Can Online Child Safety Go Too Far?

September 14, 2009 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

I recently read about a software program billed as an internet safety tool for parents. The program, SpectorSoft is described below:

“Spector works by taking snapshots of whatever is on the computer screen and saving the snapshots to a hidden location on the computer’s hard drive. Spector can automatically take a picture of the computer screen as frequently as once per second or snapshots can be triggered by user activity. Additionally, Spector records every web site visited and features a world-class keystroke recorder that captures every key users type on the computer keyboard, including passwords.”

Does this description make anyone else a little uneasy? This software essentially amounts to legal spyware. Although I realize that parents want to keep their children safe online, recording every single movement and keystroke seems like a gross breech of parent/child trust. Asking your child for their Facebook password is one thing, but obtaining it though spyware seems like quite another.

At what point does monitoring your children’s online activity cross the line from sincere concern to creepy surveillance? The distinction is important because your children can feel your sincere concern, but will resent your creepy surveillance.

Here are some tips that might help your child feel that you care about them rather than feeling like you want to control them:

  1. Join the social networks your children are on and “follow” them or become their “friend.” Insist that adding you as a friend or follower is required if they are going to use the sites. This accomplishes two things. First, it allows you to monitor what your child is posting without being overbearing. Second, it forces you to learn the technology. Knowing the way social media functions and how it is used gives you an insight into the way that your child uses it and can breed greater understanding between the two of you.
  2. Check your browser history regularly, and let your child know that you will be checking it. A browser history is not a complete record of everything your children do online, but it can give you an idea of the websites they frequent. As well, if you are regularly monitoring browser history, you will know when the history is erased. A deleted browser history is a red flag, and gives you the opportunity to talk to your child about what was erased and why. Talking with your children about a discrepancy gives you the chance to express your concern for them and show them that you trust and love them while reinforcing standards about inappropriate internet content.
  3. If necessary, apply a filter. Internet filters are not new or ironclad, but they are a recurring reminder to your children that you care about what they see and do online. Talk to your children about why you have applied the filter and what content you don’t want them to access. If they begin to wander into a questionable section of the internet, a filter message may be the very thing that reminds them of potential dangers and help them make the decision to turn around.

Overall, just remember that if you show your children trust, respect, and concern for their safety, while giving them freedom to surf the web—instead of acting like Big Brother—they will respect your efforts to keep them safe online.

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