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How to spy on your kids online

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How to spy on your kids online
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(CBS) - According to the GFI Software 2011 Parent-Teen Internet Safety Report, which looked at teen Internet use from the perspective of both parents and teens, 36 percent of parents use web monitoring software or a web filter to keep tabs on their children's activities online. Are you one of them?

If so, consider that the survey also found that 34 percent of teens say they've created online accounts that their parents don't know about and 42 percent of them have cleared their browsing history after their Internet use. Are you monitoring the best way?

If you're not monitoring at all, isn't it a good idea that you start with all the talks of cyberbullying and Internet predators? We're not saying that you shouldn't trust your children. We're merely suggesting that you be cautious.

We turned to experts to get some valuable tips on how to spy on your kids online...

Put your computer in a common area

Ruth Carter, blogger of UndeniableRuth.com, often writes about cyberbullying and other Internet-related issues. She understands the importance of educating both parents and children on the potential dangers that lurk on the Internet. She suggests that families should keep their home computers in a common area, like the kitchen or living room. "If your kid has less privacy regarding where they go online, they will be less likely to do anything that they don't want you to see," she explains. "This tip is less effective now because of iPads and smartphones, but it's a good start."

Browse your browser's history

"Parents should periodically check the Internet history on their computer to see where their kid goes online," Carter suggests. "A child who deletes the history has something to hide."

If your teen is technologically-advanced and you suspect that he or she is hiding something, consider software like 100% Remote Keylogger, which tracks keystrokes. "I think this should be something that parents invest in only after there's a problem with their kid's behavior online," Carter adds. "I'd respect the kid's right to some privacy until they prove that they can't be trusted."

Monitor like a pro

Roger Thompson, a father and foster parent of 13 children who was also a chief research officer at anti-virus company AVG, admits it's hard to see everything your kids do with all of the different digital devices out there, from laptops to cell phones. "I use a combination of hardware and software to monitor [my kids'] online activities. I don't 'spy' on them per se, but the software and hardware alerts me if it sees patterns that indicate inappropriate activity and/or cyberbullying. Then, I can take action."

Fake it

Lynn Cooper, CEO of social media training and content management firm Socially Ahead, points out that more and more, kids are not using their real names on their social networks. They're coming up with alternatives. In addition, they're using Facebook's privacy settings to block parents' known email addresses so they can't see their pages.

In order to get around this, Cooper suggests to do something really sneaky. "Create a fake profile using an email address unknown to your child and request to be his or her friend," she says. "For some children, this will work."

Set up alerts

Set up Google alerts for your child's name or alias. Set the Google alert to come to your email, so when things are posted on the web with your child's name, you'll be the first to know. Cooper suggests you even Google your child's close friends, too, and set up alerts.

Get others involved

Sedgrid Lewis, founder of Spy Parent LLC, suggests to reach out to other family members and close family friends who are also on your children's social networks to keep an eye out. "Have aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, even members of your church to have accounts on these social networks," Lewis explains. "The more eyes that are watching, the better. You will, in essence, be creating a virtual village of supervision around your child."

Don't spy on your kids, talk to them

Anthony Rotolo, a professor who teaches social media at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, advocates against parents tracking their children online. He suggests you talk to your kids instead of invading their privacy. "Parents may not realize how damaging an online invasion can be to a young person who views online socialization as much more important than a parent might. I usually recommend that parents talk with their kids about online dangers, even ask to go online with their kids to learn more, but never to 'spy' or otherwise compromise their privacy," he points out. "This only hurts the relationship between parent and child and pushes the child to take more covert actions online."

Sam Black, an Internet safety consultant at Convenant Eyes and editor of Pure Minds Online, agrees. "If the goal is to catch your teen red-handed, then spy away," she says. "If your goal is to parent your teen and prepare them for adulthood, then there are better ways to keep up with your teen online and create regular, proactive and relational parenting opportunities."

Black says the best way to monitor your kids' online use is with accountability. "The difference between spying and accountability is huge. The child or teen who is accountable for their Internet use knows he is being monitored and it is a standard of the home," she explains. "This helps empower a teen to live up to the expectations of the home."

  • Ysolt Usigan

    Ysolt Usigan is the editor of lifestyle and technology for women at CBSNews.com