Over the next few weeks, kids across the country will cascade from the classroom to the beach and beyond. But along with their summer freedom will come more time to text, surf the Internet, play video games and potentially give their parents massive technology-enabled headaches.
"Summertime brings a change of schedules and a change of routine," said Whitney Meagher, program coordinator for health and welfare for the Parent Teacher Association. Not only do kids have more free time, they're also often away from supervising eyes, she said.
If you're like most parents, Meagher said, chances are, you feel overwhelmed by all of the technology and (technology-enabled troubles) out there.
But, with the help of a few child technology experts, ABCNews.com compiled the following tips.
1. Know what they're checking out online.
No matter the age of your child or the size of your budget, several tools exist to help you safeguard and monitor your child's Internet surfing.
For starters, Cat Schwartz, the blogger behind HiTechMommy.com and eBay's gadget and toy director, recommends paying attention to the parental control settings on your computer's Internet browser.
Whether you use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or countless others, she said, you have the flexibility to customize your child's online experience.
"You can tweak them like there's no tomorrow," she said, to make sure that your kids can't accidentally wander on to porn sites or others that specialize in adult content.
But for older kids who might be savvy enough to manipulate the settings to serve their own needs, she said a number of more sophisticated options exist.
For example, McAfee's Family Protection software ($39.99), launched this month, lets parents create accounts for each of their children that blocks Web sites and alerts them via text message and e-mail when kids try to access off-limit sites. It also filters YouTube videos and provides parents with detailed reports of the sites their kids visited (along with banned sites they tried to visit).
For parents who want more insight into their children's online habits, Schwartz recommends key logging programs that record a child's entire online experience.
For $99.95, Spector Pro, from the SpectorSoft Corporation, will provide keystroke and snapshot recording of every action your child makes while at the computer. The program monitors everything from e-mail to Web browsing to instant messaging, and then gives you PDFs of a child's online session.
McGruff SafeGuard, from the National Crime Prevention Council, is a free option that lets parents limit and monitor their child's online activity.
2. Manage their e-mail, instant messaging and online social networking.
Since kids won't have face time with their classmates in school, they'll likely use technology to keep in touch with their friends.
"They're not necessarily seeing their friends all day, so social networking is very important," said David Klenske, director of worldwide product marketing for McAfee.
Their new tool monitors kids' social networking and instant messaging communication and alerts parents immediately when kids try to reveal personal information (like home addresses) online.