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Is a Computer in a Teen Boy's Room a Bad Idea?

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We got the following letter from a reader this week:

boy using computer

We recently got my teenage son a computer to keep in his room for schoolwork. He needs Internet access for school, and in any case, we have wireless, so I don't think we could cut him off.

I am worried, however, that it will be too much of a temptation to have a porn-generating machine sitting in his bedroom.

What would be a good safety program to put on his computer? We have one on the family computer, but it tries to block almost everything -- news sites, Netflix, etc. Sometimes I wonder if it has a built-in political bias as well. I don't want to have to keep running to his room to type in the password to allow him to visit sites I approve of, but I don't want him to use his computer for porn, either.

--Worried Mom

We asked computer-safety expert Lori Getz to respond:

Lori Getz
: You are not alone in your concern! First, every expert will tell you that the computer belongs in a public place in the home, and not in the bedroom. I understand that there are lots of reasons you can give me as to why it HAS to be there, but let me explain: Kids (and teens) who have access in a private space are more likely to be exposed to inappropriate content (the "porn-generating" aspect you referenced), be part of a cyberbullying or sexting incident or become involved with a predator. The reason is simple: Unsupervised access means that kids will push the envelope further than normal. Even the best kids get sucked into situations where, without guidance, they may falter!

Here's an example. My friend's 12-year-old son was at the family computer (in a very public space). He was checking his e-mail. A friend sent him a video. The subject line read, "You HAVE to see this!" When he opened it, it was a video of two women engaging in oral copulation. He saw about two seconds of it before his mom leapt in front of the computer, screaming, "Nooooooooooo!" She actually pulled the plug (it was the fastest thing she could think of -- very resourceful).

Her son really didn't know what he was looking at -- but if he had been in his room, I guarantee that he would have watched the entire thing and then begun surfing the Web for more. Instead, he and his mom had a very uncomfortable yet honest conversation.

About 20 percent of young people (10 to 18 years old) have reported being cyberbullied in 2010. (This is way down from 2008, when a whopping 75 percent of teens said they'd been cyberbullied.) Yet more than half of the 2010 victims said they did not tell their parents. I recently polled 100 seventh graders, and they unanimously told me that the reason cyberbullying continues is because the perpetrators don't think they will get caught. All of this goes down to a lack of supervision. On a related note, a momlogic survey found that 44 percent of teens have been involved in a sexting incident, but only a quarter of those teens' parents knew anything about it.

All in all, the Internet is a fantastic resource, but it has its pitfalls -- and young people need guidance from their parents to keep it safe! If removing the computer from the bedroom is out of the question, I have other solutions.  

Filtering software is one option. I like SafeLinks.com. They are granular in their approach, so they can filter out the smut on YouTube without blocking the entire site. I really like filtering with younger kids. It's a great way to set expectations and remind them that not everything on the Internet is meant for them.  

When your kid starts doing more research online and you are now coming in every 10 minutes to put in your override password, it's time to dump the filtering software and turn on monitoring software. This is where you can turn off all filtering and just receive reports about where your children are going online. Puresight PC is a company I have worked with in the past, and I like the software a lot. They do both filtering and monitoring. The main difference between SafeLinks and Puresight PC is that you will get personalized service with SafeLinks and a customized filter. Puresight PC is a larger organization with a plug-and-use interface; their technical support is mostly online.

If you are on a Mac, everything you need is already built-in! No need to purchase any third-party software at all. 

I hope this answers your question. For a short demo on using parental-control software, please click here.

Would YOU let a teen boy have a computer in his room? Comment below.


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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jamie RN June 24, 2010, 5:39 AM

NO REASON for any teen to have their own computer/laptop in their room. Computers belong in the family room for the family to use -whether that be for schoolwork or shopping. All these kids with their own computers are why we have self-entitled, spoiled brats.

anonymous June 24, 2010, 7:53 AM

Can you have both filtering and monitoring software on a computer?

Wendi June 24, 2010, 8:33 AM

No computers in my kids’ rooms. They we have several computers in the house and all in the same area. I watch very carefully what my kids are looking at and I even go and check the history to see where they have been. They know this and if anything I don’t like comes up the computer is taken away from them, no chances. I do not allow them to have messaging going on and really they don’t even have email. It just opens the door up for big problems. My kids are 13 and 15 and they know that it is for their safety.

Quentin June 24, 2010, 9:12 AM

I found this article very interesting to get another perspective on the subect of having computers in private rooms. I myself am a 23 year old male and have had a computer in my room since I was 14.

From the ages 11 till 14 the computer was in the guest bedroom this way we could have privacy for chatting with friends all the while not being private enough to get too mischievious online.

I have encountered those dishonest people in my early years in chat rooms but you quickly get sick of the a/s/l (age, sex, location) that would quickly lead to childish bullying or sexual tauntings. I believe having my parents warning once in awhile about chat rooms AND experiencing them, made it easier for me to learn to second-guess everything I read and see online before considering it to be the honest truth. Now, whether I’m reading articles for projects (which aren’t always of sure sources) or talking to someone claiming to be a friend of my sister’s, I know not to be guliable thanks to the computer smarts I acquired throughout the years.

My generation, and even more so for the newer one, needs to know computer smarts so I believe that a computer should be in a more private area. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the bedroom but maybe a more secluded area of the house instead of the family room with the screen visible from everyone watching tv on the couch.

I will admit that having a computer in your room does sometimes lead you to going to sites you know your parents wouldn’t approve of but this doesn’t mean they’ll make bad desicions later on in life or get addicted to porn surfing. Letting your kids know that you will check the history will keep them in check. Just make sure you make it a rule not to erase the navigator’s history.

