Advice needed for monitoring child's internet usage


I need some advice. I’m looking for tips from not only fellow parents, but also students who know much more about internet security than I do.

The anti virusthread reminded me of the dangers that lurk in the world of the internet.

My 3 daughters are becoming more and more tech savvy and comfortable in surfing around on limited sites, and they are wanting to do and see more. My oldest daughter is 10, and she is already savvy at finding dad-approved video’s on youtube. The younger two kids are webkins experts, and will be venturing out to other sites as they become more comfortable.

Currently, the kids use my wife’s computer. It is located right next to mine. Almost all of the time, we are able to monitor their screens when they are on the internet. We realize that we cannot monitor their usage all of the time.

I am not as tech-savvy as I would like to be with regard to firewalls and other site-access-limiting tools. I really need to start investigating how to limit where the kids go on the internet. While I want them to utilize the great tools that are available (email, wiki, games, small business ideas, etc.), I want to protect them from crap.

What sort of rules, protection, and security would you suggest?

What software packages would you recommend?

(parents) What have you used for similar purposes?

(students) What have your parents used - and what has and has not worked?

What sort of limitations are fair, reasonable, and still safe?

Any and all ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Andy B.

Tough question. It’s been awhile since my kids were in this situation, but this is what I can recommend.
Bottom line is that nothing works all the time. You will not be happy with the solutions that are out there.

Here are a few sites that will point you in the proper direction.

The only computer side suggestion I have is to increase the security settings of the browser you are using and install Zonealarm.

Check with you ISP. They may have some suggestions.

The internet’s changed a bit since I was ten*, so personal experience isn’t much use here.

Honestly, the best way to keep them off the shady side of the internet is to watch their screen whenever possible. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to be physically in the room; a utility like VNC would let you monitor (and control, if you desire) their computer from just about anywhere in the world with a decent internet connection.

When it comes to blocking, probably the easiest way to handle the decision is to only let through the squeaky-clean sites; sites like YouTube would probably be better off blocked until you override it.

Technical solutions will depend on other things. What operating system and security software does your wife’s computer run? Is separate hardware or software for them an option? I’ve had good luck with parental controls on a Mac (and that’s in the harshest operating environment out there, a college computer lab), while some might advocate a Linux live CD to help keep any errant clicks onto “500 FREE MOUSE POINTERS!!” from doing actual damage. But if the folks concerned are all pretty attached to Windows, then the point is moot.

*We used text-based browsers, PINE email, connected at 2800 baud to a free network at the University on a 50-megahertz 486, in the snow, uphill both ways…and we liked it!


Bear with me, since it’s been ages since I’ve needed to do this.

What I have done on the past is use my firewall/router to log access, and then using a log viewer(plenty of free ones out there) that also does a reverse lookup (convert IP address to names) to give me the names of the sites visited.

I have also set up rules within my firewall/router to limit access to the internet to only specific days and times. You can also block out specific IP addresses as well.

I have used in the past a product call FULL CONTROL which limited all kinds of things based on the user. I don’t know if that product is still on the market or not.

Ideally what you may need to do is what some companies do. They use a proxy server which has built-in blocked sites list. Those lists are also customizable as well. CyberPatrol is one such that I know of. I also believe that Cyberpatrol can be used without a proxy server and installed locally on a machine, but don’t quote me on that.

I hope this helps. Feel free to PM me if you like more technical specifics.

In my experience (which dates back to a 386 circa 1988) locking down the computer wouldn’t have made much sense. My family’s first computer was not connected to the internet, so it was easy to have a look at what was coming in on floppy disks, and reject anything suspicious. And indeed, that was a skill that my brother and I quickly picked up on our own, because, after having used the computer for a while, we knew what types of files should be where, and knew not to run an executable without some knowledge of where it came from. Most importantly, we didn’t want a virus trashing all of our games.

By the mid 90s, we were already familar with good habits for computer usage, and when we did get internet access, we tended to maintain the same good practices. This isn’t to say that we didn’t get some viruses and spyware over the years, but the strong working knowledge of how the computer operates led us to make good choices with regard to its usage. And that same knowledge let us fix it on our own, most of the time.

I would contrast this with the experiences of many others that I know. To them, for the longest time, the computer was just a box with a screen and keyboard attached. They didn’t have any understanding of why their computer was misbehaving, and therefore were powerless to do anything about it. Or alternatively, they weren’t skeptical enough of why the computer was asking for information like their e-mail address, mailing address or phone number; they just figured, ignorantly, that the computer needed to know.

