How Do I Track My Kid's Surfing?

Tammy Setzer wants a way to keep her children from deleting their Web browsing history.

The browsers, like Internet Explorer and Firefox, won't let you do that. In fact, they're going in the opposite direction. They're adding features to help users cover their tracks. (I discuss these tools in Selectively Delete Some of Your Browsing History.) That's wonderful for adults, but it's problematic if you need to protect your children.

What you need is child protection software--a program that will operate in the background, keeping track of what your kids are doing, blocking stuff you want blocked, and reporting back to you.

Before I recommend a program, I want to discuss the best way to use such software. I'm writing this not as a technical expert, but as a father with a grown son and two teenage daughters.

If you tell your children that you're going to monitor their Internet access, they're going to hate you for it (at least temporarily). But if you don't tell them, it will be far, far worse when they finally find out. It's best to be open with them, weather the storm, and seriously listen to their objections. Let them be part of the decision-making process about what will and will not be allowed, even though you, of course, must retain the last word.

And tracking their surfing habits makes more sense than blocking sites. If they know that you can see every site they visit, they'll learn to make wise choices, and isn't that what this is all about?

I recommend a brand-new program from Symantec called OnlineFamily.Norton, in large part because it encourages feedback between parents and children. It won't even let you hide the fact that you're spying on them. If they visit a site that falls into a category you object to (last I counted there were 47 categories), they will be told why they can't visit that site, and they'll get an opportunity to write you about it. You can block sites in the undesirable categories, merely monitor them, or have Online.Family warn the kids then allow them to proceed.

Online.Family can also block certain searches, monitor instant messaging, and control how much time your children spend on their computers. That last one is important. Too much time on a computer can be worse for a child than what they do on it.

The actual program is quite small, and runs in the background on your child's PC. You can monitor their activity from the Online.Family Web site, or be alerted to problems via e-mail.

OnlineFamily.Norton is free through the end of the year. Symantec isn't saying what it will cost after that. I suspect they'll charge for it as an ongoing service, rather than a one-time purchase.

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