Friday, August 5, 2011

Some Help for Parents

Parental Controls – Overview

Parental Control for the Internet and Cell Phones

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 -- cyber bullying.

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
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
  • iPhone and other smart phones
  • Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Sony Playstation 3
  • Sony PSP

That can be fun, offering kid’s 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.

Best Parental Control

Unfortunately, no matter how secure you have your home computer, cell phones, and other gadgets that can access the internet; you might not always know what your kids have access to when they aren't at home. 
  • I wouldn't let my kids get 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,' a video game with a Mature rating, because in addition to all of the violence, they can hear the in-game chat with bad language and crude comments. However, I soon found that just about all of their friends had it, so it was hard to keep them from getting access to it.
  • Another time I found that even though a friend my oldest son was visiting had good parental controls on their home computer, one of that kid's friends didn't, and that unrestricted access to the internet had allowed his friend to see and hear things that we would never dream of letting our kids see.

So of course, the best parental controls are an active parent that teaches their kids about the dangers of new technologies and who is aware of what they are doing. In both of the above situations, since we had talked about not being allowed to play games that were rated 'M' and about inappropriate websites, they turned to another activity and let me know what happened.

Before getting your kids a smart phone that allows them to send and receive email, texting, or gives them access to the internet, be sure to:
  • talk to them in an age-appropriate manner about things that can get them in trouble, including a discussion of sexting, viewing inappropriate websites, photos, and videos, and the possibility that people they chat with online may not be who they seem, and then continue to have conversations about these topics and ask your kids questions about what they are doing online from time to time
  • set up your parental controls, but then continue to supervise your kids, especially younger kids, as they use their cell phone and computer
  • remind your kids that many things they see on the internet aren't true
  • as your tween or teen gets more independent, remind him to talk to you if he views something on the internet that confuses him or just doesn't seem right
  • teach your kids to not post too much personal information about themselves or their activities online, including places like Facebook, since this information will rarely stay private
  • have them use screen names that don't include their real name, email address, age, or other identifying information
  • warn them about cyber bullying, harassing others online, spreading rumors, or impersonating other kids to send hurtful text messages or emails
  • only allow your kids to use age-appropriate web sites and games, for example, Facebook requires kids to be at least 13 years old to register, and many of the popular games that young kids like to play that allow internet access are rated 'T' for Teen or 'M' for Mature and should only be played by adults
  • encourage RL (real life) activities and limit screen time (which should include time watching TV, using a computer, playing video games, or using an iPod, cell phone, or other media device) to no more than one or two hours a day, as internet activities can be quite addicting

 Cell Phones and the Internet specific articles will published in the next day or so.  Please take a few minutes to read and apply as you see fit.  Thank you.

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