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Parental dilemma: Whether to spy on their kids
For many parents, one of the toughest decisions is whether to spy on a child’s computer and cell phone activity. It’s common for some children to send more than 100 text messages a day, and a recent Associated Press-MTV poll found that about one-quarter of teens had shared sexually explicit photos, videos and chat by cell phone or online.
Walsh, the Minneapolis psychologist, says the best initial step for parents concerned about online risks is a heart-to-heart talk with the child, with monitoring used as a contingency measure only if there’s clear justification.
“If it does make sense to use some spyware, I would never do that in secret way,” said Walsh, whose own three children are now adults. “Tell your children you’ll check on them from time to time. Just that knowledge can be effective.”
Mary Kozakiewicz disagrees, saying deployment of spyware must be kept secret.
“You can’t let them know it’s there, or they’ll do it at a friend’s house,” she said.
Indeed, one of the challenges for some parents is a technology gap _ their children may have more savvy about cyberspace and an ability to thwart various spyware tactics.
“Parents are trying to play catch up _ and it’s a highly fragmented, confusing sector,” said Keith Jarrett of the AmberWatch Foundation, a nonprofit based in Seal Beach, Calif., dedicated to protecting children against abduction and “the dangers of the digital world.”
AmberWatch promotes various safety devices and technologies, including SafeText _ a system enabling parents, for $5 a month, to monitor their children’s text-messaging. The system sends alerts when it detects potentially dangerous or inappropriate text messages, so the parents don’t have to review vast numbers of messages themselves.
Another enterprise, Software4Parents, reviews and sells a range of spyware products. Its Web site features a comment by Mary Kozakiewicz after her abducted daughter was rescued.
“No matter how you feel about your child or how trusting you are that what’s going on is innocent, check it, check it and double check it - or don’t have (the Internet) at all,” Kozakiewicz warns.
Among the site’s featured products are Spector PRO and eBlaster, for sale at $99, and touted as ways way to monitor online chats, instant messages and emails.
“Receive complete transcripts of the web sites they visit, keystrokes they type and more _ all delivered right to your email inbox,” the site says.
Several spyware brands, including Mobile Spy and MobiStealth, now offer systems that work with Android, Google’s operating system for mobile phones, ranging in price from $100 to $150 per year.
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