Editor’s note: Parenting girls in the digital age brings up all sorts of dilemmas our own parents didn’t have to face. Below, parents sound off on “spyware” and other filtering software, and the best ways to keep kids safe online.
I’m a dad of two teen girls, and so far haven’t used internet filters to “snoop” on their internet use. But I want to protect them. Does spyware keep kids safe online? What do other parents think of using it?
I’m the mom of three boys and one girl. I tell my kids that using the computer is a privilege, and I recommend that to keep the privilege, they not write or do anything on the computer that they don’t want me to find out about. I will look. I also make it clear that I’m not making this restriction because I’m interested in violating their privacy or making their life miserable but because the internet can be dangerous and it’s my job to keep them safe by supervising their internet use. Because they’re getting more computer savvy than I am, filtering software can help with things I don’t know about. Do what you need to do to protect your children! You wouldn’t let them wander around the red light district of a big city alone; don’t let them wander around the internet without supervision and guidance.
Beth Manley, CT
Don’t let a $39 piece of software lull you into a false sense of internet safety. Any teen who spends a decent amount of time online will know how to find spyware and how to bypass it. Educate, talk, and monitor. If you choose to let your kid think you trust them, when they find the parental control or software on your PC, they’ll know you don’t. Be open about your restrictions and be honest about why you’re concerned.
My daughters are aware that I log and monitor all computer activities and network traffic. They have not shown us any signs that they are offended by or upset about the monitoring. I feel they understand why we’re doing it (discovering that our 16-year-old daughter was trading sexual messages with a 23-year-old man). For the most part we don’t read email and IMs they send to friends that we know.
I don’t attempt to track my daughter’s online activity. The best choice for keeping her safe on the internet is establishing trust. You wouldn’t follow her around the library to see every book she reaches for or spy on her at a newsstand to see what magazines she reads. We talk together about questionable content and sexuality on the internet and in the media. I learn a lot from how she responds—I know she’s not sexually active because she talks to me negatively about her peers who are.
However, my daughter at this time in her life may not be where your daughter is now. If you think there’s a drug problem, you’d best go through her room. If you think she’s flirting online for cybersex, or planning to meet anyone in real life that she’s met online, you may have to snoop around the hard drive. If you think she’s suicidal, maybe you should pick the lock on that diary. But there’s a limited time and place to pry into her privacy. Crossing that line better be worth it, because you could lose any trust you may have with her. It’s a last resort. And if you’re worried about what she’s doing online, that may mean there’s a deeper problem in your relationship and communication. If that’s addressed, the rest might just fall into line.
Ken Stuczynski, West Seneca, NY
Filtering technology is imperfect and sometimes hard for adults to understand. You can get good basic information at mediafamily.org. Also, check out advice on filtering software use from Common Sense Media, an organization offering comprehensive guidance for parents about kids’ media: In general, look for services and products that give each member of your family his or her own user name, so you can pick and choose the level of filtering needed for each child. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t just turn on a filter and think you’re all done protecting your child—filters can be defeated by savvy kids. Filters can be useful, especially for young children, but they shouldn’t be relied on as the only means of protection. Good old-fashioned parenting and internet safety rules must also be part of the picture.