Big Brother's In The House

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I am amassing a long list of failed parental control software programs. We have a hodgepodge of products we've been using for a while, but I long for something comprehensive, web-based, and less frustrating for protecting my independent and tech-savvy kids.

What I'm looking for is the tech equivalent of a bike helmet. These are kids who've already been online for years. At 10 and 11 years old, they are more comfortable online than most adults and probably more cautious. When they were first starting out, we did a TON of talking about safety, signed a contract, and trust them to share their online activities with us, which they do. They even enjoy ratting each other out, as most siblings do. But, we're not stupid.

Back in the day, we (the elders) looked up "dirty" words in the library's copy of the Oxford Dictionary or the appropriate volume of the encyclopedia. Occasionally, we scored a copy of National Geographic or, if you were really lucky, a porno mag. The upside to that process of satisfying our curiosity was that the information available to us was finite, and mostly educational. Someone, somewhere, had deemed it worthy of printing on paper. They'd spent some money on it. A librarian, or someone's parent, had purchased it. Let's just say it made for a small pool in which we swam.

Now, take that natural curiosity to the Internets, and it's a Whole New World. Try a Google search for "naked people." (Or don't, really.) If you do, I promise you'll learn some things. Things you did not want to know. Images you did not want to see. You will grab for the nearest utensil and begin poking your eyes, but it won't help. Bathing in bleach will not turn back the clock. You will never go back to your life as a simply gutter-minded adult who thought s/he knew a little somethin' somethin'.

In order to manage the natural curiosity of tweens and teens, I've stocked the bookshelves and magazine racks in our home with the requisite titles on puberty, sexuality, and the like. We've jury-rigged some software on the family computer, and I continue to test products looking for that elusive software that will Do It All.

This month I'm demo-ing Sentry Parental Controls. So far, it looks promising.

I like that it's partially web-based, emails me reports of security breaches, and allows me to send good old-fashioned system messages to their computer from my laptop (or another online machine). I can even have chats with them via the software. Best of all, I can watch live screen shots of that computer's desktop, see what software Peanut is running, or watch Bug play online.

Hubby doesn't like that it's web-based and provides live screen shots as it makes him nervous about the overall security of that computer -- accessing it from the web, through the firewall. So, more research is necessary.

I also like the price for the version we're trying out, Sentry Parental Controls Total Family Protection (2.99/mo.), and the fact that I don't have to pay extra for upgrades.

Lest you think I'm sneaky and spying on my kids, I'm not. They know all about the software and have even enjoyed seeing the live screen shots and chatting with me (except when I'm asking them to do something). I think that being in their generation, and being in a family of tech savvy people, they even feel a little freer knowing that there's a bit of a safety net. They, and we, know it's not foolproof, but neither is that bike helmet. Falls happen. At least we're adding a little cushion.

Now, if only they paid me to write this...back to selling books on half.com.