As my girls grow into young teens, as a father I do tend to worry quite a bit. I worry about them when they go out to a friend’s house, I worry about them when they travel, and yes, I worry about them on the Internet.
It isn’t so much a matter of whether they are going to do anything wrong intentionally, it’s a matter of what other people out there could potentially try to do – or what sorts of things they might accidentally stumble upon.
We’ve covered a number of programs and mobile apps to monitor your kids, like Mobile Defense for example. However, on many of those articles where we’ve mentioned monitoring your kids, the reaction was very mixed and often very emotional. Some people felt that monitoring your teenager’s activities was okay and important, while other people raised concerns about privacy and the rights of the kids.
With all of those things in mind, I would like to point out that it’s very difficult for parents today. Kids are brilliant when it comes to the Internet and technology, and if you ask many parents what their kids are doing on that computer up in their bedroom, parents wouldn’t even know where to start looking to find out.
Monitor Teenage Computer With Care4Teen
To help those parents, there is a powerful, free online service available called Care4Teen. Care4Teen is both an application and an online service. You install the application on the PC that you want to monitor, and then you can create an account at the Care5Teen website that serves as your “dashboard” into all activities that take place on that computer.
Obviously, if you’re at all paranoid about any application that can monitor all Internet activity and running applications on a PC, this isn’t the program for you. However, if you’re a worried parent, then installing this on a single PC used exclusively by your kid or kids is a good insurance policy.
When you first install the application, you have the option to install it as an Invisible application so your kids won’t be able to uninstall the app from the computer. Also part of the installation process, you’ll identify the process with your kid’s name, and the name of the computer that you’ve installed it on.
Once it’s installed, the first thing you’ll want to do is select the level of security that you want to enable. The restricted mode basically blocks all of the websites in the Care4Teen database where that most parents have identified as inappropriate for teens. Unrestricted mode allows everything through, but all websites are still monitored for inappropriate content – and those URL’s will get logged whenever such a webpage is identified.
The application also has the ability to intercept SSL-encrypted information, depending on what Internet apps your teen uses, and what level of encryption those applications use. In most instances, you’ll never need to enable this feature.
If you aren’t running the application in “invisible” mode, an icon for the app will show up in the taskbar, and any time your teen visits a website that has inappropriate content on it, a pop-up bubble informs them that they’ve just visited a questionable site. This is a notification that the website URL has been logged.
Not only does the software log the URL of the site that was visited, but it also triggers a short recorded screencast showing you exactly what your teen was doing on the computer at the moment that the inappropriate content was recognized.
From your online dashboard, you just click on the screencast link to watch the video in the embedded player right on the site. As you can see in the screenshot below, it isn’t just the browser window that’s recorded – it’s a full-blown, full-screen recording of the entire desktop while the alert was triggered.
Keep in mind that if your teen uses two screens, the screencast will only capture activity taking place on the primary screen.
The dashboard is just amazing. I was actually really surprised just how much the application captures about the active computer session. From your parent dashboard, you’ll see all of the recently visited websites (yes, ALL of them), as well as the different queries typed into the search engine.
What impressed me the most was the fact that you also get realtime feedback about all active processes that are running on the computer at any given time. That information is also logged with a timestamp for when the process was launched.
What makes the Care4Teen service somewhat unique is the fact that it isn’t the owners of the service that decide what website are appropriate or not – it’s actually the parents themselves. If you run in restricted mode, the computer will block all websites that the majority of parents have deemed inappropriate. If you disagree, you can “allow” that website on your teen’s PC. This also serves as a vote in favor of allowing that URL in the overall database.
When you click on the website log, you’ll also see an overview of votes for or against blocking the URL. If the “allowed” site outweighs the “block” side, the website will not be in the “banned” list. It’s interesting to see how close the votes are on some websites, like YouTube. I was surprised to see the website “bloody-disgusting.com” was allowed, which tells me that the parents doing the judging on Care4Teen are actually fairly liberal about what websites teens should or shouldn’t be visiting.
On the dashboard, you aren’t stuck to only realtime information or today’s data. Just click on the grid icon next to today’s date, and you can choose from the calendar to look back at activity on that computer from the past.
As you can see, this is a very powerful – and yes, invasive – application that allows absolutely nothing to hide. As a parent, you’ll know every website visited, every inappropriate word typed, and every program run on your child’s computer.
For me, it’s really about the pre-teen years – those years when your baby is still naive and vulnerable to many things on the Internet. I would personally never run software like this for an older teen, who should be much more mature and responsible, and capable of handling the independence of free reign on the Internet.
It is a great way to let my kids have their own computer in the comfort of their bedroom, while I can still act like a responsible parent and make sure that my young child – not quite yet a teen – is well protected and secure while traveling through the highways and byways of the big, bad Internet.
Give the service a shot and let us know if it puts your mind at ease as a parent too. Would you use it to monitor teenage computer use? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Young Girl Working Outside via Shutterstock
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