We got the following letter from a reader this week:
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.
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.
Would YOU let a teen boy have a computer in his room? Comment below.