I am a mother of three children under the age of 12. Back when I was a kid, my parents only had to warn me about not taking candy from strangers, but parents these days have to be ever-vigilant (even when the kids are supposedly safe at home). These days children who spend any time online are vulnerable to not only impressionable material, but sick and twisted individuals.
There are tons of software packages out there that allow you to monitor and control your kids’ internet usage, but I have found none as complete and easy to use as OnlineFamily by Norton. It allows you to not only monitor what web sites your kids are visiting, but also limit their total computer time, restrict where they can go, supervise their social web site activities, and even protect their personal information. And the best part is that the interface is dead easy to use (even if you are technically challenged). If you sign-up now, you can get the service for free until January of 2010.
To get started, click here to sign up and download the software. After registering, you will be asked for the names and ages of each child you want to monitor.
Once you have setup the kids, you can download the software and install it on each of the machines you wish to monitor (don’t forget laptops). They provide both a Windows and a Mac version.
Installing it on the kids’ PC is quick and easy. If you have not already setup a separate user account for each kid and they all use the same machine, do this before you install the software. Unless they separate accounts, you will not be able to determine who did what.
When you install the software, it will ask you to specify how each family member logs in. If your kids all use the same PC, then you can use an Administrator account to install the software and select not to monitor that account. Each kid would then have a standard account and each of those will be monitored separately.
Once it is all setup, you can login to the service and start monitoring and managing your childrens’ activities. Keep in mind that there is a 5 to 10 minute delay between the time a web site is browsed on the kids PC and the activity shows up in your browser window. This one got me when I was testing to make sure it worked.
If you want, you can just use the default house rules, which seemed pretty good to me. Alternatively, you can use the Settings menu to define all sorts of rules specific to your situation. For example, you can specify who allowed to instant message your children. You can also monitor whether your child exposes sensitive information on social networking sites. And most importantly, you can choose the activities in which you want to be notified (by phone or email).
Norton provides a pretty thorough and useful help file which you can access online. This includes a nice video that you might want to check out, it may be found on the sign-up page.
Let us know if you tried Norton’s OnlineFamily and tell us what you think. Or let us know if you think any other online software tools are better.