The Netnanny Diaries, or How to Keep your Teens Safe Online
This time of year, Americans everywhere are shopping and carefully wrapping gifts picked out for those special someones in our lives. Odds are, if that special someone is a teenager, that Christmas or Chanukkah gift, I’m talking the big-ticket item, will come with a screen.
Last year, my husband and I bit the bullet and begrudgingly gave our adolescent children a laptop. We rationalized that the laptop was a necessity for homework. Our children get assignments that have to be completed at online websites like Pearson’s Successnet. We further rationalized that the children would want to send the occasional email to a friend. Furthermore, we told our children the laptop was to be used in a common room like the kitchen.
But, laptops being what they are, and teens being who they are, my kids inevitably used their gift to chat with friends in the privacy of their rooms behind closed doors.
There are many pros and cons to this virtual social life. Through Facebook and Skype, my kids share their daily minutia with faraway friends without running up my phone bill. They will never know what it was like to have to wait until late at night for the phone rates to go down to place that long distance call.
Just one generation ago, having a phone line in one’s own room caused concerns for parents. Remember hiding under the covers with the phone?
Now, the Internet is the place where parents of teens feel like they are losing control. Will they become vulnerable to online bullying if they are not savvy to the nuances of social networking? Will one wrong click result in viewing inappropriate web content?
In a last-gasp effort to maintain some control of my kids’ online activities, I hired Netnanny. This is a content monitoring software program that allows parents to use customizable filters to monitor where kids can go online.
- parents can customize the program as they wish to limit or completely block sites containing violence, sexual or hateful language or images
- Parents can limit or completely block websites to games or sites that support online gambling
- parents can monitor posts or conversations on social networking sites like Faceboook
- Parents can also use Netnanny to put limits on Internet time. You can set how many hours a child can use the Internet, and what times of day these hours are to take place. If you don’t want your kids on the Internet after 10 on a school night, Netnanny shuts off Internet capabilities after 10 p.m.
Sounds great, right? Perhaps there are parents who use this program with success. However, our situation wrote itself out like a bad reality TV show that could have been called “Netnannies Gone Wild.”
My daughter’s Netnanny woes:
- One day, she wanted to go online to search for ski equipment on Dicks Sporting Goods’ website. Netnanny blocked her because the retailer also sold guns for hunting. Reason for blocking: possible violent content.
- When she wanted to do some online window shopping for some bathing suits on Landsend.com, Netnanny again pulled her back by the apron strings. This time: risqué sexual content. On Land’s End. Sure.
- When she needed to research a paper for social studies about racism, she could not enter certain sites because they contained “hateful language.” or images of swastikas.
- Finally, Netnanny blocked my daughter from Skyping with a friend in Israel. Perhaps the program detected a Middle Eastern ISP address and determined it was thwarting some kind of terror plot.
I did find Netnanny’s monitoring reports useful in terms of tracking what she and her Facebook friends were chatting about. However, Netnanny was a bit too overprotective when she deemed that “Hiya Hon, Luv ya” written by one of her BFFs was considered sexually explicit language.
My son had his own woes with Miss Netnanny
- He could play no games on miniclips.com. Wait, that was my intention. Miniclips always spread viruses on my computer and I find these games to be a complete waste of time.
- But, in an attempt to play an innocent game of solitaire, my son was blocked. Why? The game involved the use of cards: potential for online gambling. In my defense, I did block video games, but barring a game of solitaire was going a bit too far.
- My son is an avid guitar player. Often, he looks guitar tabs up to play the latest song he hears on the radio. But Netnanny blocked guitar tab websites. The reason: Music and entertainment, may have explicit language.
After a few months, Netnanny disabled and corrupted all of the laptop’s Internet capabilities. I needed outside help and turned to Microworx, a Brighton information technology company that specializes in computer troubleshooting.
It took several days and about $200 to free my computer from Netnanny’s clutches. When I called the company to ask for a refund, Content Watch, the maker of Netnanny, refused because the software’s warranty had expired. In the end, there is no substitute for giving your teens a good lesson in common sense, social networking etiquette and harsh warnings about not trying to search for anything illicit before you let them go online.
Excuse me, Content Watch, if I was not a fortune teller and could not predict your crappy software would cause my computer such problems.
In the end, we fired Netnanny. In the New Year, and the years to come, raising teens will come with many challenges. Now, it is navigating the information superhighway. Soon, it will be learning to drive on a real highway.
The best I can do is to offer my guidance and always let them know that if they need me, I will always be on the other side of that closed door.