Parents are becoming increasingly aware of the real dangers their children can encounter online, but many wonder what they can do to protect them. With countless software and awareness programs available, the answer varies from home to home, but the companies providing the armor agree that one solution is never enough.
“One of the problems that I see is parents buy an application, they put it on the machine, they wash their hands and walk away and say, ‘I’ve done everything I can do,'” Dan Jude, president of Security Software Systems, told TechNewsWorld. “Parents need to take an active role and monitor what’s going on. They have to talk to their kids about what they’re doing.”
As an example, he mentioned his own daughter, who was using IM (instant messaging) so frequently she was having 16 or 17 conversations simultaneously. He installed a program that would capture the screen and close it if inappropriate language were used.
Although he felt confident she wasn’t talking to the wrong people because he knew who all her buddies were, the application kept closing because some of them were using foul language.
“It’s a social problem IM has created,” Jude commented. “People say ‘I’m not in front of you, so I can say whatever I want,’ and then they bring that [offline]. We believe in behavior modification.”
Security Software Systems works with law enforcement to find out which words and phrases predators use. If the software, including CSWEB with PredatorGuard and Cyber Sentinel, notices those words, it captures a shot of the screen. It can then either warn the user that the language is inappropriate, capture the screen shot, or end the application. This system can be used with anything opened on the desktop.
Another company, SearchHelp, allows parents to receive an e-mail and text message alert in real-time when a browser violation appears, and its Sentry Remote product provides a toolbar that spins as another type of violation warning.
“The solution is the important thing,” Joe Carizzo, president of SearchHelp, told TechNewsWorld. “Parents still either are unaware or not willing to admit to the fact that their child can run into trouble on the Internet.” This doesn’t mean that every kid out there is a bad kid, though, he hastened to add.
A Question of Secrecy
One of the burning questions is whether to monitor children in secret — a tactic many companies promote on their sites. While the decision ultimately belongs to each parent, being upfront about placement of the controls can prove beneficial.
“I don’t like monitoring the kids in secrecy,” Jude said. When they have been informed, “the kids can’t come back and say, ‘I didn’t do that, Dad.’ You better not violate the policy, because if you do, you’re going to pay the consequences. If they’re doing something, I’m going to know — so don’t do it.”
Some parents using SearchHelp choose to not tell children that this protective software is in place, Carizzo noted, but many tell him the product is helping them become better parents, because it gives them real examples of what their children are doing and opens the door to conversations about their activities.
By far, parents’ best resources are their own kids, according to Allan Kush, deputy executive director of WiredSafety.org, which provides information and education on Internet safety.
“Most parents will concede that their children know more about computers and the Internet than they do. We encourage parents to take advantage of this wealth of information right under their noses and be involved with their kid’s online activities,” Kush told TechNewsWorld.
“Far more problems can be avoided if parents have an ongoing relationship with their kids online,” he remarked, “than if the only time the kids see their parents take interest in what they are doing online is when there is the report of a problem in the news.”
Circumventing Parental Controls
The bottom line is that kids are clever and already are getting around school filter systems, which Jude says is easy to do — especially with proxy settings. While it may be more difficult to do in the home, it is happening there as well, according to a report by Maribel Lopez, vice president at Forrester Research.
Roughly one-third of online adults who have teenagers at home say they use parental controls to protect the computer they use most often. The majority of these — 60 percent — come from ISPs (Internet service providers) like AOL, Comcast or EarthLink, which provide the controls as part of a security package. About 27 percent of the children involved know their parents set limits, the report notes.
“Teens this familiar with PC-based and Internet technology don’t easily let parental controls restrict their online habits,” Lopez writes. Of teens who know their parents limit their Web browsing with parental controls, 28 percent are “overriders,” who say they find ways to get around the limits.
Open communication remains the best armor to protect children from online predators so they won’t want to get around the controls. “No amount of bravado will make a teenager safe online,” Kush said. “Only common sense with an emphasis on maintaining personal privacy will help.”