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Do You Know Where Your Kids Go Online? Monitoring Kids Web Use through Browser History

July 29th, 2008

Many parents respond affirmatively when asked in surveys whether they check up on where their children travel on the Internet. Research done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that 46% of parents monitor their child’s history (or “travels”) online. We suspect the vast majority of them likely monitor their children’s Internet usage by checking the History and Cache files within the Web browser that their child uses. At GetNetWise, we recommend that parents tell their children that they are keeping track of their online travels if they are doing so. Marian Merritt of Norton’s safety blog “Ask Marian” happens to agree. That conversation alone is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about online safety.

For younger children under 10 years old this is a moderately effective approach for parents to get a sense of the sites their kids are visiting. For instance, the browser History will show names and addresses of sites visited in recent days but very little detail about what the child did while there. Yet, this strategy has real limitations for older, savvier kids and teens.

Even though parents may make it a rule that children should not remove, alter, or delete browsing history, there are very simple workarounds to remove, alter, delete, or even never record a browsing history. One such work around is a simple function available in the Safari browser called “Private Browsing” that turns history recording off.

When Private Browsing is engaged the Web browser goes into stealth mode — no browsing history cookies or cache will be recorded. This feature can be switched on and off very easily, leading to a History and Cache that is incomplete. It is also relatively easy to altering a History to remove individual websites visited.

Private Browsing

It is important for parents to keep these types of workarounds in mind when considering whether they are effectively keeping track of their kids’ footprints online. Children younger than eleven would seem less likely to “work-around” history, than teenaged users. It is vitally important that parents clearly define rules for appropriate browsing behavior and talk about Web safety with their kids. If you as a parent decide you want to monitor your child’s online used and are concerned that he or she is manipulating the browser’s history and cache files you may want to consider using a more a robust approach to keeping track of Internet usage. To supplement Internet usage monitoring, there are many monitoring tools available on the market [See GetNetWise Tools Database for a list]. Many of these tools help parents keep an active eye on a child’s footsteps through cyberspace.

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