Friday, March 23

Internet Safety

In all honesty, internet safety isn't something I've spent much time thinking about. I have a young teenage son who is at the age when parents should begin to give thought to these things. But we talk. Yes, yes, I know that sounds terribly naive, but we really talk. Homeschooling since birth, we've been in a unique situation that has allowed us to really get to know each other without negative outside influences. #1, I really believe we'd know if he was developing a sexual curiosity in need of protection and #2, he knows we'd skin him alive if he engaged in inappropriate internet behaviour.

But yes, the day is soon coming when he can't help but be curious and for his own protection, we need to have some safeguards in place. Better early than late. I am not going to stop and think about how short a time those safeguards will be in place before he is a man on his own, making his own decisions. We've raised him well; I'm not worried about his choices. He'll make mistakes, but he'll learn from them. No, I just don't want to think about him not being here to tuck in at night. But I'm getting side-tracked. I'm supposed to be telling you about a good option for those 'safeguard' years.

My family has recently been using a program called Action Alert and I have been very impressed. The first thing that impressed me was that I forgot it was there. My geeky husband is in IT and occasionally samples programs so that he can give honest recommendations to customers and this is the first I've seen that didn't give me constant annoying messages. Of course, this can also be a bad thing. I had it set up to collect data on my computer and I forgot it was there, slowly filling up before it was quickly slowing down my computer. I couldn't figure out why things were suddenly becoming so slow to load! Well, if you're collecting data, you need to periodically empty those files and it doesn't take long to empty them. If you don't you will bog down your computer in a big way.

I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't immediately figure out what was slowing things down. I truly forgot I had loaded this program on my computer until it sent me an email that looked something like this:

That's right. Mama typed porn.

But I wasn't googling for it or anything. Honest. It really was in response to a prayer request from a friend. Ironically, the prayer request was about a teen struggling with porn.

I received a similar email when I was discussing the sex of potential farm animals. Yep. Mama typed sex. Violent words are also flagged. Now, this email simply gave me a chuckle and served to remind me that I had a program installed to protect against dangerous individuals such as myself.

I was seriously beginning to think I had picked up a nasty computer virus when I received this email:

That's right. 90% full before it occurred to me that the new program could be affecting my computer's speed. Once the file was perused and emptied, my speed was fine. I would recommend choosing a day each week for emptying the file, more frequently if there is a lot of computer usage in your house.

Did you see the option in that first email for shutting down internet access?  I can set it up to send me a message on my phone if my son starts to browse something inappropriate while I'm out on a date or something. With a click, I can shut down the internet even though I'm away from home. Awesome? Yes, but still not nearly all of the features of this program.

I've heard countless stories of parents being shocked when their child forgot to log out of facebook and the parents saw what they were really posting online. But those with something to hide, can often manage to hide it. Some parents think that being friended by their child means they see their child's facebook activity, but this is NOT so. Users can easily choose who sees certain posts with the click of a button. Private conversations and chat aren't seen by friended parents. And you could even be friended to a dummy facebook account. Some students are clever enough to sign up for two different accounts: one for the family to know about and one that is private. With Action Alert, you can actually see private chat conversations, regardless of passwords. And speaking of passwords, you can figure out any passwords logged in on your computer because Action Alert logs key strokes as well as screen shots. But a word on that:

There is no avoiding the fact that this level of safeguarding is, in fact, spying. You will be spying, plain and simple. It deserves to be thoughtfully considered before moving forward. How would you feel if your mother broke into your home and installed a program that would reveal to her everything you typed or read online? I'm not saying I'm opposed to doing it, I'm just saying that your child will not likely appreciate the invasion of privacy. I'm not opposed though. I'm the kind of parent that thinks there are times when it is a good idea to read your child's diary. Not in most cases, but there are times. Namely, those times when the Holy Spirit quickens your heart to know it is time. Sometimes, you just know, regardless of the smiling face your child presents, that there is something on their hearts that they aren't sharing.

If necessary, show them the evidence and confront them, but I believe some creative parenting can help children through those tough times without burdening them with the added humiliation of their inner secrets being naked to the world.  In other words, if you feel the need to spy, at least be a stealthy spy and don't embarrass them. Because they will be embarrassed. Years later. Even as an adult, it will hit them anew that their parents read their diary and saw their 14-year-old stupidity and might still be seeing them in the light of their 14-year-old ignorance. Just trust me on this. Don't embarrass them if you can avoid it.

