New Ways to Track Your Teen Online

"I came up with an inappropriate Web site," said Santaniello's 15-year-old son, Austin.

Without meaning to, the boys went to a pornographic Web site.

And that's another benefit to the more sophisticated monitoring tools available today. The OnlineFamily.Norton product allows parents to look at a child's search terms to see if they intentionally went to an off-limits site. So in the case of Santaniello's sons, she would have seen "sneakers" or "shoes" in the search terms to get a sense of the context around the visit to the inappropriate Web site. In this case, it would offer proof that an honest mistake was made.

New tracking tools promote a much higher level of transparency. Kids know they are being monitored, so secret parental spying software is not what this is about.

"It's so important for parents and kids to talk about their Internet experiences. And even though some people might've wanted this to work in what we call a stealth mode or hidden from their kids, that's just not the philosophy here," Merritt said. "We really think when it comes to parents and kids if we're going to teach our children how to be safe on the Internet we've got to be more open about the fact that mistakes can happen and that we can learn from them."

Other Programs

There are other Internet monitoring programs available, but none with this level of data sorting are available for free. Symantec is making the product available at no cost until January 2010 and hasn't announced if it will continue to be a free product after that date.

Regardless of price, many parents aren't ready to monitor their kids in this way -- they say it feels like an invasion of privacy. If children have proven themselves trustworthy, this level of scrutiny may seem too high. In those cases, Merritt said the value of talking openly about Internet activity is the number one goal for parents.

Merritt also sees this type of software best suited to 5- to 13-year-olds, and said that monitoring should be dialed back with age.

"As kids get older, I think it's appropriate [if things are going well] for parents to back off a little and give their kids some of that privacy, that room to flex a little bit and to explore their world," Merritt said.

But for parents who are desperate for ways to supervise their kids online, this tool seems like a step in the right direction.

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