Today's teens, tweens, and school age children are getting more and more technologically sophisticated, very often outpacing what their parents know about these high-tech gadgets.
While for some kids that actually means that they are learning computer languages, creating websites, and even building robots, most others are simply using today's technology to watch videos on YouTube and play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) or they are talking on their cell phones and sending text messages.
Unfortunately, many of the things your kids can do online and with their cell phones can lead to a lot of trouble if they aren't monitored. From watching porn and other inappropriate video and websites to sexting (sending inappropriate text messages or photographs) and chatting with predators, new technology can lead to new problems. Cell phones and the internet have even lead to new ways for kids to be bullied -- cyberbullying.
That doesn't have to mean that your kids can't have a computer or cell phone, but you should learn about parental controls that can help protect them as they use the latest high-tech gadgets.
Parental controls can include built-in parental control software, add-on monitoring software, web content filtering software, and internet blockers. These can usually be set up to block access to a computer or specific websites.
One big problem with parental controls is that many parents only think about setting them up on their home computers, where they know their kids will have access to the internet, but they forget about all of the other gadgets in and around their home that also offer internet access.
While we might not live in an age where everyone's refrigerator has internet access (some already do though), many other gadgets can get your child connected to the Internet, such as their:
- iPod Touch (via WiFi)
- iPhone and other smart phones
- Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite (via WiFi)
- Nintendo Wii
- Sony Playstation 3
- Sony PSP (via WiFi)
That can be fun, offering kids access to online games and multiplayer online gaming, but it also allows them to chat with people and many include a web browser. Although parental controls are available for most of these devices, the average parent who doesn't use the device himself isn't likely to think about turning those controls on.
Before getting one of these devices that is Internet-ready or hooking up an Internet-ready gaming system to your home Internet network, be sure you know how to turn on any available parental controls.
Internet Parental Controls
Parental control software is built in the latest version of Mac OS X and Windows, but can also be purchased as separate programs, which often offer more features and more flexibility. These include programs such as Bsafe Online, Net Nanny and Safe Eyes.
In addition to this kind of parental control software, other things you can do to keep your kids safe online include:
- putting password protection on the computer, so that you have to log your kids on when they want to use the Internet
- using parental control software to restrict access to the computer and internet to times when a parent is home and around to supervise what your kids are doing
- if you use a router to share internet access through the house, then set it up to restrict access to times when a parent is home to supervise, or use your router to set up specific internet application and gaming access to different computers or internet-ready gaming systems
- set strong privacy settings if your child uses a social networking site, like Facebook, and limit their friends list to people they know
- putting the computer and other devices that have internet access in a common area of the house, so that you can directly supervise what your kids are doing
- asking your Internet service provider (ISP) about additional filtering software that may be available to you
- being aware that without parental controls, kids can hide their tracks by clearing private data from the Internet browser they are using, including the browsing history, cache and cookies
- reviewing what kind of access to the Internet your kids will have when visiting friends and family members
In addition to general warnings about protecting kids from "the Internet," parents should be aware about some specific things that can cause trouble, including:
- Illegal File Sharing Programs - through specific programs and sites, such as Gnutella, Bit Torrent and Kazaa, etc., kids illegally download music, movies and other content.
- Social Network Sites - many kids use these sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, to post personal information and photos, which predators can use to contact your child.
- IM and Chat - in addition to texting on their cell phones, many kids use Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms (iChat, AOL, Yahoo Messenger, etc.) to talk with their friends, and unfortunately, sometimes predators who pose as kids. Inappropriate chats can be an especially big problem in MMORPGs, where many players are in their twenties and thirties.
- Video Chat - kids have also started using video chat rooms more and more, including the popular Chatroulette, which matches users with strangers to chart with and is reported to include a lot of people engaged in inappropriate behaviors while on their webcams.
- Web Videos - kids on the Internet usually quickly find YouTube. Unfortunately, there are plenty of videos on YouTube and other video sites that are not appropriate for kids.