There are many things that can be done to keep your children from getting tangled up with the wrong types of people on the Internet, whether it’s “Internet Predators” or simply people you find unacceptable. Most of these things have nothing to do with technology. Since I’m not in the business of giving parenting advice, I’ll stick with talking about technology.
The first thing many people think of are “filters”. This is generally software that runs on your computer that will block your kids from certain web sites, e-mails, chat rooms, or peer-to-peer networks. This can be done by checking Internet addresses against “blacklists” or by checking for keywords. While filters can be effective for protecting children from accidentally going to web sites that you do not approve of, they are not as effective from preventing a child determined to find a way to get around your rules. Even if your kid doesn’t have a lot of technical knowledge, you can be sure they have a friend who does. Also, filters must be constantly updated to keep them effective, which usually requires a subscription fee to the company that makes the filter. Finally, they can block access to legitimate sites, which can be a problem for older children doing research.
I believe that the best way to protect your kids is to know what they are doing when they are using the computer. With the knowledge of what your kids are up to, you can make sure they aren’t getting themselves in trouble or doing things that you do not approve. Of course, you can’t sit next to your kid the whole time they are using the computer, so this simply isn’t realistic, right? Well, with the right technology, you can know what your kids were doing on the computer, down to very specific details, and even see exactly what they were seeing.
The software I recommend for monitoring your kids is from a company called SpectorSoft. SpectorSoft has a few different products, to choose from, so to make it simple, if you have Windows, I recommend Spector Pro (http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/SpectorPro_Windows/index.html). If you have a Mac, I recommend Spector for Mac (http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/Spector_Macintosh/index.html). Unfortunately, the Mac version doesn’t give you as many features as the Windows version, but it does give you enough information to effectively know what your kids were doing. Since SpectorSoft doesn’t label the Mac version as “Pro”, perhaps they will come out with a better version in the future. One good thing about Spector for the Mac is that it also runs on Mac OS 9, which is important because so many older Macs are still in use today.
For specific details of what Spector Pro does, do visit their web site listed above. It has a lot of in-depth and powerful features that you may be interested in, such as chat recording and MySpace monitoring, However, to keep things brief, I will only talk about the features I think are most important.
First, Spector Pro (as well as Spector for the Mac) has the ability to record screenshots of all activity. This can be done on a timed basis, as often as once a second, or based on user activity. Above all features, if you can see exactly what was on the screen when your kid was using the computer, you’ll have no doubt what they were doing. You can easily view these screenshots with simple “VCR-like” controls.
The second important feature is the ability to send you an instant alert if Spector Pro identifies a keyword that you have defined. You can create a list of “on alert” words or phrases and anytime Spector Pro detects the keyword, whether in a URL, chat room, e-mail, or typed on the keyboard, it can send you an e-mail – even to your cell phone. If you have concerns that your child is communicating with the wrong types of people, having nearly instant notification of this could be a life saver.
Perhaps the most important feature is that Spector is extremely stealthy and resistant to tampering. If your kids do not know that Spector is running, they will not try to find a way around it. It is also nearly impossible to detect that Spector is running, so they will not accidentally find out. Even if you tell your kids that you have installed software to monitor them, they still will not be able to find a way to disable it. Finally, access to Spector is protected with a hot key combination and a password so that only authorized users can view the recorded data or configure the software. Even if somehow your kids found a way to disable the software, you would know they did because you would have no record of what they were doing. It would be virtually impossible for your kids to create false data to fool you.
As mentioned above, using Spector can be effective regardless of if your kids know they are being monitored or not. If they don’t know they are being monitored, they are going to feel free to do everything they want, which will give you a very good idea of their computing habits, good or bad. If they do know they are being monitored, then they are much more likely to behave themselves, since they know you will be able to see exactly what they were doing. It’s completely up to you to use Spector in the way which best fits your particular situation.
Certainly, with as many options as Spector has available, if you do not feel comfortable installing or setting up Spector, I will be happy to help you out.