Over the years, parents have come to me with the question of how they can protect their kids from things on the internet. Meanwhile, the kids themselves are less keen on mom getting advice of that sort from the youth minister. I tell them that if they don’t have anything to worry about it shouldn’t matter. And ultimately, the most important action a parent and child can take is to have the kind of covenant relationship where Biblical values are passed on and lived by. Any checking up after that is ensuring the covenant is not broken, and is not replacing the coversation that must take place before any monitoring is done.
Here are the notes from my most recent “MySpace Class”
The question: How can parents check into what is going on with their youth on MySpace?
This raises another question that must be attended to first; where does a parent draw the boundary between privacy and responsibility? That depends on the parent and the youth. I personally believe that whatever policy you pursue with your youth, a covenant should be clearly communicated with reasons as to why you are doing this, out of care and protection, rather than your youth finding out inadvertently. Better to communicate love than to let them attribute your actions to snooping.
Whenever a youth adds a friend to their page, their page is visible to all of that persons’ friends. In other words, whatever you share with Sally you’ve now shared with all of Sally’s friends. The argument for privacy becomes mute when you’ve already shared your information with the rest of the world. Some parents have used this fact to their advantage by creating their own page and being added to their youth’s page. Provided the youth is not secretly operating another page under another name or social networking site this can be a good policy. It also means you are connected with all of their friends. That can be a good thing. I have also seen it be a bad thing. A stepfather who didn’t like a boy in the youth group made threats against him online and statements against other people.
There are methods of monitoring the online activity of your youth. Then there are numerous ways of subverting those methods. Below I have outlined some of the methods for monitoring, methods youth may take to cover their tracks, and how you can come back with the upper hand. Ultimately however, we cannot play games forever. The only for sure thing is that youth adapt for themselves the biblical values that you have passed down to them, not merely because it is their parent’s faith but because it is their own.
• You can use software to monitor the keystrokes, screen images, and every piece of data that goes on at your computer
Circumvented by: Separate user accounts created by the youth
Parent prevention: Set yourself up as the administrator on your computer and select that other users cannot change system settings
Circumvented by: Use of a proxy server that masks the activity of the user
Parent prevention: disable proxy sites as a keyword through your software. Set up an account through OpenDNS.com so that anything that gets past your software will not make it past the computers that connect you to the internet. Think of it as another wall of defense.
• Plug a device into the USB port on your computer that automatically monitors and blocks content on your computer
Circumvented by: unplugging the device
Parent prevention: if you notice that the logs you are reading have large gaps in them, you at least know that your youth is hiding something
Parental Control through Operating System
• Set up your internet browser and your operating system (XP, Vista, Mac) to block questionable content
Circumvented by: youth installs a separate browser and/or operating system and browses from that
Parent prevention: browse for “cache” and “history” files and you’ll find a plethora of content from whatever has been viewed. Look for programs that speak about dual booting, boot sectors.
Peer to Peer file sharing
• Used to pass files and information directly between persons with a minimum of servers and somewhat under the radar since a web browser is not used
Parent prevention: disable program installs or monitor through software monitoring. Programs typical utilize the Gnutella network and include BearShare, Limewire, and others. Look for variants on the BitTorrent protocol and Instant Messaging programs such as AIM, ICQ, and Adium.
Again, these are techniques to help you protect your youth from dangerous activity. They should never be used without a Christ centered covenant with your youth. Snooping is not the answer, laying out an agreement that is Biblical is. These are to ensure that the covenant is not broken, as temptation is often close to overpowering in the hormonally saturated an media ravaged mind of a teen. As the theory of the panapticon illustrates, sometimes just knowing someone is watching is enough to stave off temptation. And in a generation already known for it’s social awareness and connectedness, there will always be