Getting A Teen Off The Computer

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CBS News

Megan Kirszenbaum is a pretty typical 18-year-old from outside Baltimore. The third of four children, she's an honors high-school graduate working part-time at a restaurant.

But one thing about her is unusual. She rarely uses a computer - anymore, that is.

"She kinda scared me out of it," Megan said about her mother. "It was such a hassle with my parents."

What does her mother, Malissa, have to say about that?

"The risks on MySpace and other spaces, they far outweigh, I'm telling you, any positive thing that your kid can take from these sites," she said.

Megan used to be online all the time.

"How many times did we have run-ins? [As in] 'Megan, off the computer!'" she said.

Her mom, Malissa, says it started with provocative photos when Megan was 15. She's only kept the tamest ones.

"I don't want my child on the Internet in a robe, provocative, looking into the camera like she's posing for Playboy," Malissa said.

One of her causes for alarm: the social-networking site MySpace recently reported that it found 32,000 registered sexual offenders on its site.

"Now, these are only the stupid ones," said Gregory Smith, author of the book "How to Keep Your Kids Safe on the Internet." "The ones who registered on the site with their own names. There are hundreds of thousands more like them."

Though her daughter was never assaulted, Malissa says Megan made some friends online who were bad influences.

"We're talking about drugs - sad kids who were lost," Malissa said.

Ultimately, how bad did it get?

"She decided not to come home on a Monday," Malissa said.

Megan disappeared for two days.

"I didn't run away; I just needed some space," Megan explained.

Her mom made it clear to Megan that she would monitor all her Internet activities.

"She started going through my emails and stuff," Megan said.

It became a cat-and-mouse game between mother and daughter.

"And then I started changing my passwords and sneaking around at school

"This is the return of the Cold War with different players," said Technology Expert Brian Cooley. "Instead of the U.S. and Russia, it's Mom and Dad vs. Joey and Bill."

Cooley said there are plenty of tools parents can use to track their children.

"Here's a program called 'child control,'" he said.

It's become a multi-million dollar business.

A recent book lists dozens of software products available for about $50 each, and there are many free controls included with operating systems, like the latest one from Microsoft.

"Vista will give you a log of everything your kid did, the programs they ran the programs they tried to run, the sites they tried to go to," Cooley said.

But teens know how to get around these controls - sometimes doing it from school. Just Googling the words "parental controls" yields hundreds of Web sites with instructions.

Does Megan and her peers know all about these parental spying programs - and know ways to get around them?

"I think so….I'm not computer savvy, but I know lots and lots of kids who are," she said.

"I was defeated, the computer defeated us," Malissa said.

"In the end it points back to the parenting relationship, and it moves away from technology, you really have to make a difference in their lives, you cannot rely on software," Cooley said.

And that's ultimately how the Kirszenbaum women are making peace with each other, through something very low-tech: sitting together and talking.

"You spent more time in that room looking at that screen, communicating with those people than you did communicating with your parents," Malissa said.

"I don't think that was necessarily a bad thing - I wasn't doing bad things though," Megan said.

They still have disagreements, but for now, they've eliminated the technology that started it all.