How to Track Kids’ Online and Internet Activity

How to Track Kids’ Online and Internet Activity

Modern Dad

News, reviews & trends for fathers – a contemporary parent’s perspective.

By now, most families have embraced the idea of keeping the family computer in a common area as one way to monitor their kids’ online activity, but laptops and smartphones have made the web accessible virtually anywhere. Since it’s a smart idea for parents to keep tabs on where their kids are going online, the reality of today’s mobile generation is that parents need technological help.  While we recommend conversation and open dialogue above all else, part of your family’s Internet agreement should also be that you will learn how to track and monitor kids’ online activity, including installing software that will provide access to records of all their Internet searches. That said, by all means, be up-front with your kids about this plan, as you don’t want them to think you are spying them, and also because many times the simple knowledge that their parents will be checking in is enough of a deterrent to keep children from going where they shouldn’t.

Even though many computers and web browsers come with these features built in, we recommend checking out these additional programs that provide monitoring and other safeguards to help kids have a positive online experience.

Web Watcher Kids

Web Watcher bills itself as an online chaperone, and encourages users to think of its software as a parenting tool.  It serves not only as a block against and filter for inappropriate websites, but records Internet and general computer usage, giving parents the option to block access to sites or activities based on what their kids are doing. Web Watcher costs about a hundred bucks, however, so peace of mind won’t come cheap.

Net Nanny

As one of the best-known brands of parental control and monitoring software, Net Nanny not only allows for tracking and viewing of kids’ online activity across all the popular social networks, but it also provides tools for positive and healthy Internet experiences for kids.  Utilizing Net Nanny’s timers, filters and porn blockers helps parents enjoy knowing that are kids are protected beyond just what they’re finding on their own in their monitoring reports.  There’s also NetNanny for mobile devices, too – an Android version is currently available, and an iOS version is coming soon.  Net Nanny costs $40 per year per computer and $20 per year per mobile device and makes a good beginning point if you’re looking to learn how to track and monitor kids’ online activity, and enjoy some control over Internet interactions and searches.

Cybersitter

Cybersitter offers a great value for families, with the ability to install it on up to three computers for $40 a year.  You can create your own custom block and allow lists, record e-mails and Facebook activity, and also set certain times when specific sites can be accessed (and when they can’t).   Some of the controls and features require parents to be more computer literate than the average person, but if you’re trying to keep up with your kids’ activity online, you need to be willing to expand your tech-savviness.

Norton Online Family

The Norton Online Family suite of products allows families to set time limits, filter web content and receive reports and summaries of usage and activity.  While the full range of services is only $30 a year, there’s also a free version which provides basic monitoring and limiting capabilities.  If you’re looking for a  great way to start monitoring to get a feel for it, Norton Online Family is a great option.

eBlaster

Designed for homes and small businesses, eBlaster captures incoming and outgoing e-mail, texts and chats from your PC, and can send you instant updates.  It also monitors activity across social networks such as Facebook and can send you daily updates (or hourly if you choose).  With a cost of $100, eBlaster seems best suited for those who suspect there may be a problem, but seems a little strong if you’re just trying to keep an eye on your kids.

Mobicip

Mobicip has emerged as a leader in smartphone monitoring and web filtering, allowing for broad blocking, filtering and parental controls, all of which can apply to all your family’s mobile devices.  And better yet, settings can be easily tweaked from a computer.  Mobicip offers online reports of activity and time logs, and can also send these out via scheduled e-mails.   Basic filtering is available for a one-time fee of $5, and the full suite of features costs $10 per year on top of that.

Kids and Social Networks: A Parent’s Guide

Kids and Social Networks: A Parent’s Guide

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

This may be obvious to some, but a surprise to others: Adults and kids use Facebook very differently.  While adults are very tuned into accepting friend requests from only those that truly are their friends, kids are far more likely to use the social network to connect to other kids they barely know. Either way, it’s important that parents know about kids and social networks, and how to ensure that proper rules of Internet and online safety are observed.

Important to consider: For many parents and adults the appeal to a service like Facebook is the number of connections they have. For kids that’s sometimes a big turn off.  We’ve talked to a few tweens and teens who are on Facebook because all their friends are, but that tell us they don’t like to update or “use” the social network for the exact same reason – because all their friends are on it.  So they’re constantly searching for other services which allow them to connect to the friends they want to in other ways.

So find out which services your kids and are using, and if you’re not already using them, you need to start, or at the very least have a firm understanding of how these social media platforms and how kids can use them.  As a benefit, this also may provide some common ground for discussions with your teens, a time when having conversations that involve more than grunts or talking about how they’re hungry can be a rare and precious occasion. But at the same time, you need to know your boundaries when it comes to following your kids online.  So refrain from posting to their wall on Facebook, or don’t follow their friends on Facebook.  One good idea is to use social networks to connect to your kids’ friends’ parents.  It’s another great way to foster community connections and create a sense of safety around kids activity.

