More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
When Good Teens Browse Bad Content
Fred Langa's LangaList
October 18, 2006

Fred: I have depended on your clear and accurate advice over the past few years, but I don't think this issue has been covered. My kids are severely becoming teenagers and I am looking for a little help in taming the wily Web. I have tried many of the parental control offerings but have not been at all satisfied with the stability of these programs. Its probably tough coding a program to do many actions (redirecting, maybe keylogging) when we are constantly fighting off malware trying to do the same thing to us. Do you have any suggestions where a poor Dad can turrn? Thanks. Kevin​

We have covered it, Kevin, but it's been a long time since we've updated the info.

There are two general alternatives to simply giving teens full, uncensored and unmonitored access to the Internet: 1) blocking content; and 2) monitoring content.

Software products abound for both these approaches--- I'll talk about those in a minute--- but you can enable limited protection without installing special software. If you have younger children or teens unlikely to tinker with the software (and undo your changes), you can use your browser's built-in content-blocking features. In Internet Explorer, for example, choose Internet Options from the Tools menu and click the Content tab. Click the "Enable" button in the Content Advisor box and adjust the slider bars for the four categories of inappropriate content. To "spy" on kids using Internet Explorer, you can click the "History" button from time to time and see where they've been.

If you feel the need to "take it up a notch," you can take advantage of a wide range of products available, which come in three categories: 1) dedicated content-filtering "nannyware"; 2) firewall software with "parental control" features; and 3) "spy" software that shows you exactly what they've been doing online.

If you've found "nannyware" generally unstable, and it sounds like you have, you might try one or two of the other categories.

Of course you can combine these approaches, or mix-and-match features--- for example, use the content filtering features in both "nanny" software and your firewall program, but choose to shut off the "nanny" software's secret spying feature.

The use of these techniques and products can help, but be aware that none is perfect. Content filtering software often fails to block unwanted content, and can produce "false positives" -- blocking perfectly innocent sites. "Spying" or monitoring can be problematic as well. It can create resentment and mistrust, for example.

One of the best, but least appreciated, approaches is education--- both yours and theirs. Some parents, for example, spend time and effort blocking adult Web sites, but don't realize that non-adult sites like MySpace, or applications like instant messaging, can be sources of both inappropriate content and exposure to online predators. It's important for you to know where the risks are. And it's a good idea to have occasional, frank conversations with your teen about the risks and dangers out there. After all, you can lock down your home PC, but most kids have access to other PCs as well, at the library, school and in the homes of friends. Making your kids generally self-resistant to the lure of online evils is often a better approach, in the long run, than trying to shield them from all those evils in all their forms on all their sites.

On a semi-related note, a host of GPS-based tracking devices for cars and cell phones has recently emerged that lets you monitor where teens go in the real world as well.
 

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