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Dad takes control

My kids and the Internet will ultimately be the death of me

By Peter West, Senior Web Developer, IBC Publishing (IT Reseller Magazine)

I have three boys aged 4, 10 and 13 years; and, like all children they are only interested in what’s bad for them. I have been involved in the media as a web developer for more than 10 years so I encourage my children to explore computers and the Internet and have devoted a whole room in my house to computing. I have three computers in that room that are networked and utilise a 2 MB broadband connection—I need three computers at home to avoid arguing about whose turn it is next.

For a long time, I have been saying to myself that I must take control over what they are looking at on the Internet, but life is so hectic and time is in short supply.

The two older boys are completely into Microsoft Messenger, talking to all their mates and god knows who else and web sites like Habbo Hotel, which is a virtual hang-out pixelized as a five-star luxury hotel plus many more web sites and applications there to tempt them.

It got to the stage where every evening my wife and I would have to gate crash the computer room and force them to turn off the computers and into bed. It caused serious arguments between us all and I started to notice that the 10-year old was becoming addicted to the computer. He would come in from school at 4 PM and stay there until 8 PM, ignoring homework and any kind of civilised conversation.

I had to act so I sat down one evening after a successful SAS style computer room kid clearing operation. I opened Google and typed "parental control software" into the search box, which returned 3,920,000 results. So I started to wade my way through the offerings. I knew what I wanted, something simple that I can download right away as a trial that would control what they look at and would boot them off the computer at a reasonable time every evening.

It turned out that one evening was simply not enough time to integrate this new parental control strategy. I ended up devoting a huge amount of time to this problem over the next 10 days, downloading various programmes but a for one reason or another they were either too complicated or just did not have the functionality I was looking for. One or two of them didn’t even work at all. There I was feeling very smug one evening as I was telling my wife that in exactly two minutes and 34 seconds the computers would boot the kids off and all would be well. Thirty minutes later I ended up looking like a mad obsessed fool and the kids were still on the computers.

To be honest I thought that I'd have to end up using some second rate software that I was not completely happy with but just as I was losing the will to live I learned of Netintelligence. At first glance it looked a bit too business orientated but they have a home version, which promised all the features I was looking for. Well I had nothing to lose; I downloaded the software and installed it straight away.

In my job role as an IT manager for a media company I know a bit about installing and trying to understand software as quick as possible and this Netintelligence Home edition was easy not only to install but also to get your head around understanding all its features. Within five minutes I had installed it on all three computers and had configured them via the superb web interface. Oh and that’s the great bit about this software, because for one reasonable price you can download and install Netintelligence on up to three separate machines, with six users per machine—perfect for households with more than one computer!

Netintelligence is designed to monitor, take action and then report. For example, when you set web site blocking rules for the kids, you are simply telling the software to note their activity, and if it sees them visiting a web site that you do not want them to it will take action and prevent them doing so. Apart from web site blocking and filtering, this software includes anti virus protection, email protection, computer usage control, instant messaging recording and monitoring (IMRM), application/software usage control and a fantastic online control panel. I can even control usage on my home computers from the office!

One very important point to consider, use the IMRM facility with caution. For me this is delicate area, I feel that this is spying on your children. It's certainly OK for ages up to 11 or 12 years but above that and your asking for trouble. I'm pretty flexible with the kids my wife says I'm too laid back; however, one night I said to my wife: "Hey check this out, with this new software I can even look at what they have been talking about on Microsoft messenger." I showed her the full transcript and we started to read. Most of it consisted of ‘chav talk’ that to us is a completely different language, but with the 13-year old who was due to go out with his mates on Saturday night there were a few things mentioned that we would rather have not known about! I wanted to overlook it but my wife totally blew our cover and confronted him with it. More trouble; so learn from our mistakes.

The most fantastic thing about this solution is the computer usage control. Every night at 8 PM the 10-year old’s laptop logs him off; and, then at 10 PM the same thing happens to the 13 year old. No arguments whatsoever. The funny thing is that psychologically they think it’s the computer that is spoiling their fun and not us. We can simply sit there watching Eastenders without any confrontation.

The only negative thing about this software is the ability to configure advanced usage control. Allow me to explain. I can set the usage control to allow access from 4 PM to 8 PM but I would like to have the ability to only allow a maximum of two hours usage within that time range. Currently this is not possible.

If you have kids you have to have parental control software and I hope that I have done some the legwork for all the other parents out there.

© IBC Ltd. 2005


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