As parents we like to think that we know our kids, that we know they would never do or say certain things. But the fact is that we can never be too sure; all we can do is educate them, hope that they are being careful, and trust that they are being smart.
If I were to be completely honest with myself, I’d recall doing and saying plenty of things when I was Sarah’s age that might have seemed harmless at the time, but would either be considered risky or embarrassing today. Thankfully we didn’t have digital cameras, chat rooms, blogs, or for that matter – the internet when I was 16.
Think about it, a teen in 1983 that had a frustrating day might call a best friend to let off steam, but a teen today can just as easily go into an online chat room or their BeNetSafe account and vent to the first available friend that will listen. Sometimes these “friends” are not what they seem.
Sarah has grown up hearing how the 14 year old girl she thinks she is chatting with might really be a 41 year old man, and I would like to think that without sounding like a broken record, my message has sunk in. Sarah is past the age where I feel compelled to limit her time on the internet, and for the most part I completely trust that she is careful when she is online – and yet I still felt a touch of apprehension when I was approached about trying a new internet service called MySpace. My inner nagging mom was nervous that I might find out something I didn’t want to know…
Maybe it’s because I can remember what a rotten kid I was. 😉
According to the product site, “BeNetSafe automatically monitors your child’s online activities including social networking sites like MySpace and then reports any potentially dangerous or reckless behavior back to you.”
My first thought when I read that was a queasy, “but I don’t want to spy!” I remember all too well the ways that my mom would “check up on” me, and I hated them all.
I have no need to know the particulars of what Sarah is talking about with her friends or her boyfriend. She is a teen and as such she is going to say things that will test my limits or that might shock me if I heard them. I think that these things are a normal part of growing up and “cutting the cord” so to speak, but I also know that she is a good, well-grounded kid with a strong sense of self – she knows her right from wrong, and I trust her.
But I am first and foremost her parent, and as such it is my “job” to verify that she is safe, to check up on her occasionally, and to have a system whereby I can keep up with what she is doing and with whom it is happening. BeNetSafe is not some key-stroke monitoring software which is secretly installed on the unsuspecting teen’s computer; it is not an add-on software that can be by-passed by using a “different” computer, and it is not intrusive.
BeNetSafe may be run on any computer regardless of operating system, because it is not software per se, it is an online service.
What BeNetSafe does is monitor popular social networking spaces looking for instances where your child may have given out too much personal information. It does not alert you to gripes about your parenting style, but it will let you know if your child has been posting their email address, home address, phone number or school information all over the internet. BeNetSafe will also let you know if references to drugs, sex or alcohol are being posted by your child.
So let’s see how this service works…
The first step is to Friendster. An option will be given of choosing a one year discounted plan or a monthly pay-as-you-go plan. After information and payment has been given, a verification email is sent.
Once verification has been made, the next steps are laid out – the first of which is creating a profile.
This is the page where your child’s information is entered and stored. Questions such as their birth date, email addresses, phone numbers, home address, MySpace user name, their high school, instant messenger names – anything that might help identify your child in the vast wasteland that is the internet. I’ll admit that at this point I was a bit nervous about entering such personal information, I mean – what if it was sold or even worse, somehow hacked and used to exploit my child.
According to the BeNetSafe, “BeNetSafe is first and foremost concerned with security – yours and your child’s. We do not allow our staff to view your report data without your permission and we do not provide any data to outside parties.” In addition, “BeNetSafe recognizes the importance of secure online transactions, and uses SSL encryption of all information you provide on our online forms. Physical, electronic and procedural safeguards are built-in to guard your personal information from release to unauthorized users.”
I want to say right here that while it is possible to gather and add all of this information without telling your child what’s going on, I chose to go the other route. I already knew Sarah’s main email addresses, but I asked for her MySpace profile, asked about Xanga and Friendster, and told her up front that I was not going to be reading anything she had written, but that I was trying out a service that would let me know if she had posted anything that might make her a predator’s target. I left it at that and she had no problem giving me her profile information, as well as an additional email address that I didn’t know she was still using.
Up to three profiles may be created, so if there are multiple children in a household the same account can be used. After entering your child’s information, their profile will be complete; BeNetSafe will go to work, and it will be time to exercise a little bit of patience.
Reports can be viewed online or sent to up to four email addresses. It took three days before I received my first email report, and there were about six Sarah Clarks on there. Several were over 18 and very obviously not my Sarah, but there was one that gave me pause…she had the same nicknames, was the same age, was an artist like my daughter, and when I clicked on her picture – I was a bit freaked out because she looked similar to my Sarah but with dark hair. It was kind of spooky; I now know that Sarah has a “twin” in Canada.
In the end, none of the Sarah’s found were Sarah. That’s not to say that my daughter doesn’t post on the monitored sites, it simply means that she hasn’t posted anything that earned a caution or a red flag.
Would it be completely self-righteous of me to breathe a sigh of relief…and whisper an “I told you so” to my inner nagging mom?
While new sites are being added constantly, the one in particular that I’m waiting for is BeNetSafe, the online community where Sarah and her friends post their work and critique each others’ offerings. Another site I would like to see monitored in the future is Deviant Art. There are so many online communities for kids to frequent, I don’t know if it is possible for any program to monitor them all, but I am impressed that BeNetSafe is covering the most popular.
Raising kids is hard enough, keeping them safe in a digital age sometimes requires a little help. If you want to chaperone your teenager without getting completely in their business, then BeNetSafe may be just the service for you.
MySpace is available directly from the Developer.
MSRP: One year plan is regularly priced at $99.99, monthly plan is $19.99 (Promotional discounts are in effect at the time of this writing)
What I Like: It’s an easy and unobtrusive way to monitor your child’s presence on the internet. You know if dangerous activity is occurring without “spying”.
What Needs Improvement: Even more popular social networking sites need to be added.