Judging from the email that we’ve received at Online Social Savvy (firstname.lastname@example.org) over the last few days, many parents are just getting started with parental control (PC) software. So, if you’re in this category, you are not alone. In fact, PC software and services are a category of software which has been around since about 2004 - but with many new entrants and options having been introduced just within the last six months.
First Things First: Why Use PC Software?
The first thing to know about PC software, is its intended purpose: it is intended to help you, as parents, to monitor and control your child’s online activities. You need to monitor and control how and when your children operate online, to keep them safe, to teach them proper social media manners, and to widen their world.
Software helps you to do this by automating the monitoring tasks. Often, parents need this extra assistance – because otherwise they cannot keep up with the technical sophistication of their children. However, PC software is just a tool: using it does not replace the need for active involvement with your child’s online world.
The Many Types of PC Software: Which Type Works Best For You?
PC software comes in many flavors, with more types and varieties seemingly offered every week. The type and variety that you need, will depend a lot on these factors:
- How old is your child?
- How active is your child online?
- How much do you trust your child to follow your rules?
- What types of online forums does your child use?
- Does your child have a mobile phone with text, email, and Internet capabilities?
To make it easier for you to sort out the types of PC software available, I am providing an introduction here of the categories of PC tools available. You can find more details on the products and services in these categories as well as links to their web sites, in our “Round-Up of Parental Control Tools for the Web.” An updated download is located on our Resources page.
The latest version of the Round-Up is dated Jan 31 as of this writing, and we are constantly updating it – so check it often.
Browser and Forum Settings
Without purchasing any tool at all, you can take advantage of the settings offered with most forums, browsers, and messaging systems. For example, Facebook has privacy settings with which every parent should become familiar; a good source for learning about these privacy settings, is Connect Safely’s “Parent’s Guide to Facebook“. WhatsWhat.me, a new social forum introduced for tweens that we blogged about a few weeks ago, is another good example of how a forum by its design can help keep kids safer online.
As another example, Microsoft Internet Explorer – the most popular browser in use – offers Content Advisor capabilities with pretty good options for setting and adjusting which sites your children can view with the browser. Settings are password controlled by you. Sites are restricted by categories which include: language, nudity, sex and violence. You can also create a list of “white-listed” and “black-listed” sites, which will be viewable or blocked respectively, regardless of their ratings. Microsoft’s Content Advisor capabilities are available, by selecting Internet Options from the Tools menu in the browser. Microsoft also provides comprehensive Help information for selecting the options that you need.
Search Engines and Browsers for Kids
There are search engines designed for kids, which filter out offensive content and web sites. Examples of these types of search engines, include Yahoo! Kids (formerly Yahooligans) and KidsClick. Browsers for kids include Hoopah Kidview, Kidz CD and KidZui. Kid-safe browsers preselect kid-friendly online sites, and offer games, homework assistance, and other kid pleasers.
Filters most often use keywords to restrict content, and also can include sophisticated methods for restricting offensive images, as well. Internet filters are the most popular, and include Bsecure CloudCare, CyberPatrol, CYBERsitter, Ice Web Filter, iShield Plus, K9 Web Protection, MouseMail, Net Nanny, Norton Internet Control, Panda Platinum Internet Security, Parental Control Bar, and Safe Eyes. Internet filters often also include security features, to block malware, for example.
Filters are available focused on porn, including Porn Terminator and Snitch.
Filters are also available focused on email and chat software, such as OnlyMyEmail and Safe Chat Universal Messenger. These add more filtering control, than the settings built into AOL, for example.
Security Software and Firewalls with Parental Control Features
Just as filtering tools sometimes offer security features, security products sometimes offer parental control features. Notably, Symantec’s popular Norton security software offers Online Family parental controls. NETGEAR offers free parental control capabilities available for its popular Internet modem and firewall. iBoss also offers parental control features, as does ZyXEL. Check with your Internet connection device manufacturer, to see what parental control features may be available for you.
Personal Accountability Software
For teens too old for parental monitoring, or for young adults no longer under parental supervision, personal accountability software enables self-monitoring and self-policing capabilities designed to help individuals break bad online habits – like visiting porn sites. Recommended by therapists in some cases, these tools include Saavi Accountability and X3watch.
Personal Computer Monitoring and Control Software
Rather than filtering Internet access, perhaps you would rather monitor every activity that happens on your PC. Products that enable this level of monitoring include: ComputerTime, Hoopah Kidview Computer Explorer, KidsWatch, Mom Says No, NetIntelligence, PC Acme Monitor, PC Home Software, PC Pandora, PC Tattletale, Peanut Butter PC, SentryAtHome, SnoopStick from Cybersitter, Spector Pro, Time Boss, and Web Watcher.
Some of these tools include great time control features with built-in kid-motivating incentives, like earning computer time and setting appropriate computer-use limits. If you are interested in this category, make sure that you check out what Microsoft provides for free, with Windows Live Family Software.
Forum-Focused Monitoring and Parental Control
If you need to monitor what your child is doing – and saying – within a social forum, then a forum-savvy solution may be just what you need. GoGoStat offers Parental Guidance control as a free service, for Facebook. MouseMail offers a free service which includes FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter and mobile phones. SafetyWeb offers something similar.
You may also find that applications, like Noodlenet, offer parental control features along with their specific application capabilities.