Monitoring online activity

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about my DS’s online activity. When DD was his age, we had one desktop and it lived in our living room. She got a laptop when she was in middle school, so she could do homework and so that she and I didn’t fight over computer time.  She knew that I had her passwords, that I could check at any time, and that if I ever saw that “quick close” when I walked in the room we’d have a TALK.  It seemed to work for her – she was very open with me, and has made it to (almost) 21 successfully.

DS has had a different route.  He’s grown up with multiple laptops in the house, bought his own laptop last year with money he earned, and has a lot more time alone at home than his sister did.

My main worry so far is the AMOUNT of time he’s online.  But I know that MS/HS is a tricky time and I worry about where he will visit and who he will talk to.Mostly I trust him, and we talk about a lot of stuff, but I also know that there is a lot more “stuff” out there than there was 8 years ago with DD.

How have you all handled this?  If your kids are still young, what have your thoughts been?  Is the old-fashioned route of talking about it, open communication, and some clear boundaries enough, or do we need more?

I was interested in this article in the NYTimes

Have you used any of these tools?  Is this going too far (reading every text to your kid’s girlfriend?) or the appropriate caution with today’s technology?


29 thoughts on “Monitoring online activity

  1. Well we share a laptop so it’s not as much of an issue and liza always asks and knows I can check the history if she’s used it without permission. She knows we can check her texts at any random time… and she can’t go online on her phone, only on her ipod for games and such…

    she’s not on FB and not really in a hurry to be so.. I guess it’s not such a big deal for us right now… maybe someday.

  2. My kids have been on-line since there has been and “on-line”. We started out many, many years ago with a row of about five computers in the basement, and over time, worked that into everyone having their own, in their own room.

    Now, if we want, we always could check on what our kids were doing as all of our computers run through our own server system. Husband has kinda peeked at the boys’ stuff a few times just to make sure there was nothing, um, illegal? No worries. All pretty mundane.

    Over all, it’s been great for our kids. They mostly hooked up with other really geeky kids and their computer skills are astounding. My daughter, for instance, swears that she learned more experimenting with her friends on line as a teenager than she did in four years of college. She is now, of course, a web developer. One of my sons “gamed” and traveled to Canada twice to participate in “Doom” events back before he was married. Middle son could go right now and take certification tests in more than one area and be able to pass with few problems. Youngest son is very shy and socially awkward, but somehow, he isn’t when he talks to his friends on-line. His room is across the hall from ours, and let me tell you, it’s like a party every night in there. They’re talking, singing, etc. And, of course, practicing on doing the weird, geeky computer things they do that in the end guarantee that they have skills we old folks would never dream of possessing.

    I try not to obsess over the amount of time they’re on-line by the time they are teenagers. So long as other obligations are being met, it’s their business. It’s an age when they need to start developing their own interests and deciding how they wish to spend their free time.

    As to FB…my kids started my FB account for me and insisted that I join. I think, in that circumstance, it’s pretty harmless. Of course, for nearly 20 years, we’ve preached internet safety and common sense messages. The kids have just kind of absorbed it in much the same ways as they absorbed such messages about dangers and concerns in “real life”.

  3. For right now, I am really wary of the kids being online. DD is only 8 and I can’t see any reason for her to be online, so it’s limited to school projects with specific online tasks (logging in to her reading program, for example, or learning how to use Google during library exercises at school). We have a little ways to go still before middle school, so I don’t know how I’ll feel in 5 years. At this point I envision the kids using a family computer for their needs, so we’ll see whether that changes.

    It’s been on my mind a lot, though. DD has a friend down the street who is home schooled and she (9) and her brother (6) both just got iPads. I’m assuming they are to aid in their school work, but they also get to use them to play. DD told me her friend wants to make a movie and DD will star in it. On the surface — how cute! I’m sure they could come up with a fun little story. But it totally freaks me out. Is this kid going to post it on youtube? Is something like DD changing into a costume going to knowingly or unknowingly get filmed? I’ve basically told DD just to not play with the iPad when she’s over there, and that if anyone ever tried to film her while changing that she needs to tell me. Ugh. I hate having to worry about this stuff.

