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Internet Security & Parental Controls for the New Family Computer

This post is sponsored by DELL and their new Inspiron All-in-One 2320 Computer which is also up for grabs for giveaway. (See the entry rules below.) Thanks DELL!

As I mentioned, we’re taking great care welcoming the new family computer into our lives and generally slowing the process down. Life moves too fast. Gratification is too easy. I want my son to realize use of this new computer will be a privilege, not a right. As it is, he currently earns access to screen time on my computer through rewards accomplishing daily tasks and goals (except for homework) and we’ll be keeping that process in place.

Parental Controls for the Family ComputerThis morning, I spent a bunch of time researching online safety measures to put in place for when the new computer arrives. What I discovered is that there are lots of tools and software that can help give me and my husband a little bit of comfort when my eight-year old son is on the computer independently.

But we won’t need all of the software safety monitoring programs out there and available for purchase. For example, we’re not at the point where my son will be having his own email account or using social networking sites other than perhaps the ones geared to kids his age– and happen to have very strict security measures already. There will be no Facebook or Twitter for the foreseeable future. There will be no instant messaging or chatting at this point.

Basically, I’ve broken down our family’s main computer security needs at this point to the following:

1) Web Filtering: control and or restrict what my son can search, see and read online.
2) Activity Monitoring: get reports on my son’s computer use including time spent, websites visited or tried to visit, and games and programs used. (I have mixed feelings on this one, but he is so young and even though it feels very “spy” and Big Brother I want to use it as a conversation starter with my son.)
3) Time & Program Management: limit the amount of time my son uses the computer and programs used
4) Antivirus & Overall Internet Security Software: software to protect against and remove internet viruses and malware.

There are also software programs that can monitor and log all internet, email and IM/chats with transcripts. And, services that monitor social networking activity and alert parents to concerning activity. Like I wrote above, I’m not at that stage where we need them just yet.

A happy surprise from my research is that much of my “computer security” needs look to be already built into my new computer. The Dell Inspiron One 2320 Touch we’re getting (and, maybe you too– don’t forget to read about and enter the giveaway below) comes installed with Windows 7, the most recent version of the Microsoft operating system. According to The Online Mom, “Microsoft has made tremendous strides in the area of parental controls” since the release of Windows 7’s predecessor, Vista. When I checked out Windows Live Family Safety program I read that, indeed, many of our needs should be addressed with its parental controls. Yay! However, if I feel that we need additional coverage, it looks like Net Nanny 6.5 may be our top choice as according to PC Magazine it does some really good job filtering: “Net Nanny masks profanity on non-blocked Web pages. Rather than block perfectly valid news stories because some users have posted obscene comments, Net Nanny simply replaces the profanity with punctuation marks—nice!”

That leaves me only needing Antivirus/ Security Software, or does it? The Dell Inspiron One 2320 Touch we’re getting comes built-in with a 15-month subscription to McAfee Total Protection. The PC Mag review for the 2012 version of McAfee Total Protection is not out yet, but reviews for 2011 are good, not great. I’ll wait to see the 2012 review. Otherwise, I may invest in the Norton Internet Security 2012 suite which looks to have knocked the ball out of the park.

I’m putting these parental controls into place so I don’t have to constantly look over my son’s shoulder all the time and can let him navigate the the web independently without drowning himself in the process. But, these so-called parental controls don’t mean much without an initial conversation with my son about the excitement of being on the computer, but also the importance of staying safe. I want to slowly introduce him to the great world that exists out there — the one from where I have learned so much and made so many lasting friendships– but still keep him safe. Even though when the internet opened up to the masses I was already an adult, I don’t have the prejudice of the internet of being a big-bad place, but rather an integral part of our real lives. I know that risks exist like they do in many, if not all, other aspects of our lives. But I also know that with good judgment, those risks are mitigated.

Setting up your computer for parental controls looks easy. Now helping your child develop good judgment, that’s the time-consuming part. But that’s Parenting.

Anything else I should be considering in terms of parental controls for the computer for my 8-year old?

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THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. STAY TUNED. I WILL PICK A WINNER RANDOMLY AND GET IN TOUCH WITH HIM/HER. THEN MAKE AN ANNOUNCEMENT.

Giveaway Rules:
This giveaway will run until Friday, October 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT and is open to all U.S. residents. A winner will be chosen at random using Random.org from all eligible entries. Each reader has 3 chances to win by leaving a separate comment on each of my Dell posts (this is the second of three), and Dell posts by other bloggers participating in this campaign (you can find those posts at the Family Tech topics page). The chosen winner must respond within 48 hours of notification to claim their prize. Good luck!

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