Oftentimes kids’ unspoken rules involve how to use Facebook how they want to DESPITE the fact they’re connected to you.  There are detailed instructions easily accessible via Google offering kids tips on “how to friend your parents without sacrificing your privacy,” which essentially comprise a step-by-step guide for kids on how to set up their privacy controls before accepting your friend request so they can continue to post information without you seeing it, even if you’re friends.

According to one recent survey, 80 percent of teens have admitted to posting content to Facebook that they’ve hidden from certain friends and/or parents by using privacy settings.  So be aware that just because you’re connected doesn’t mean you’ll see anything.  In fact, posts being hidden from parents is what led to this incident in which a Texas Dad shot his daughter’s laptop on a YouTube video in order to teach her a lesson.  Although you may not agree with his tactic, this incident provides a great conversation point for you and your teens about appropriate behavior.

Monitoring your teens’ Facebook accounts is only part of the choice as well: You must also figure out how often you’ll be checking in.  In the October 2010 TrustE survey, 72 percent of parents surveyed said they monitor their teens’ accounts, with 50 percent of these parents monitoring weekly, 35 percent daily and 10 percent monthly.   Figure out what’s right for your family, and have an open and honest dialogue with your teens about how you’ll be checking in.

A few other tips to remember:

  • It’s not nice to talk about people behind their back, and many families also operate by the old saying “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  So make sure your kids understand not to engage in negative banter about others, or don’t post pictures that they wouldn’t post themselves.
  • Don’t assume that everything is automatically set just how you want it in terms of privacy settings on social networks.  Go in and make sure all your updates, photos and more are visible to your friends only on Facebook or other social media services such as Google+. Consider setting up a family group to allow you all to share information among each other without broadcasting it to everyone else.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, use the Help section.  All these networks have extensive, easy-to-understand and searchable help sections, too, so if you don’t know how to do anything, you can look it up pretty easily.
  • Bring the dialogue into real-life.  Talk to your teens about social networks.  Whether it’s about a specific funny status update or article you saw to general feelings about the service and current events, using the social network as a starting point can lead to great conversations with your kids.

When Should You Buy Kids Cell Phones?

When Should You Buy Kids Cell Phones?

Modern Dad

News, reviews & trends for fathers – a contemporary parent’s perspective.

It’s the most common question about kids and technology that we’re asked as high-tech parenting experts: At what age should you buy your kid a cell phone or smartphone? The answer: Unfortunately, as we recently explained to Parenting magazine, there’s no magic number – it’s largely a function of family need, children’s maturity level and both how well-equipped that you feel your children are to make good decisions and the safety tools that you’ve put in place to catch them if they should stumble.

However, in the interest of provide a succinct answer that will be of the most service, let’s see if we can summarize. In short, while it won’t be right for every household, many parents first introduce a cell phone to kids around age 13. While some households lean a little younger, this is a fairly reasonable starting point if you’re looking for an opening guideline. That said, when you really should introduce a mobile device to kids’ lives is when there’s actually a meaningful, pressing need – e.g. when they’ll be outside of easy contact, and you absolutely, positively need to keep in contact with them, or be able to communicate on-demand should an emergency arise.

A few other points we share with parents when speaking on this topic:

  • Consider buying a cell phone that dials only your contact number if and when kids need to come home alone. Prepaid cell phones can also let you limit call times and features, restrict Internet usage, prevent access to unwanted features, and monitor overall usage, and usage patterns.
  • If you’re concerned about receiving unexpectedly large bills, or kids’ Internet activity, opt out of texting or endless data plans and choose a basic feature phone that forgoes bells and whistles such as downloadable apps, unlimited Web browsing and GPS tracking to limit children’s online interactions.
  • Always read the manual, research and go hands-on with phones, smartphones, tablet PCs or any high-tech device that provides VoIP or digital calling functionality before you hand them over to children. It’s imperative to know the ins and outs of the cell phone you’re considering for your child before you give it to him or her – a good rule of thumb for any high-tech device for that matter.
  • Consider restricting cell phone usage to only taking place in your presence until kids are mature enough to handle calls, texting and online interactions on their own.
  • Be certain to monitor cell phone activity and usage, and review your bill regularly for suspicious calls, activity or communications made when mobile handsets are supposed to have been shut down, e.g. 3AM on a Tuesday night.

For more information on kids and cell phones, including some of the latest statistics and other digital parenting experts’ input, check out our friends at Parenting magazine, and the in-depth look they provide on the subject.