Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Spy on Your Child Online (Part 2)

Built-in Protection

PCs and Macs have parental controls built into their operating systems, and each of their newest systems (Windows Vista and Mac's Leopard) offers parents more control than ever, says Ismael Matos of Geek Squad, a technology-support company. If you're considering upgrading your operating system, that switch might save you the cost of additional monitoring software.
To use your computer's controls, first set up individual user accounts for each of your kids. Check your computer's user guide if you're not sure how to do this.

Mac users: Next, choose System Preferences on the Apple menu, and click on Accounts. For each child's account, click on Parental Controls and you'll be given a list of categories (Mail, Safari, etc.) that you can restrict or monitor.
If you're running Leopard, Matos says, you can record IM conversations and designate with whom the child can talk via e-mail or iChat, among other things. You can also limit screen time. For instance, you can set the computer to automatically log your kids out at 8 p.m.

Windows users: The parental controls are accessed through the Control Panel. Look for User Accounts and Family Safety Control Panel. With Windows Vista, you'll be given choices about web restrictions and also have the option of receiving reports on your child's use of the computer. You can designate certain hours off-limits and block objectionable video games and programs.

No matter which system you have, most browsers (Safari, Firefox, etc.) have an automatic history log that shows which sites have been visited. Check your user manual to learn how to check the history, if you're not familiar with it. Make sure to check all the browsers on your computer if you have more than one. And be warned: Kids can learn how to delete the history to cover their tracks, so ask questions if you discover that the history was cleared by someone other than you.

Need more help? Both Apple (Macs) and Microsoft (Windows) have online tutorials and detailed info on their websites -- just Google "parental controls" and "Apple" or "Microsoft" to find them. Mac users can also make an appointment at an Apple store if there's one nearby. Or you can call 800-Geek-Squad for a phone consultation or to schedule a visit (it's pricey, though -- home visits start at $99).

With most issues of safety -- climbing a tree, riding a bike, crossing the street -- we progressively give kids more freedom. But in the digital world, new and different risks come up as they grow. Your instinct might be to back off as they approach the tween years, but that's when to get even more involved. And when they hit you with that tried-and-true "but all my friends are doing it" cry, compare notes with other parents; you'll probably find out that most are just as concerned (plus, you'll see which ones let their kids have unrestricted Internet access!).

Keep in mind that any protection you give your kids will, of course, be incomplete. The world is out there in all its beauty and ugliness, and some of that will come through the modem no matter what. Just don't throw up your hands and give up. Says Cynthia Edwards, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC: "Start the conversation early, and keep the conversation going."

What to allow, and when

Is your child old enough for a cell phone? How about a private e-mail address? How to make the call:

What they want: gaming system
When they'll start asking: By preschool, many kids can nimbly work the controls of a Nintendo DS. And they'll probably want one.
What you should consider: Vet games carefully. Don't assume the "E for everyone" rating means a game is appropriate. Put off networked gaming, which opens up live communication with other gamers, until your child fully understands online safety. How much video-game playing is too much? See how your child's behavior is affected (how long before he's glassy-eyed?), then set time limits accordingly.

What they want: cell phone
When they'll start asking: By fourth grade, your child will probably have classmates who carry cell phones.
What you should consider: Does a 9-year-old really need a cell phone? Probably not. But by age 12, text-messaging may be a huge component of your child's social world. If you decide it's time, research the school policy on having phones on school property. Set specific limits on how much and when she can use it, and have a clear plan for enforcing them.

What they want: e-mail/IM account
When they'll start asking: By third grade or so, kids begin clamoring for their own private accounts.
What you should consider: For making plans, kids can make do with using a family e-mail address. By the time they're 11 or 12, consider creating an account for them, and tell them you'll scan through messages from time to time to make sure they're using it responsibly and that their friends aren't stepping over the line. Remind them that IMs aren't as fleeting as they seem -- they can be saved and forwarded.

What they want: broad access to the Internet
When they'll start asking: Kids in upper grade school need Internet access for homework projects, and eventually they'll want that access to be unfettered.
What you should consider: If your software or parental controls are blocking useful educational sites, consider loosening them. But regularly check your computer's history to see where your kids' surfing has taken them. And reinforce the lessons about online safety, even if they swear they already know the drill.

To be continue.... 

Next : it's time to equip your child with a cell phone

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