  4. I don’t feel like I have much helpful advice but I can tell you what we did. My first concern was safety, so we had a rule that DS could never give out his real name and address. Imagine my surprise when a package arrived for him from a company I’d never heard of. He decided he wanted some free recycling stickers for a school project so he — gave out his name and address. That resulted in a 1-week restriction from the computer.

    The other thing I worried about was how much time he spent online. There were times when I unplugged the Internet; I remember doing it regularly at 10 p.m., and other times when it seemed like he was online excessively. I cut back on that kind of monitoring as he got older. You might think about having a “no Internet until mom or dad gets home from work” rule, if you think that the afternoons are spent too much online. It was simple to just unplug mine and plug it back in when we wanted it on. Of course, I was around to make sure it didn’t get plugged in when I didn’t want it to be. Afternoons would be tougher for that.

    DS recently informed me, when he saw me on FB, that “Facebook is just a way to procrastinate.” He didn’t learn that from me. I think that kind of stuff, funny as it is, is important for kids to figure out on their own, especially before they leave for expensive colleges!

  5. I feel a bit like a childless person giving parenting advice here, since I’m not really there yet. But from my safe end of the parenting timeline…here’s what we do and our future plans.

    We have a “family computer” on the kitchen counter. The kids can ask before they use it (we have screentime restrictions, so the answer isn’t always yes), and then they’re pretty unrestricted as long as there is an adult there. They can search youtube, google things, play various games, etc. My daughter did ask me about Facebook the other day (lord has she entered the tweens!!!), and I just laughed at her. I told her that it was illegal for her to have an account until she’s fourteen, and we would discuss it then. I think that social media is a big part of how kids communicate now, and cutting them off from it completely (as teenagers) is a bit like locking them in a closet for the weekend. Not really very fair.

    When they get older, we feel very strongly that computers do not belong in bedrooms. We have a play room just off the kitchen that will morph into a homework and computer area when they get a bit older (the toys are already vanishing alarmingly fast!). It’s in a fairly public area, but private enough that we aren’t looking over their shoulders. Mobile phones will stay in the kitchen when it’s bedtime. Internet when no one else is home is a bit more sticky. I’m not sure, to be honest. And phones these days have internet capability…even if we turn off the house wifi. But we have a few more years…who knows how things will have changed by the time they’re old enough to be home alone?!!

    That’s our plan anyway. You can feel free to laugh the same way I laugh when a pregnant mom says something about planning to get dad to do all the nighttime feeds. Or planning to get the baby to do anything at all really. :)

    • this is pretty much what A and I have settled on as well. (cue laughter.) At the moment, we don’t have the kitchen bench computer, but we have a laptop that’s around and we do have the iPads.

    • you don’t HAVE to get a phone with internet — Liza’s doesn’t have it and we have no plans for her to have it on her phone til she can pay for the data plan herself

      • Seth also has a “dumb” phone. He’s asked for a smart phone, and most of his friends have them, but I don’t see how he needs it. Leah got an iPhone when she went away to college, and even then I’m not sure it was “needed”.

      • True for now. That may not be true in a few years though. :) Already the data here is bundled with the phone…it’s hard to get a plan without it.

        But still a good point. They don’t NEED the latest technology. Even though they think they do. I think it will get harder to control rather than easier though….we’re all so plugged in these days that it’s a new kind of normal.

        • A relative with kids a little bit younger than mine also has reservations about too much tech stuff, and asked me what I was planning on doing in regard to cell phones. I laughed and pointed at the land line phone we have plugged into the kitchen wall. I know that’s not totally realistic in our culture, so I guess the only thing I can plan on for now is to remain cautious about whatever options come up.

