If there’s ever been a touchy subject to deal with parents, it’s the raising of their children. Unfortunately in some cases it can be even worse if the parents know their own deficiencies but choose instead of facing them to let poor behaviors continue. (It’s not hard to be an Ostrich with your head in the sand.)
…on that note, has anyone ever seen an Ostrich with its head in the sand? But I digress.
I’m going to do my best to avoid dwelling on my own thoughts about parenting. It would be particularly hypocritical since I am not actually a parent but I try my best to not ignore the things I see in life. With that in mind:
- How well your kids trust you will reflect in if they resemble the Beav or your friendly local CIA agent.
- Do not underestimate their intelligence simply because they can not properly form a sentence. There is a distinct difference between intelligence and knowledge.
- Do not fool yourself into thinking you can stop them from doing something absolutely stupid. In fact they intend to. They just don’t realize it yet.
So rather than locking them in their room and taking away their keyboard, I’d push people towards these do’s and don’ts:
- Know what your kid is doing and viewing!
Now understand, teenage boys… well, we are what we are. I do however know of one recently who was big into anime. His parents had no idea what it was and hadn’t looked into the subject. For those who aren’t in the know, much anime is paramount to porn and a lot of it gets pretty violent. Your child is going to seek out porn but you’d better talk to them before their friends at school do.
- Recognize when their computer use dwells on anti-social behavior.
Some kids are not happy. Some of them are going to frequent very dark corners of the Internet and understand when I tell you that their are very dark corners. (I don’t intend however to fall back on my first point.) I want to illustrate that sometimes this can have a very detrimental affect on their lifestyle and behavior. Those who don’t ignore the warning signs can divert problems at school or potentially tragedy.
- Do promote their interest in computers.
Draconian controls are something to fight against. It would seem that desire is in our genes. With this in mind, you should recognize the ways they use their computers and the information available on the Internet when it’s valuable to their future.
- Do not leave them with an Internet connection and a license to kill.
If you don’t know what’s going on over the Internet connection you pay for every month then you are delinquent in your responsibilities. You need to monitor this connection. (I’ll address this more below.)
- Do not avoid opportunities to ask others who have been around.
If you see something or hear something you don’t understand, research it. Talk to friends or perhaps teachers. Do searches on Wikipedia and try to keep as up-to-date as you can. In this digital age this is not easy but raising kids never is.
- Don’t show your cards!
If you learn something and you tell them how you learned it, they will figure out how to avoid letting you learn anything in the future. Once again, this goes back to my second point under the list of Do’s.
- Try to avoid being draconian.
Learning and innovation comes when people are allowed to think free and express themselves. With this in mind, if you are dealing with an issue don’t lock the keyboard in the closet. They’ll just borrow one from a friend and hide it under their mattress. The more responsibility you give them, the less they’ll try to hide the things they do.
With all this in mind (and once again I do apologize for the potential hypocrisy of my very subjective comments) I want to give some actual advice on technical things you can do to take the upper hand.
Avoid anything that runs on the computer they use.
This includes key loggers, web control products, internet filters, IM loggers or any other type of local control. It’s a waste of time. They are going to find a way around it. The ways are easy. They know them. For that reason alone, here’s how you get around them (and how they WILL get around them):
- Remove hardware key loggers. If they lock onto the case, get a USB keyboard and hook it up to an uncontrolled port.
- Download a liveCD operating system from the Internet and boot off that CD. This will eliminate all operating system controls on the computer itself and leave no trace of what was done while under the liveCD OS.
- Software-based control programs can be disabled in most cases provided you have local administrative access. And even if you don’t, I know most home PCs aren’t patched in time. Wait until a vulnerability is posted, crack the local machine and bust the control software. Install a backup admin user and use it only when necessary.
So parents, are you ready for the game of cat and mouse? If you’re going to trust anything on the computer they use then that’s the game you will be playing! You’re probably not up to the task so don’t subject yourself to it!
Do not use the same computer as them.
I understand it can be cost prohibitive but do what you can to have your own computer (preferably a laptop) and do not let them use it! Why do I recommend a laptop? It’s harder to put a keylogger on a laptop without the person knowing it. (Of course by this I mean you use the keyboard on the laptop and not an external keyboard which would eliminate this strength.)
Also make sure you use strong passwords and you keep them in a safe place! (Preferably your head!) They will likely guess or figure out your password if it’s easy. Also DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR PASSWORDS! Under no circumstances does anyone else need your password. I don’t tell anyone my passwords… parents, girlfriends… anyone. Don’t make exceptions and your life will be a lot easier.
Talk to your ISP about restricting access to your network connection.
This is mostly applicable to those who have high-speed connections (DSL or cable for example.) Understand that any controls you put into place can be easily by-passed when they (will) plug your line into their own computer or another piece of hardware borrowed from a friend. At that point they own the connection. Game over man, game over.
Hopefully your ISP will be helpful and set it up so that your modem or router cannot be disconnected and still allow the line to work.
Setup network monitoring and gateway control
This often means installing a piece of hardware which will cost money. Still you’re talking about a one time charge to help you keep aware of what’s going on with your Internet connection. I recommend not ever telling your kids what you’re doing. Unless they run afoul of filters the rest should be transparent. Once again this goes back on not showing your cards but using a gateway or network monitoring tool, you can see into the details of what they are doing. This is not a free chance to tromp on their privacy and break their trust but it is good information. Like I keep saying, our government doesn’t do unlawful wiretaps to prosecute people. They do it so that no one gets hurt. They’re not going to slap a subpoena in your face and you should act th