On monitoring online kids

Some parents continue to wonder how privacy they should allow their children, where online activity is concerned. Of course, there is no simple answer even in a single household. Even in a family we may have rules and values that apply to all, but in so many cases different ages require different rules, and each child is individual where rule compliance, maturity, and trust levels are concerned. Having said all that, though, I will add that no parent should hesitate to use monitoring software if s/he's concerned about a child's safety. If you feel your child's communicating a little obsessively online with someone you don't know and the child's otherwise acting a little strange (for example, spending too much time online or being secretive about his or her online "friends"), her privacy is simply not an issue; you're keeping her safe. But a commentator in the New York Times suggests there are other reasons to use monitoring software that make it perfectly justifiable, and he makes a compelling argument, but – again – I think it depends on the child. "Will your teenagers find other ways of communicating to their friends when they realize you may be watching? Yes. But text messages and cellphones don’t offer the anonymity and danger of the Internet. They are usually one-on-one with someone you know. It is far easier for a predator to troll chat rooms and MySpace and Facebook." I agree about the trolling that happens on the Web, but he's missing the fact that 1) young people can share phone numbers via chat, IM, and social-networking sites which can be used later to call them on their cellphones (see "Grooming by phone too"), and 2) 90% of child sexual-exploitation victims know the offender (see "Sex offenders on MySpace: Some context"). But, speaking of MySpace and Facebook, this other perspective on teen social networking might be helpful too: "Dispelling 2 social Web myths."

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