Monitoring child activity on PC
July 11, 2021 11:16 PM   Subscribe

Hi, so a kid of ours has done some rebellious but not objectively terrible stuff while unattended on their PC, e.g. installing games that are specifically forbidden. What are some methods you are familiar with to check in on their ongoing use, such as viewing their screen remotely from time to time?

I'm looking at things like Lite Manager, because this isn't going to be a secret, in concert with reducing their Windows account permissions. In my experience, though, it's trivial to defeat Windows account security if you have physical access to the box. Also looking at the Bark app, but they don't explain how it works and that's weirdly fishy.

ALSO YES, we talk and communicate pretty well, we thought, anyway. We aren't going to stop communicating about dangers and responsibilities. This is hopefully a temporary measure until they get out of the habit of circumventing the rules. People all reactionary about big brother and surveillance as if juveniles had fully functional impulse control.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In "solutions that don't cost money", we use UltraVNC to check in on the younger kids computer when I'm working in the next room. This only solves the "look at what they're doing" part, though it looks like LiteManager is basically that too?

I don't love how deeply Bark monitors, but to be fair our kids are not your kids, and you might require that (my biases are that I met my partner on the internet when we were teenagers, so it's generally accepted that we'd be giant hypocrites to play the "the internet is scary" card. Your experience will super vary!). One thing you could do, though, is completely block the kids accounts from installing applications at all. This is one set of instructions for doing that.

As an aside, on a modern windows, if you disable booting off removable media in the bios it can actually be harder to circumvent than you'd think - the days of easy escallation to administrator are pretty much gone, as long as you don't allow a way to boot into their own OS. And if they're at the point of booting into their own OS, then... well, at that point your kid is going to have a pretty lucrative secops career.
posted by jaymzjulian at 11:33 PM on July 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

How hard do you want to block the PC? Assuming WIndows, you can block install of software with group policy.

Or you can always go for the classic NetNanny / Qustodio and similar software.
posted by kschang at 6:23 AM on July 12, 2021

One method is a keylogger. Easy to overcome, but if unknown about, gives you some insight into activity they may otherwise be hiding.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:57 AM on July 12, 2021

We use UltraVNC for this. It also has a control mode so we can remotely close a program or switch a tab to redirect focus, which came in handy during virtual school when everyone in the house was in meetings at the same time. Doesn't work well on mobile though.

We also have the free Microsoft family stuff set up, which emails us a report of which programs have been used and for for long. Most of the content-blocking features only work in Microsoft Edge so we don't bother with it, but being able to set a total limit to computer time for the day has been helpful.

My partner & I were both kids who could find a way around attempted parental blocks, so we assume by default that Kid will be able to outsmart us shortly, if he can't already. We've made it clear that the parental controls are set up to help REMIND him of the house rules re. tech usage, but that the final responsibility is still on him - workarounds lead to losing computer independence privileges. We had two weeks of "you can only use the computer for school things and only when an adult is in the same room" back in the spring due to this, which was a hassle for everyone involved but seemed to get the point across.
posted by Ann Telope at 8:26 AM on July 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

FWIW, we implemented Bark at our schools (as it is free for schools) and our config seems to have a LOT of false positives - this has persisted through a couple IT teams so I'm thinking it's more on how it operates by default. If installing software is the problem, that's pretty easy to control with some of the things mentioned above.

Also, just on a parental/personal front, we've taken the route of explaining that a computer and and the internet are a tool like anything, just like fire or a knife. They can be used to create and experience amazing things, but they've also gotten people into a lot of very, very serious trouble when used inappropriately - my kids responded pretty well to framing it through that lens.
posted by _DB_ at 8:53 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Other than restricting the ability to install software, I'd be wary of technological solutions that might sow distrust or encourage even worse behavior trying to circumvent them.

Can the computer be placed in a location where adults occasionally pass by? It doesn't have to be in the center of the living room panopticon-style, but maybe somewhere that has a modest amount of screen privacy but where the kid is always in full view behind the monitor? Being visible to others in the room might discourage bad behavior even if no one can actually see what they're doing on the screen.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:18 AM on July 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

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