Blocking IM Use
While parents often focus their attention on limiting a child's computer game and Internet use, there are other technology sources that should probably be limited as well. One of these is instant message. Teenagers, in particular, are addicted to instant message. You may not even realize that they are sending messages multiple times a day - if not dozens of times a day. These messages can keep your child from concentrating on school work, family and other items.
In addition, these messages are often sent to strangers, and your child might be having a dialogue with someone who is dangerous. Instant messages, however, are hard to track. What can you do? There certainly are some products that are intended to block instant messaging.
How Does the Software Block IM?
In order to be truly effective, the program needs to be effective at the protocol level. This means that it would block all AIM service, for instance, and not just a specific AIM client program. Without this feature, a smart child will just switch to a third-party IM client and get around the blocks that you have created. Both PC Pandora and Net Nanny work at this protocol level while most other software programs don't.
Limiting to Buddies
Some of the software programs will try to limit the child's use to their buddy list. This would include a list of pre-approved buddies that you and your child have agreed to include. This is a great idea - but it's often hard to decide which buddies to include based solely on the screen names. In order to accurately compile this list you'll need to trust what your child tells you, and to have her input. This product also has to be effective at the protocol level and it has to prevent Web-based IM as well.
Opening Up Communication
These are really the only considerations to think about when evaluating software to block IM use. Unfortunately, savvy kids can get around most IM blocks. At this point, the most important thing to consider doing is to have a real, concrete conversation with your child. Make sure that she understands the potential dangers of using instant messaging and explain what could happen if she hooks up with the wrong type of person. With open communication, you could even suggest that you look at her IM history at the end of the day, or that you make yourself available should she run into trouble that she wants to get out of.