          • I’ve found Liza having a cell phone to be invaluable in keeping in touch with her..but she also lives apart from me a week at a time.. but it really does help especially when I now routinely wait up late to go pick her up some where (a dance or other event) but as I said her phone has no internet on it so it’s not a tempatation to greater mischief..

            • I can totally see the comfort in that. Even now, there are days when I would like to be able to text DD and let her know I’m not waiting at our usual meet-up spot after school, but am in the car line instead. We’ll get there, and just like a lot of things I’ve worried about in the past, I’m sure once everything is in place with a phone or online activity I’ll realize I worried for no reason!

            • Yeah…LR is still too young (in my opinion), but the day is coming up fast when I’ll feel better if she has one. I sent her to her three day horse camp with an old one. Mostly because she was far away, I didn’t really know the people running it, and I couldn’t say with confidence that they would let her call if she needed anything (or felt unsafe). We both felt better for it. Once she’s in high school (two and a half years away!!!!), and walking to and from school, she’ll have one. It will likely be very old and embarrassing. No way is the kid getting an iPhone.

              • there’s a whole lot of middle ground between “old and embarrassing” and “iphone” Liza has an Samsung Intensity 2 and it’s adorable.. she buys new cases for it every once in a while, it has a proper keyboard, but no touch screen and no data plan and it’s perfect…

                    • well, I haven’t done an exhaustive search, but I do note that even pre-pay plans have data components. Hard to get phones that aren’t internet enabled, either.

                    • Yup. Except the old ones. As soon as you get a newer model, you HAVE to get the new sim card…and they’re all data enabled.

                  • we have a family plan for our phones that includes data plans for me and Kelly but not for Liza since her phone isn’t internet enabled… I see scores of them at our local verizon wireless store all the time…that’s odd you can’t get non internet phones in Oz

                    • you don’t want to know what you can’t get here in Australia… or what you can get.

                      Have I mentioned lately that koala bears are afflicted by an epidemic … of chlamydia

              • Wait — high school starts with 10 year olds in Australia? So interesting. How long does it last? Kids here are usually 13 – 14.

          • DS1 asked when he would get a cell phone — I said, “When you need it.” At some point in the next few years, it will become apparent that he needs the phone. My observation from working in a middle school is that most students have phones by 8th grade and that kids use the phones for all sorts of legitimate purposes — keeping parents in the loop, staying in touch with friends, etc.

          • We just got our entering 7th grader a phone. At that age they become more independent and it does become a pretty useful thing. He goes places with friends on his own, and I can get in touch with him, or he can call me when he needs to be picked up or to ask if he can go somewhere else. We didn’t have phones back in the day, but on the other hand, I could have found a pay phone to call home back then, and those don’t exist any more.

  6. Our boys are about the same age, so this is a great topic for me, too. So far, I still insist on no screen time (including TV) at all Monday through Thursday. This year, my DS has had some school projects that required using the computer mid-week. I know he cheated a little to use that time to watch videos or whatever, but he mostly kept to the rule. Unfortunately, the flip side of this rule is that the weekends are a computer-fest: if we don’t kick them off, they will play for hours on end.

    I refuse his requests for a smart phone, and I have told him outright that it is because I will not give him unlimited access to the internet at this time. Probably in high school.

    As to monitoring his use, we have two computers–my work computer and the kids’ computer (which is my old work computer). Their computer is a laptop, but it does not move–it’s on the second desk in my office. The idea was that I would be able to monitor their use, but I don’t. I rarely glance over to see what they are doing, and I am often in the kitchen or on a bike ride when they are on the computer. We’ve had the occasional talk over the years, mostly early on about violent games. A few months ago he left his FB account up, and I read his messages. I was appalled on several levels (language, unsafe dissing of older kids in another town, and some seemingly machista ideas about girls); my DH talked to him on that occasion (and interestingly, DS was deeply hurt that I breached his trust.) That said, most of his use runs to Minecraft, Smosh videos, and the like–at this point, harmless.

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