Parent Over Shoulder

I did a phone demo and chat last week with Peter Ferioli,  Net Nanny’s family safety specialist and some other Net Nanny folks about the new version of their software – (Net Nanny 6.0 for Mac and PC). So kid safety has been on my mind this week. Lots of you have kids, right? So, what do your kids do online? And what do you do to keep them safe?

I think the Internet and cell phones are terrific resources for kids and I have spent a lot of time teaching my kids how to use them both safely. I also seem to spend an absurd amount of time yanking them away from screens and forcing them to do something old school like play outside or come with me to the pool. So, while I’m all for these tools, I know they add another layer of challenge to the job of parent. If you’ve read my book, you know I have an entire chapter there on how to keep kids safe online. You also know that I feel pretty strongly that this is an area moms have to take pretty seriously – for the safety of their kids and mine. Because, as detailed in chapter Chapter 9 of  How to Be a Geek Goddess my kids might play over at your house and we wouldn’t want them watching porn, would we?

I also know that a lot of moms feel completely overwhelmed by all this. Some pretend they don’t need to worry about it. But a lot of fret and many have asked me – with more than a note of desperation, “How do I know what my kids are doing?” I know they are hoping for a quick answer like, “Install Net Nanny.”

But there isn’t a quick answer. Or if there is, that isn’t it. The real answer is: Get involved. Be involved. Stay involved. The kids use a text-message shorthand: POS. It means “parent over shoulder.” That’s the quick answer: Be POS. (Hey! Maybe we need t-shirts!)

The best protection for kids, I think, is an informed parent who is supervising what they are up to. Even then, kids who are looking for trouble can find it. And kids who are just playing can stumble into trouble and not know what to do about it. But that’s why I think it’s essential to talk about online safety, strategies, and dangers just as much as you talk about other aspects of health and safety.

POS may not be quick to implement, but it is fun. Sometimes when I’m playing Wii or XBOX with my kids or watching over my daughter’s shoulder (I check in now and again) while she chats up her peeps in her silly online social gaming network, a voice in my head starts in with the nagging, “There are dishes over there. The laundry needs folding. I could write a post for”

Then I remind myself. THIS is my job. I have to be right here enough to be included in the conversation. I have to ask “What’s so funny?” when the kids are online and laughing. I even have to laugh at the answer. (Even if it’s another knock, knock joke but especially if it, as it usually is, funny.) I also make a habit of introducing my kids to online tools and games I think they’ll enjoy. I make a point of talking about my online social networks, how I tell if someone is my friend – online and off – and asking the kids about their networks. The hardest part, so far, is tolerating the endless shouting into the XBOX headset when they are social gaming. But it is all really pretty simple: If I’m not interested in it, they won’t talk to me about their online lives. If I yank away Internet privileges if if I’m afraid they goofed, they will stop admitting they goofed. And once they stop talking to me, it gets a lot harder to find out what they are doing in what can be a pretty dangerous place. The laundry will (eventually) get folded. Playing with technology with my kids is –right now — more important.

That said, though, I do recommend installing the new version of NetNanny. (And here’s a link that will save you 25%: BUY Net Nanny 6.0.)

It has some good upgrades over the last version, including the ability to monitor a kid’s Facebook profile. This feature alerts your kid that Mom will be able to see his profile so you don’t have to feel like a spy. If they accept the challenge, Net Nanny captures an image so you can see what photos they post and who their friends are. (Being one of their friends – if they allow that — is a pretty good idea, too.) And Net Nany will also let you limit games (the kind you install on the computer) by the game’s rating or by the type of content that offends you. So if, say, you don’t mind some teen rated games for your older kid but are opposed to first-person shooters with realistic gore because you feel that they affect testosterone levels in developing brains and are just gross, you can stop the computer from letting him play those. You can even set it so you get alerted if your kid starts sharing personal information via instant message (not Skype, yet, though) — and then read the content of those chats if talking to her about it still leaves you worried.

I also find the time controls (which are a lot easier to use in this version) a very helpful parenting tool. I like to limit the number of hours my kids spend online but my tweens are pretty tricky. If I tell them their time is up, they wait for me to go out in the garden and then sneak back and fire up the computer again. With Net Nanny, I simply set a daily time limit for Internet access (or a weekly one) and let it do the enforcing for me. I can also block Internet access at certain times of the day. This is great for forestalling arguments about bed time. And if the computer boots everyone off the Internet right at dinner time, it makes finding someone to set the table a lot easier.

2 thoughts on “Parent Over Shoulder

  1. I didn’t know much of this but am glad to pass it on to concerned parents in my psychotherapy practice. Get involved. Be involved. Stay involved. Excellent advice!!

  2. Another code for POS is 9. When you type 9 while you’re IMing, it means your parents are around. Then you type 99 when they’re gone.

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