In effect, my experience bailed me out of trouble on occasion, whereas others would have been stymied, or may have lost data, or may have divulged something sensitive. I’d be inclined to say that as long as your children are acutely aware of the necessity of protecting their personal information (e.g. their real names are often inadvisable to divulge—despite our use of our own on ChiefDelphi), the best thing to do is to walk them through some of the less-child-oriented parts of the internet alongside you, so you can point out things like banner ads (never click!), popup ads (never click, and block when possible), and fake search results. Show them some of your spam e-mail, and explain what it is and why you shouldn’t trust it. In addition to the technical side of things, this will build their media literacy skills, which are so valuable in preparing them to deal with society.

Ultimately, it is their own knowledge and wits that will protect them most effectively. Firewalls and anti-virus utilities can help, but they’re only a small part of the solution. You can judge when they’re mature enough to protect themselves, but be aware that if you wait too long in giving them free reign over the internet, they will discover it elsewhere, and perhaps in a less-controlled setting.

Also, there’s another thing that may or may not apply to your family. Depending on the temperment and perceptions of your children, they may come to resent the idea of you monitoring or limiting their activity—it can easily be interpreted as mistrust of them. To me, any overly-restrictive monitoring program or firewall would have felt like an invitation to bypass it, but I can easily conceive of someone becoming frustrated that they can’t get to YouTube, and blaming it on their parents.


I understand your difficulty. While I agree with the others that education is the best method, that is not always possible with the younglings. My 5 year old son keeps trying to buy things on-line… like tickets to a theatrical production of the Lion King :eek: ; and we thought the disney sites would be fine. (Amazon one-click shopping was turned off IMMEDIATELY!) Watching him constantly is tough (especially when things are happening on CD) and logging his activity doesn’t quite help here.

As a solution we ended up using McAffee Privacy Service (as a portion of the Internet Security Suite) (Windows XP Home) which enabled us to allow only specific domains… like a subset of Disney’s site. We also had to give him his own login ID so that my wife could be freed from his restricitions. She also had to adopt a password when he figured out that he could do more in her ID. (My computer has a strict “touching = grounding” policy. :smiley: )

Sounds like a good solution, but the Privacy Service software seems to forget the restrictions periodically (about once a month) and the virus scan is somwhat of a resource hog that really slows booting and frustrates the heck out of my wife. I’d like a better solution, but it’s functional.

My experience with ZoneAlarm is that it helps keep people out of your machine (since it is a good firewall - and it’s free), but doesn’t really help keep you from doing the damage yourself. It’s been a while since I’ve used it, so I’m sure the community will correct me if required.

Gopher was so much safer sigh

The best advice I’ve heard is to put the computer in a common room. That way you can glance over at the screen and keep an eye on what they’re doing.


I have a couple of solutions that may help, and none of them require any Expertise in Firewalls, or even computers. These are all free Software packages that limit website content by scanning the web page for “trouble” words before displaying it. These words could be sexual, Violent, Racist, or pretty much anything that you choose to input. Some also have a list of websites that are already approved or denied based on the Filter level you choose to implement.

First and foremost in my book, is “Parental Control Bar” It is easy to install, has a quick setup and a comprehensive tutorial of usage… as well as installing for both internet Explorer and Firefox. This earns a Cody two-thumbs up. (Mwahahahaha)
That can be downloaded here:

Some others that I have found are easy and convenient are:

Hope this helped, and feel free to ask any questions.

-Cody C

I dont know how much your willing to spend, or how much this even costs, but my school uses a system called a Comsifter. Which basically blocks certain websites all together, trying to go to them jst brings up this annoying little page saying that, that domain is blocked. Its a Pain in the butt imo, because it blocks about everything i want to go to at school (even some which may not be particularly bad but my schools deems bad)
If i find it annnoying and hard to deal with it must be doing its job.

Disclaimer: I dont know anything else about the product or its cost most importatly so if this is some $100000 product dont come complaining to me. im just trying to help

As advertised in SkyMall, and advocated by Chuck Norris, MaxProtect* might do the job. (For a fee of $79.95)

*Note: I have no experience with this software.

