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By Dan Brzostowski, LCPC
In this ever changing world, technology can be incredibly useful in helping us to be organized, informed, and connected to others; however, technology is not without its downside. In my practice, I’ve often seen technology become a topic of conflict between parents and children. Sometimes parents tell me their children are online too much, or playing video games until all hours of the night, and that this is beginning to affect their sleep, concentration, and grades in school. Other parents are concerned about their children’s ability to connect to others in real life. Since they are so use to interacting online, they may not have developed the social skills to interact with people face-to-face. Whatever the reason, some parents want to learn more about what their children are doing online, or want to restrict their use of the internet. This is the area where many parents get lost and feel helpless. That is why I wanted to write this article and inform you, not only about the online trends out there, but what the options are for taking back some control of your child’s technology.
First, we all know of the dangers of pornographic websites, but now it seems video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo are increasingly allowing more mature content that could be inappropriate for young viewers.
Several newer social media sites even have pages dedicated to content that could be very inappropriate, such as pages dedicated to being suicidal, cutting behavior, even pages promoting anorexia and bulimia. One such site that hosts some of this content is called Tumblr. This site allows the user to post their own words and pictures, or ones that they found on the internet and may relate to. Keep in mind, I’m not implying that if a child uses any of these sites they are doing so for wrong reasons. I just want to make you aware that these sites and pages exist. Many parents may not be aware that this content is out there.
Another website or application that people are using is called Snapchat. This program allows users to take a picture, send it to someone else, and determine how long the recipient is allowed to view the picture. While this application can certainly be used for good purposes, I’ve found some children (even in grade school) using this application to send nude pictures to other students. Even though the icon for the application may seem innocent (a picture of a Casper-like ghost), it can be used for some very adult-like purposes.
If you want to be able to check where your child has been on the internet, you can do this by looking at their search history on their device. To do this, follow the steps below:
Internet Explorer: Look for a star icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen; this is where the favorite sites are located. You will see a tab called History you can click on. Or, simply press “ctrl+shift+H”
Safari: Click on History in your Safari menu, located at the top of your screen.
Chrome: Open the History page. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar. Select History.
If you find that your child is using some of these websites inappropriately, or merely just spending too much time on them, below are the options for restricting their access.
If you have WiFi at home, you are using some sort of router to broadcast your internet signal. AT&T and Comcast have router capabilities built into their “gateways.” You may also be using a modem to receive your internet signal and a 3rd party router to broadcast the WiFi. In either instance, you can configure these devices to restrict: internet access by device (make some devices not be able to reach the internet); the day and time that the internet connection is active (useful if you want to restrict internet after a certain time of the day); or restrict certain types of content over the internet (certain websites or apps from reaching the internet).
To restrict access to a device (e.g., phone, Xbox, computer), you want to look around your router’s settings for MAC filtering. Each device has its own MAC address or an address that identifies the device. If you go into the settings, you can identify what devices have accessed the internet and try to identify which MAC address is the one you want to restrict. You can access these configuration pages by typing the following address into your internet browser:
You can either allow your device to access the internet, or restrict certain devices from reaching the internet.
With most routers you can also restrict internet access by content. For instance, if you don’t want your child to check Facebook, you can restrict access to https://www.facebook.com. You can also restrict keywords like, “pornography,” or “sex.” You can also determine approved times for devices to access the internet and restrict times for internet access. For example, you can have the internet connection shut off at bedtime.
If you wish to check on or restrict your child’s use of the internet more thoroughly, you have additional options. There are programs or applications to track the location of a person’s phone, as well as their browsing history and everything that is typed. Third party programs such as Norton Family can restrict content as well as help set limits on use.
Some parents also opt to request passwords for their children’s phones and all of the sites/email addresses they use. For some this may seem intrusive, but the unwillingness to provide this information can suggest that a youngster has something to hide.
Important: I would strongly recommend having antivirus and firewall software installed as this can help protect your computer from danger if your child accidentally installs or views something malicious. Computer infections can happen simply by viewing a picture or opening an email from a malicious sender.
Even after performing many of these steps, your child may still find a way around your efforts. Once you block one website, they may begin to use another that you’re not aware of. Even if you restrict texting from your cell provider, they can still download 3rd party apps that will allow them to call or text without using your cell phone plan. If you shut down your WiFi connection in the home, they still may be able to log onto another unsecured network out in the community or at a coffee shop, or simply use the cell network (3G/4G) to connect to data services. The ways to restrict access described above are good places to start, but you will need to be vigilant to see if there is anything else going on.
So with all this talk about monitoring and restricting internet access, is this what I am recommending you to do? Not necessarily. These are merely options for you if you feel that they may be needed. My biggest recommendation is to open the lines of communication between you and your child. Have a conversation about what they are doing online. What have they encountered from others? Cyber-bullying? Pressure to post inappropriate things? By establishing good communication and a close relationship with your child, they will be more likely to approach you for help and feel comfortable having those difficult conversations.