How Tech Savvy Teens Defeat Parental Control Software

While effective for younger and less technically competent children, parental control software products often don't live up to their promise when used with older, computer-savvy teenagers. When at least one parent is less computer literate than the teen, using parental control software is even more problematic. During my own clinical experience working with teenagers with problems related to excess computer use, I found that a determined, technically knowledgeable teen could easily find a way to defeat almost any parental control software. According to the web article “Are your kids addicted to the Internet?”, Microsoft warns parents, ”Although filtering and monitoring tools are helpful, keep in mind that they can be disabled by a savvy computer user”. Articles in the popular press such as “Kids will find Web controls easy to beat” (2003), Anick Jesdanun of the Associated Press demonstrated how easy it was to defeat various parental control products.

How teens defeat parental control software is fairly straightforward. Highly motivated and determined to break their parent’s limit setting, defiant teens will go to great lengths to covertly defeat parental controls. They will search the Internet and uncover discussion groups with a dialog specific to the topic. Remember that the personal computer and operating systems for home use were not designed with this issue in mind. While teens are highly motivated to break these features, parents are often ill equipped or lack the energy to play this cat and mouse game.

In order to enforce security, the parent must remain the system administrator and must be responsible for setting up operating system security, user settings, privileges and must install and removing all software from the computer. Otherwise, the child could simply remove or change settings of the parental control software. Not merely an inconvenience, one misstep (i.e. leaving the computer unattended for even a minute) could allow the child an easy way to disable the software without the parent’s knowledge. Even when the parent is tech savvy and reasonable security measures are instituted, teens can still defeat parental control software. A teen can download free trialware anti-spyware program to detect and remove the parental control software. Parental control software operates just like spyware hidden to the OS capturing keystrokes and monitoring applications run. For more information on this topic, perform a Yahoo search on "parental control software anti-spyware conflict".
A clever teen can also run keylogger software that catch keystrokes so that the child eventually has access to the parent or administrator’s passwords. The most extreme and simple way a teen can defeat parental controls (especially if the computer is their own) is to simply reinstall the Windows operating system. In my clinical practice I have seen all of the above mentioned methods used. In many cases, parents were unaware for weeks (although they had suspicions) of the violations to their security. Worse, parents were left with little confidence in their ability to assert parental authority over computer use. To avoid being disabled by resourceful teens, the best parental monitoring programs, such as Spector Pro, operate in stealth mode (the child never knows the program is installed) and do not include web limiting or time limiting components.
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