I also think I’d rather have my kids have a peek at these innopropriate sites in my own house then somewhere else because if the idea has crossed their mind to see what it’s about they will find a way to do it wether you like it or not. Forbidding it or just making it compleatly impossible (since very few parents will encourage their kids to take a peek), will just make the urge to look up porno sites more appealing as we all know that forbidden fruit is always desired.

This might be all a little too progressionist for certain which I understand because a parent feels like they should be protecting their kids but even if they don’t see it for their eyes they will hear about it from someone else and that version might be even worse than what they would have looked into themselves.

Another good reason for having a computer in a more secluded area would be the obvious reason that working on a paper when a sibbling is watching their favorite tv show in the background is not the ideal environment for productivity. In addition playing games or watching streamed tv shows is more enjoyable when it’s not in a room with constant activity which can distract you from your down-time.

A more constructive reason for having an internet-accesed computer for kids/teens in a calm area with little supervision is the simple fact that many parents are not able to talk to their kids about the “important talks of life”. Some parents are able to but many times in this case it’s the child that has a hard time not just sinking in the back of their head from embaressement no matter what the subject. I knew going through puberty I sometimes had questions about different things and using the internet instead of asking embarassing things to my parents made it easy. I just kept in mind to check many different sources to not just take one site as my income of knowledge on the subject. Let your children know to trust more government or association-type sites than any blog or homemade site they could come across.

The bottom line to all this would be basically to inform your kids about the dangers that can arise and let them know that a computer always has traces of the activity as deleating never really deleats the information from the computer’s memory. Then tell them you trust them to make the right decisions and if you find things have gone too far they will have their computer rights taken from them.

Also make sure you tell your kids that if they find anyone or anything disturbing online that they can talk to you about it freely. If they are too shy, they can leave the room and let you see what might bother them; you can even talk about it on paper if it’s uncomfortable for one or the other. This would only close the gap between kids/parents and create trust in each other.

Hope this has given you another perspective on this subject and some things can be found useful to all you mothers out there.

Kate June 24, 2010, 4:54 PM

This article is offensive. As a girl, I began watching and reading pornographic material around the age of twelve and have continued that habit into adulthood. Far from being the evil this article portrays, I viewed porn for sexual satisfaction and education on a regular basis and still occasionally view it for my own pleasure today.

My parents made the wise decision to educate me on the real world. From a very early age, I was spoken to frankly about drugs, alcohol, smoking and, yes, porn. They made sure that I was well aware of the realities. Still, I chose to view porn and I firmly believe that the decisions I’ve made regarding my sexual life as a teen, and now as an adult, have been positively influenced by viewing porn.

Instead of scarring me or ruining my young life and propelling me into sexual deviance and promiscuity as this article seems to imply, porn liberated me from “needing” to seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere. When I chose to have sex for the first time, at the age of sixteen, I did so in full knowledge of the decision I was making. I sought birth control beforehand and we used additional protection in the forms of condoms and spermicides with each and every encounter. I didn’t expect beautiful, magical sex and wasn’t heartbroken when it didn’t happen, as so many girls are. Instead, I have no regrets because I began the experience with a tremendous amount of knowledge and confidence about my sexual self.

Despite my porn viewing and my sexual life, I graduated Salutatorian of my high school class and received a full scholarship to my top-choice university. I held down a full time job and graduated with honors and went on to graduate school to boot. Although I continue to view porn, I do not drink (ever), have never smoked, and have never sampled any illegal substance. I am a highly educated, highly productive member of society. Today I am happily married and the mother of two, and I still view porn occasionally. It hasn’t ruined my life; it never gave me false expectations of my sexuality; it didn’t turn me into a deviant. On the contrary, I believe and my husband believe, we’re both the better for it (that’s right—he had a computer in his room, too).

Rube June 24, 2010, 6:24 PM

I’ve had a computer in my room since I was six. It was a terrible influence, I ended up learning how to program and by the time I was 13, I was doing freelance network consulting. No joke. There I was, setting my own hours, earning $25 an hour minimum. Do you want your kids to fall prey to that? Can you imagine the irreversible damage that was done to me when my parents allowed me to tutor at the local community college, or run my own businesses?

{end sarcasm.}

Look, kids will look at stuff they shouldn’t, that’s normal. I looked at all kinds of things, from porn to propaganda, and it mostly taught me what I didn’t want to be a part of, and where my lines were. Ultimately, the ‘risks’ are extremely minor relative to the potential utility and reward. If you take the time to teach and talk to your child, there is almost no risk at all.

Kate and Quentin are right, and both of them wrote better responses than the ordained expert. By the time I was ten I knew most all filter software was a joke, and I could defeat it at my school, library, and anywhere else I ran into it. Stop fighting an uphill battle and just talk to your kids.

Matt June 24, 2010, 8:30 PM

I as a boy find this article as well as this entire site to be sexist. You might as well be partners with lifetime “men are terrible and will hurt you because this is lifetime” anyway, boys aren’t the only ones who watch porn, I am 16 and occasionally view it, my parents trust and respect my privacy which is more than I can say about some of you neurotic crazies. Currently, I have a rank of 5 in my junior class, and have never touched illegal substances or alcohol, other that the occasional sips from my parents if were being completely honest. I also learned to program by the age of 13 I currently know Java, C#, C++, and python, I help my uncle who owns a computer programming business as build my own projects. The point of this article shouldn’t be about teen boys, but teens in general. Next time try not to be so sexist and neurotic about your son having a computer in his room and learn to trust and respect his privacy.

pharmacy technician June 25, 2010, 5:58 AM

What a great resource!

alor July 15, 2010, 3:48 AM

this is useful infirmation, but for parental control I prefer to use Actymac DutyWatch (actymac.com)…


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