How to spy on your kids online

Here’s how I busted my son looking a nudie pics on my phone.

He often plays on my iPhone in bed for a few minutes while I put his brother and sister to bed. I try to limit the time strictly but one night I totally lost track and it was well past his bedtime. I walked in, announced it was bedtime, snatched my phone from him, flicked the lights off and said goodnight as I walked out the door.

“But Mum,” he yelled out. “Go to sleep,” I yelled back.

Then I looked at my iPhone. Porn. My nine-year-old son had been looking at porn. Why, you ask? Well, his explanation went something like this: “I typed in ‘spiders’ and then I typed in ‘Spiderman’ and then I typed in ‘sex’ and all the pictures came up.”

“This isn’t sex,” I patiently explained. “I don’t want you to think this is real. It’s all silly. Real sex is about love and connection and relationships. If you are curious about sex I want you to talk to me.”

“Okay Mum”.

It was a big wake-up call for me that my son was growing up. But I never thought I’d have to worry about stuff like that when he was only 9. And it reinforced to me that no matter how Big Brother-like it may feel, parents need to spy on our kids online.

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We have to know what they are looking at, whose influence they are under and what they want to know about. We need to know who they are talking to, who is talking to them and what is being said. What sorts of conversations are our children having? Even something as benign as online gaming can lead to communities of strangers who start making contact with your kids.

Here are my top 8 tips for keeping your children out of trouble online:

1. Spy on their text messages

There’s an app every parent should have on their smart phone called TxtWatcher.com. It silently monitors your phone text messages and location. It records copies of them. It translates things like B which is text-speak for beer. It even sends out alerts you when a message is sent with inappropriate language.

2. Limit usage time

MyMobileWatchdog.com can turn off apps and block websites as well as limit usage. If you set a time limit, you can set your device to switch off. Then tell your kids the batteries have run out or it’s broken and hand them a book. Hopefully they don’t ever clue in to what the real issue is but one they do just pre-warn them. An hour means an hour.

3. Spy on everything else

To keep tabs on the sites your children are using and searches they are inputting definitely head to MyMobileSpy.com. You’re basically shadowing your child’s activity. And it doesn’t all have to be sinister. I can’t think of a better way to find out which is the perfect birthday gift or steer them towards activities they are genuinely interested in.

This site is especially handy for teenagers who tend not to communicate as much, even the most basic things. Parents of teens, you know what I mean!

4. Sign up to all the sites they visit.

A police officer conducted an ‘online safety’ seminar at my son’s school and his top tip for keeping children safe online is to use the sites they are using. That means parents need Facebook pages. Children need to ‘friend’ their parents. Sign up to all the same social media sites and learn how they work. Follow your kids on Twitter.

You can’t monitor your children if you don’t at least have a basic understanding of what they’re doing and how they are doing it.

5. Place your computer in a communal area.

It is fine for your children to have computers in their rooms for homework and such but to truly avoid future problems the advice is to get rid of the WiFi. This is an extreme measure and maybe you can keep it in your back pocket for when a problem emerges. That way they can’t secretly visit restricted sites or even get involved in potentially nasty conversations without you at least being aware that they are upset.

6. Browse your browser’s history.

This is so easy to do. All you do is sit down and type in each letter of the alphabet. Everything they have searched for will come up so you can identify the flags yourself.

7. Fake profiles.

If you’re really worried you can always set up fake email addresses and fake profiles to try and engage your child in conversation. Test their interaction. See if they ‘friend’ you even if they don’t know you.

8. Keep talking to your kids about appropriate usage.

To quote Dr Phil (what took me so long), “Just because you kids ignore you, doesn’t mean they haven’t heard you.” Keep the conversation going. Remind them of appropriate online behaviour. Chat about your online experiences. Try and engage them so if a problem has arisen they know their rights, they know there is recourse and they know you can help them.

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