Another option is to tell them ahead of time that they will be monitored so that you can prevent them making bad choices on the computer, but let's be honest: You are preventing them from making bad choices on THAT computer. You know it isn't the only computer they have access to.  Instead, I think the key is to talk, to build a relationship where kids feel comfortable sharing their struggles. That's right, a relationship of trust that involves spying.

So yes, if you are reading this, you're getting a review, a grossly contradictory morality lesson, and shady parenting advice all in one!

Back to the review. Site blocking is another basic feature. It comes with a list of already programmed sites that are blocked. You can also add sites you would like blocked to this list. Sites with  inappropriate content, even if they are not on the block list, are blocked. You can also block the entire computer for certain times of the day, locking it up for the night so to speak.*

It is incredibly easy to install and it is incredibly easy to uninstall. You don't need to be computer savvy to set it up. It is very user-friendly. My sweet geek made a short video for you here, if you'd like to see a small glimpse of the program in action.

But here is the amazing thing: it's free. Seriously. It's a FREE program. However, the free version is not fully customizable, it does not cover all of the social networking features I mentioned, and it is for one home computer only. There is a $29.95 version that includes everything and can be installed on all of your computers. Even if there was no free version, I would be singing this program's praises. I told you that we've looked into several different programs. Programs with comparable (but in my opinion, inferior) features run as high as $80 for yearly subscriptions! This is a one time download price of $29.95. And I highly recommend it. Granted, after hearing my parenting advice, you might be questioning the value of my opinion, but there it is. If you try it and don't like it, there is a 30 day money back guarantee.

1.  It only works with Windows-based computers.
2.  Some other reviews have mentioned problems with internet speed after installation. I did experience this, but only after a few weeks of filling up the file and bogging down my machine. Some have complained of problems within hours though, so there might be some other settings that need adjusted on your computer.
3. Some reviewers have noticed that it didn't block all inappropriate content. Once you've found a site that loads, you can specifically add it to your block-list. There will never be a way to block all the bad things out there.

To read other reviews of this product, be sure to visit The Old Schoolhouse Magazine's TOS Crew.

I received this material in exchange for my honest opinion as a member of the TOS Crew, and received no other form of compensation. For whatever they're worth, the opinions are mine and mine alone, as stated in my disclosure policy.


Nezzy said...

"Mama typed porn", Heehehehee!!! ...and your the one who gasped and threw here had over her mouth when ya read what I wrote Miss J. on her weddin' day!!! :o)

Oh girl, this program sounds perfect for those curious tweens and teens in the house. Sure caught 'Mama' didn't it?

Great review and lesson here sweetie.

Have yourself an awesomely blessed weekend. :o)

Granola Girl said...

It is really nice that it tells you who typed in what. I've always been frustrated with programs that just block words because they could be used inappropriately. I needed to do a school report in late high school. It was on breast cancer. I couldn't use a single school computer because the word "breast" was blocked. It is very nice that this program just informs you that certain information might be looked at and then allows the parent to use judgement on blocking or not. We're not a spying family. I am adamantly against it (though not against other families doing what they feel is right). Mainly, I think that was due to how my parents handled the issue and I'm scarred, but our son is still 7. Perhaps my opinion might change in a few years.

Jenn said...

Hilarious about the breast blocking! I can imagine the frustration. :D

I'm honestly shocked that any part of me is okay with spying. And I'm not in any way comfortable with it, but it's something I have done and at that time, knew it needed done.

I distinctly remember saying to myself that I would never EVER spy on my children. But then I saw my son's hurting heart and for the first time, he wasn't sharing those hurts with me. He has some anxiety issues and it turned out to be the best thing. It wasn't a huge deal, just issues with his brother, but without him knowing we'd read his thoughts, we were able to steer him through it.

I'm not saying it was right. Surely there was some other way to find out. We'd tried, but maybe not hard enough. It certainly was a quick and easy way to get to the bottom of things, but it could also be called the lazy way. Hmmmm. There seems to be another blog post in here, if I could sort through my thoughts on it a bit better.

Sweet Tea said...

Thanks for the smiles - too cute! Good info...wish we had been homeschooling since birth. We came late to this type schooling, just doing high school.

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