Teen surfers

Two very nice ladies came to see me this morning to tell me all about Norton’s clever new OnlineFamily system. It’s basically designed to be a high tech virtual playpen, keeping your children out of all that bad stuff on the web.

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It’s designed for more technology friendly families than ours, I think. We only have one steam-powered, ancient old PC in a corner of the sitting room, and it’s simply too annoying to spend hours on, as it grinds up to each task with the rickety concentration of a pensioner trying to reach out a withered hand to a far-off custard cream biscuit. I must admit this is semi-deliberate. Penury plays its part, of course, but also I don’t want the girls to disappear off to their rooms for hours on end to play strange computer games and chat on-line to friends they saw a couple of hours ago at school. Yes, they do press for laptops in their rooms, but they also press for Super Dry T shirts, Converse trainers and a million and one other things, knowing they have virtually no hope of getting any of them. My heart bleeds for them! Well, I never even had a Barbie as a child and that tale of true deprivation always silences them.

The Norton ladies came armed with some very scary statistics, which would give us all pause for thought even if there hadn’t been a recent murder of a poor teenage girl who met her killer on Facebook.  ‘Sex’ and ‘porn’ were near the top of the list of searches for the 13-18 age group. The names of celebrities, like Cheryl Cole and Michael Jackson, came very high up too, which wouldn’t have worried me if the Norton ladies hadn’t revealed that cybercriminals use celebrity names to set up fake sites, to lure unsuspecting surfers in, and then infect their computers with malware. Blimey, it’s a horrible world!

Never fear, though, because this new Norton application can survey what’s going on and make sure you’re aware of any blips – a sudden splurge of visits to pro-anorexia sites, for example, or even more hours than usual instant messaging with one particular person. There are various settings, from straight blocking of websites to alerts, allowing the child to continue in the knowlege that their parents are being informed of the site they are on. There is also a timer function limiting the hours spent on MSN or Facebook. Norton stresses that the idea is not to spy on your children, but to be aware of what they are doing.  You may not think spying is such a bad thing, though! 

I’m not sure how it’s going to go down chez moi. When I signed in, somehow the programme got the idea I was a child, too, and I promptly got locked out of all my stuff. I had a big, footstamping tantrum with the computer – always so effective with a lump of plastic. It soon saw reason and let me back in, I’m glad to say. I’m not entirely sure the girls are going to be equally thrilled, though. Well, we’ll give it a go and see how we get on. I haven’t been paid for this, by the way, so I’m not putting ‘sponsored’ at the top – and the very good news is that the programme is absolutely free for everyone to download, through the goodness of Norton’s heart. Have a look if you feel like it. If it saves one teenager from meeting her killer on Facebook, it will be so well worth it.

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