These are a few good applications that ive seen used, for great results

Net Nanny
Safe Eyes

Id recommend Net Nanny overall just because of ease of use, it takes minutes to install and is a bit more user friendly, but CYBERsitter lets you have realtime remote viewing of whats being viewed on the computer supposing your on a laptop elsewhere in the house. Most come with free trials if you want to take them for a spin, Net Nanny is lacking in the aspect that it doesnt have pop up blocking, all of the softwares listed above have daily time limit options so that after an hour or whatever you choose, internet is no longer available, all of the above offer you the option of individual accounts so that you can individually control what each child can get into, or if you want to use their computer the blocks are deactivated.

Having the computer in a common room as Jeff mentioned is always helpful as well, many of my neighbors houses with young children have computers in the kitchen or living room areas for the children to use, allocating internet usage times if you haven’t already prove useful, If you find some time, take a peek at Consumer Reports for their reviews on these products

Good Luck,

I hate to burst bubbles here but…

I haven’t found an internet security system that I can’t get around (yet). Now grant it, I’m 14 (not 10), but I’m sure many other kids are not far behind…

I guess my point here is that filtering software only frustrates, and wants kids to break the software. There is no substitute for having someone sit in the room while the child is on the computer (doing paperwork, watching TV, whatever…) Just the presence of someone else will let the child make better choices of what to do online. You can of course also limit computer time to when an adult is around… (this probably isn’t a bad idea. I’m now an internet ‘junkie’… 14+ hours a day, and I don’t pride myself in it.) So limiting computer time isn’t always bad.

Just some opinions from the student side.

Not just that, it also keeps them in check too, knowing it’s there and you can look over their shoulders or come in the room at any time. It’s the whole psycological thing that really gets to them. :wink:

A good dose of some talking to them about the internet, blocks and protection, along with the computer in the common room is the best cure. Oh and keep them on that Chiefdelphi site, full of weird characters…

Explain to your kids about bar adds and the like. If you can or havn’t allready, get firefox and show them how to block adds. Explain that clicking on adds = bad. Try downloading Site Advisor and tell the that site’s that are marked Green are ok, but any that are yellow or red they need to see you about. Explain to them in simple terms about spyware and viruses. Get a good anti virus software just in case. Install Spyware Blaster. Etc.

At 10, I could already get around most of the internet filtering if I put my mind to it. If you’re kids are already tech savy, then theres no way anything is going to be able to keep them in. It’s better to teach them what is right/wrong and supervise when you can. Letting them have freedom will be good for them.

I am not in any position to talk parenting with a Father such as Andy, but I can Offer My particular experience of having been a 10 year old with a filter on My internet. Like Many people on this site, I’d imagine that We could find a way around any block set before us at the age of ten. For me, though. Knowing the block was there was enough to keep me from doing just that (at home, anyhow). My parents put the block on, and told me exactly what they were protecting me from… and I wouldn’t dare bypass it because of that. At school, however; I played enough “illegal” flash games for ten Slightly scrawny pale boys. I only did that because I knew that they weren’t going to harm me or subject me to things I shouldn’t be subjected to be at that age.

Saying that you shouldn’t even try to implement a filter Isn’t the best answer, I don’t think. Just make sure that you aren’t too strict, and The kids will be content with what they have. Especially at the age of ten and younger.

I couldn’t stress Parental Control Bar enough for an easy and effective way to test this.

#1: Change your hosts file. There are many good ones if you do a Google search. This will keep thousands of bad sites from being accessed and keep the spyware and adware to a minimum. It will also stop online purchase ability to a certain degree.

#2: Don’t store credit card information on the computer. You will sleep better.

I’ve given my daughter full access since she was 10. She’s 18 now and is a most adjusted lady. The internet didn’t corrupt her. I always have the ability to check the history files if I was curious on her behavour. Usually it is history, talking to her friends.

#4: Find a good firewall program, even behind the router. You can use it to block certain sites. Web surfing anonymously is a great feeling too.

I hope this helps.

I think the solution for you should be very simple. Just put a Green Baker Dot on any of the websites that you’ll allow your kids access to, and put a Red Baker Dot on any of the sites which you deem inappropriate.

That way, you will have solved every parent’s problem… I heard that the Green Baker Dots are so irresistable that the kids can’t help but go to them, and that a Red Baker Dot has the power of shutting down entire domains!

Probably the one thing that you’ll want to do is watch when they start using Facebook, or MySpace, or LiveJournal, or Xanga… whatever they get into, and make sure they don’t post too much personal information.