Teens these days are incredibly tech savvy, especially when compared to generations past. It can seem incredibly difficult to keep up with the tips and tricks kids are learning today. With every wall you build, you’re creating a challenge for a teen to overcome.
So how do you stay one step ahead of someone who was literally born into a world of technology? Do you spend every waking moment living and breathing tech? No, you really don’t have to. You do, however, owe it to yourself to keep at least somewhat updates as to how things work, and what your teen might be using to access the Web.
Below are some tricks to help you stay informed about where your teen is going online, and how to tell if they might be accessing sites that aren’t age appropriate.
Signs and Symptoms
Let’s start with the obvious. You can’t always know where your teen is browsing to. While you might have your home network locked down like Fort Knox, that doesn’t mean that your teen can’t find a good connection elsewhere. Many of the techy tips out there (and in this article) will only be beneficial on machines and networks in your control. It’s important that you are able to identify some of the signs that your teen is up to something.
Do They Browse the Web with the Door Closed?
Closing the door provides a barrier that allows for plenty of warning before the contents of a computer screen might be discovered by parents or guardians. If the door can’t be locked, the mere act of closing it gives someone an extra second or two to react, switch or close windows, and situate ones self to avoid suspicion.
Have they Rearranged their Room so the Monitor Faces Away from the Door?
If you decide to allow your teen to have an Internet connection in their room, have they arranged it so what they see can’t be seen by someone passing by? This is a common action taken by teens that don’t want their parents prying into their personal life, but it could also be a sign that they’re doing something that they might not want you to know about.
Do They Get Nervous and Uncomfortable When You Use Their Computer?
People in general are terrible at hiding their emotions. Human lie detectors look for tells that indicate that someone is telling a lie, but in general it’s much easier to tell when someone is suddenly more nervous than usual. You live with the teen, and know how they normally act.
If you suspect that they are doing something they shouldn’t, but don’t want to outright accuse them, you could take a moment to “show them something” on their computer. Perhaps find a viral video or perhaps an informational website that you think might interest them. Go to their computer, while they are in their room, and pull that site up for them. Do they object to you using their system to pull up a website? If so, there might be more going on than they want you to know about.
Is Your Browser History Periodically Erased?
Perhaps the most obvious sign that someone is using the computer to look at something unapproved is that your browser history is suddenly gone. Perhaps not entirely wiped out, but you know the teen has been on the computer for the last several hours and yet there is nothing in the history to indicate they’ve been anywhere at all.
Private browsing is quickly becoming a popular way to avoid being detected going to sites they should be. This would explain a gap in the history. Some browsers also allow you to remove the past hour, day, week, month, or year of history with a click of the mouse.
Below are some keyboard shortcuts you can use to quickly access a browser’s history.
- Internet Explorer – Ctrl+H
- Google Chrome – Ctrl+H
- Firefox – Ctrl+H
- Opera – Ctrl+Shift+H
The browser history will tell you where (and often when) various sites are accessed. A single access case might be the result of clicking an ad or following a malicious link, but repeated visits to the same site could be a sign of intentional use.
Google Search History
Your teen probably has an account of their own, but there are times when Google search might be initiated through the browser without realizing that your account is still enabled. Take a moment to check your Google search history against what you actually search for. If you see some suspicious searches, it might raise an alarm for you.
Keyloggers and Network Monitoring
I’m not a fan of keyloggers, but there are some applications out in the wild that will allow you to keep tabs on what your teen is typing into the keyboard. This could tell you where they are going without alerting them to your tracking. There is a fine line between being a concerned parent and violating trust. It’s up to each parent to determine where this line should be drawn for themselves.
Network monitoring is a little less intrusive but still quite useful. Chances are, every computer connected to the Web (outside of mobile phones) goes through a single router to get a connection. Your router may have IP logging abilities, which can give you a rough idea of where people on your network are browsing. Alternatively, network-enabled sniffing software and parental controls are available that can help you even more.
I haven’t personally used either of these methods outside of an enterprise setting, and I wouldn’t recommend dropping the type of money required to run enterprise monitoring software to keep track of your teen. Still, it’s another avenue out there.
DNS Cache (Windows Method)
This trick is a little less obvious, and a lot harder for teens to hide. Your computer stores a list of IP addresses connected to various domain names. This list is generated as your browser requests DNS (Domain Name System) records from your ISP’s preferred DNS host.
To access this record, you’ll need to launch the Command Prompt by typing CMD in the search field located in the Start menu at the lower-left corner of your Windows desktop. You’ll see an icon that looks like a black screen with C:\ printed on it. Right-click CMD and select Run as Administrator. A new window with a text prompt should appear.
If you want a text copy of this list, you can do so by typing the following command.
ipconfig /displaydns > c:\dnshistory
This will export a text file to your C drive which you can access by going to My Computer or simply selecting Computer in the Start menu and navigating to C:\.
Open the file and select Notepad as the program you would like to use to view it. This file will contain a list of domain names accessed by the computer. If the DNS cache has not been flushed recently, this list can be quite long and difficult to understand. It’s probably best to flush the DNS a day or two before checking it so you can get a short list. Flushing the DNS now and then is also a great way to get over certain sites that may appear to be more sluggish than usual.
You can flush the DNS cache by typing the following command in the Command Prompt.
This should help you get a leg up on exactly what sites are being visited on your computer. Keep in mind though, that no method is absolute or foolproof. It is possible that an advertisement or sneaky leak found its way into your teen’s search results, making it appear as though they were actively browsing one site when the reality is they were only exposed to a file hosted on the domain. It’s usually better to reconfirm suspicions before jumping to conclusions.