did it scar me for life or turn me into a bad person? No. Plus I'm making as much as a doctor, so that must account for something. And I'm not saying that you should condone these things, but I think you should be aware how valuable computer skills can be.

Using a proxy or blocking "harmful" websites: This makes sense. Block the bad stuff so that they will be more likely to do something constructive or go outside for a change. But in practice, website blockers are notorious for blocking constructive content. Rule of thumb, you should use the same restrictions yourself. If it annoys you then you shouldn't force it on your family.

No admin permissions: Again, seems very reasonable. This will protect you against viruses and annoying stuff, but may also prevent your child from experimenting with new software found on the internet. Nowadays, a vast quantity of professional-grade software is becoming Open Source, which basically means free of cost and viruses. 3d modelling, audio synthesis, recording, image and video manipulation, the list goes on. If they ask you for permission to install something, please don't put up a brick wall and ask a million questions. They may just give up on a potentially constructive hobby.

In short: Stay informed, setup clear rules, and discipline when necessary. Monitoring is better than blocking. If you choose to block something, be lenient about unblocking when a valid justification is provided.

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    What concerns me about the porn and inappropriate content is that the effect can be substantial on a young person's set of expectations about relationships and sex. I'm not saying it would affect everyone's expectations the same way, but it can have a skewing effect. – aparente001 Jun 7 '15 at 6:16
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    Usually the skewing effect is caused by not being taught properly by the parents. If porn is your ONLY contact with sex, then it will skew things. You should've had "the talk" long before you first watch porn, though. – Erik Jun 7 '15 at 7:42
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If your son is planning a career in IT (you mentioned he has shown an interest in programming), continuing this 'arms race' as you call it is a great way to help him build skills which will be very marketable later on in life.

You set them up, he knocks them down, and as you go on the blocks you put in place become more advanced and he comes up with more ingenious ways of getting around them.

He could learn lots about networking and computer security if you played this right.

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    Whilst a good idea in theory; in practice this would be difficult to actually do. The average parent has far less time to learn and implement these things than a teenager. Additionally, parents often have a much less sound grasp of technology than their children. – Prinsig Dec 29 '15 at 14:56
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If your goal is to monitor and/or control your son's Internet access while he's using a computer at home, then your single best point of control is your router (or modem/router combo).

The reason the router is best is because all your home network traffic must go through it, with few exceptions.

Any decent home router has white/blacklisting options, as well as site/access logging. What you'd likely be interested in is the blacklisting (blocking specific websites), and logging options.

Blacklisting allows you to set sites that can't be accessed through your router. They should at least let you block specific sites, such as www.parenting.stackexchange.com. They may (and should) let you do it at the domain level such as blocking all stacks on this site by blocking stackexchange.com. Ideally, they'll let you block with wildcard filters, so you can block sites with keywords, such as stack. Arguably more useful filters would be porn and torrent and anony.

In most cases, I think it's fine to just be upfront with your child about expectations of his Internet usage, and giving some trust that way. However, I think you, as a parent, have an obligation to ensure your child isn't engaging in illegal or illicit activity. So, blocking his access to sites that are primarily used for pornography or pirated content are up to you to block.

I'm not interested in giving a moral evaluation of whether or not the laws are worthwhile, or whether or not your child should have access to those places. That is a decision that's up to you and your household. However, I would add that if your child does anything illicit on your Internet connection, you would be culpable. For instance, if someone uses your Internet connection (even an unauthorized user) to pirate a new movie or TV episode, you may get a piracy notice from your ISP. If you get enough of these notices, your ISP may ban you from their service.

Now, back to the logging feature. Most routers I've used have at least a basic logging feature that tracks which connected devices access which websites. However, few of them have tracked the access very far back in time. This means you'd have to periodically log into the router and check it while your son is online, to see what types of sites he's accessing.

If you decide to go with router-level controls, you'll need to do two more things:

  1. Set a secure administrator password for the device (and not use the default)
  2. Control physical access to the router, as a hard reset will wipe out your settings (and reset the password the default)

Personally, I would recommend doing these things even if you didn't have a teen in the house. It would also work for guests or other family members that need to use your Internet access.

As to the claim that your child could just use their phone, that's not necessarily true, and depends on your provider. For instance, Verizon Wireless provides free content filters, advertised as Family Safeguards & Controls, that could limit what they use their data plan for.

So, with a little bit of effort, and hopefully the right router hardware/software, you can do a lot to mitigate the "worst" your child has access to. However, any methods beyond these basic ones will require increasing effort, and likely specific research for your specific needs.

  • This kid has probably already retrieved the password from the bottom of the router and changed it. – Prinsig Dec 29 '15 at 14:58
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If your son is using the TOR network then there is practically nothing you can do stop him browsing any website he likes and there is no way to monitor the sites he does browse. Website blockers or firewalls, either in software or in your router, cannot block TOR. Other tools that you may buy cannot block TOR. The Chinese government are doing everything they can to block TOR, and cannot block all of it.

Anyway, the point is that you cannot block him if he knows what he is doing.

He's 16 now which is practically an adult. If he wants to watch porn or read about bomb-making, then he'll do it, and there's probably not much you do about it.

As others have said, it's probably time to stop controlling your son and to begin trusting him.

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