Monitoring 101: Kids Online [Guest Post]


This is a guest post by Ellen Ohlenbusch is the president of McGruff SafeGuard, a free, easy-to use Internet safety service that monitors, filters, and controls a child’s activity on the Internet.  Learn more about how to protect your child online at www.GoMcGruff.com.

Why Should I Monitor?

In any community, children confront dangers every day that parents are careful to protect against.  Many parents can identify the troublemakers, the bad influencers, the bullies and possibly the predators to look out for.  But, there is another community where children play that involves many more dangers and risks.  This community is the Internet, and 74 percent of children ages 8 to 18 explore it without ever leaving home.[1]

What is Monitoring?

Parents want to know where their toddler is in the house.  They want to know where their child is in the yard.  They want to know where their teen is on a Friday night.  In the same way, they should know what Web sites their children are visiting, who they are corresponding with and what they are doing online. Monitoring can help parents keep tabs on their children’s Internet activity.

Have you ever been concerned your child was hanging out with the wrong crowd or that they were unsupervised at a sleepover?  The same dangers that can develop from these situations also exist on the internet—and to an even greater degree.

What Features are Important in Monitoring Software?

Effective monitoring software will do more than track destinations and content viewed.  There are several programs that “filter” content for profanity, pornography and illicit activity.  While these measures are useful, they lack some crucial components.  Parents not only want to know where their children are, but also what they are doing.  Effective monitoring software should screen for potentially harmful behavior—either exhibited by the individual child or from others—in the interactive content on sites such as social media, email and chat.

With the advent of social media, kids can not only view content online but also, literally, become “friends”  with others online.  Even in online destinations considered “safe” by filtering software, unsafe activities can still take place.  For instance, predators can befriend children on social websites, and behaviors normally prohibited in the home can be carried out online.  Monitoring software should identify both the predatory behavior of others as well as the dangerous behaviors of children in order to give parents the tools needed to protect them online.

But not every family is the same, and not every parent enforces the same rules.  The software should be flexible and easy-to-use, allowing each parent to monitor their own children as they personally see fit—according to their own ideals and standards.  The monitoring software you choose should allow parents to create their own household rules regarding the times when their children may use the Internet and regarding the types of behaviors that they believe are appropriate or not.

Monitoring is all about putting power in the parents’ hands.  In addition to monitoring, parents need to be empowered to understand their children’s online activities.  Communication in the Internet age, surprisingly, can require translation.  Slang, acronyms and creative forms of shorthand are pervasive in today’s electronic communication.  Effective monitoring software will be able to interpret and relay this information in plain English, or provide dictionaries to assist parents in understanding their child’s online language.

The best monitoring software provide parents access to real-time reports remotely—at work, at home or on the road.  Advanced software will even provide the ability to receive instant alerts, such as a text message to a mobile phone, when particularly alarming activity occurs.

Is Monitoring Controversial?

When presented with the concept of internet monitoring, many parents question the integrity of such a practice.  It is important to understand what monitoring is, and what monitoring is not.  To use monitoring software effectively and respectfully, parents must do so with proper motive.

Monitoring is not a measure of spying—watching a child’s every move with an eager hope to catch them breaking a rule.  But, when we acknowledge that some rules are designed for the child’s safety, we can appreciate monitoring as a means to guard that safety.  Monitoring software should be used to keep a child safe, which actually begins with simple communication.   Once parents discuss rules with their children and the protective reasoning behind Internet monitoring this helpful software can be utilized as a means of protection, while enabling children to enjoy the Internet and while reducing fear of endangerment amongst their parents.

Ellen Ohlenbusch is the president of McGruff SafeGuard, a free, easy-to use Internet safety service that monitors, filters, and controls a child’s activity on the Internet.  Learn more about how to protect your child online at www.GoMcGruff.com.

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