Monitoring Tools

You can bolster talk with high-tech action, such as monitoring your children’s computer activity at home or restricting their access to the Net or to material on your computer. Here are a few of the tools that are at your disposal:

Service providers/firewalls: You may already have access to parental controls through your Internet provider or firewall software. AOL, MSN Premium and Sympatico, for instance, all offer some parental controls. Their services may include: tracking online activity (telling you where your child navigates, or tries to); identifying material downloaded; controling who your child sends instant messages or emails to; blocking (unblocking) sites; providing reports on how much time your child spends online. For controls to be activated, however, you must first log out and your child must log in.

Software filters: A wide range of software filters are available for those who want to limit their child’s access to the Internet. The most restrictive filter, Cybersitter (about $40), blocks all sites relating to sex, drugs, hate and violence without you having to program specifications. Most software filters, however, allow you to customize access for each child. Some can restrict computer time, chat usage and emails. Some block access to other programs on your computer. Some contact you if your child breaches acceptable online behaviour, or lets you override restricted sites remotely, which can be a boon when your teenager has to work, say, on a substance abuse report for school. CyberPatrol charges an annual fee of about $40; Safe Eyes costs about $50 a month but can be loaded on up to three computers.

Keystroke monitor: Software or hardware that captures every keystroke, to be viewed later at your convenience. All are designed to run in stealth mode so that your child won’t try to disable or remove it. A keystroke monitor allows you to see your child’s side of every Internet conversation, and even reveals their passwords. Advanced Keylogger (US$49) is a software program that generates reports and sends them to your email address; it also periodically captures what is on screen. Physical devices that plug in to your computer can be read at your leisure on another machine, if desired. Models such as KeyKatcher, KeyGhost, Key-Devil and KeeLogger range from in price from US$25.99 to US$89.