Category Archives: Family

Not In My House! – Internet Filtering & Monitoring

Before we continue on, you should come to grips with one very important assumption:

Your kids can find a way around virtually any filter/monitor you install.

Don’t believe me? Do a simple Google search on “how to defeat [name of your filtering software]”. Any teenager can do the same, and if determined enough, they will succeed. So, before you even mess with trying out some of the following safeguards, your first priority should be teaching and mentoring your kids on the values of trust, purity, and common sense.

That said, you most definitely should employ some or all of these suggested strategies. What’s the point, you ask? Perhaps the best way to answer that is to consider how kids used to stumble upon “explicit reading materials” back in the day. Most likely they had to find it at some friends’ house. Or maybe they went so far as to steal it from the local liquor store. But just because they could get it if they really wanted it, their parents didn’t give them the key to a walk-in closet full of the nastiest, most vile porn they could find. When you leave your computers, iPads, smart phones, even iPods wide open and unrestricted, you are essentially doing just that. Actually, it’s a whole lot worse. The things your child can access through an unrestricted Internet browser are terribly worse than the ugliest porn you could ever imagine.

Scared?  Good.  Now let’s look at a few ways you can add some hefty speed bumps, barbed wire fencing, and even closed circuit video surveillance to your computer/network security setup.

 

Installing a Gate In Your Driveway

Before you even mess with any particular computer or device, you should consider changing the configurations on your Internet router. This is the “driveway” into your home and a good “gate” can keep most of the dangerous content from even reaching any of your Internet connected devices. There are a number of services to help you do this. The one we use in our home is OpenDNS. After creating a free account, this service will walk you through a couple simple changes to your router settings. This will force the router to run all Internet activity through a filter prior to getting to any device connected to your network.

WARNING: The lock on this particular “gate” is relatively easy to pick. While a good DNS filter will keep most young children out of trouble, a quick web search is all an older child needs to thwart this first level of defense.

 

Surveillance and Filtering

Your next line of defense requires a two-fold approach, and your options for this are pretty diverse. Every computer, smart phone and Internet-enabled device has its own specific parental controls and settings. Some programs work great on Windows PCs. Others work better on Macs. I’ve already outlined my best practices for securing your iOS (iPods,iPhones, & iPads) in an earlier blog (iPods/Pads/Phones for Kids), so this post will focus primarily on options for securing your computers.

Unlike the “gate” defense, filtering and monitoring requires individual setup procedures for every Internet-enabled device in your home.  There are a wide variety of programs to help you manage these safeguards.  The following are a handful I’ve researched and recommend.

 

Windows Family Safety – This is a free program offered by Microsoft.  The price is right and it does a very good job of both filtering and monitoring, as well as a number of other parental controls. However, it’s best feature is that it integrates very well with Windows.  Since I’m still too cheap to buy my kids Macs, we use this tool in our home to protect and monitor all our PCs. Are there other programs for Windows that do as good, if not better, than Windows Family Safety. Yep. I did mention I’m cheap though, right? If more bells and whistles appeal to you, the following paid options are all also great solutions to consider.

 

NetNanny – One of the most popular and feature-packed options available. Offers both Windows and Mac versions.

SafeEyes – Dave Ramsey recommends this particular solution. Offers nearly identical features and options. Also available in Mac and Windows versions.

AVG Family Safety – Another great option, although this one only works on Windows machines.  One great feature is an optional remote set-up.  For $10 an AVG tech will connect to your computer remotely and do the full installation for you.

 

Mac OS X Parental Controls – If you’re not as cheap as me and your kids have their own Macs, you’ll definitely want to learn all about the built in parental controls on your Mac.

Know of another good filtering and/or monitoring program?  Please do share in the comments below!

 

Open, Honest Communication

Lastly, but definitely not leastly (is that even a word?), it’s critical that your kids understand exactly what you’ve installed and why you’ve installed it. Our kids know that we care enough to take every reasonable step we can to protect them from as much of the nasty, ugly, dangerous Internet junk as possible. They also know we mean business and that we will hold them accountable should they stumble and wander into places they shouldn’t. The very first time our monitoring tools warned us of some questionable searches, we took that opportunity to make it very clear we were watching and that we cared enough to call them out on it.

As much as we want to put a bubble around our kids everywhere they go, we are also realistic to know they can and will likely stumble into junk they shouldn’t. However, that doesn’t mean we need to leave the door wide open 24/7 in our own home. I hope these suggestions and resources will help you have some open, honest and helpful discussions in your own homes.

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iPods/Pads/Phones for Kids

About 4 years ago our family started a trend. Back then all the cool kids had a Nintendo DS. We, being the rebels we are, decided to buck the trend and got our kids snazzy new iPods instead. Our reasoning being they were actually cheaper than a DS, the games were mostly less than $5 each (DS games are stupid expensive!), and they could serve multiple purposes.

Being the geek I am, I researched the iPods pretty extensively prior to giving them to my kids. The fact is an iPod is pretty much a small computer, complete with unfettered email, Internet, video, and chatting straight out of the box. Fortunately, Apple includes pretty extensive controls to restrict access to all these scary apps and settings. You just need to know what to restrict.

The purpose of this post is to help you identify all the settings and restrictions you may want to consider as you set up your iOS device for your young child.

Settings > General > Restrictions

Pretty much all the restriction settings can be found by opening the “Settings” app and selecting the “General”, then the “Restrictions” menu options.  Once here, click the “Enable Restrictions” button and enter a passcode.

Once you enable restrictions, the first settings to adjust are which apps you want to disable.  I’ve tried to share a quick reason or two as to why or why not to disable a particular app.

Safari – This app lets you browse the wide open Internet.  I highly recommend turning it off for children.  There are a number of great kid-safe Internet browser apps you can install later if you want to let your kids surf the Internet using their iOS device.  One of the best ones I’ve found is available for free from AVG.

YouTube – Supposedly you can set age-specific restrictions which should apply to this app, but in my house we just keep it turned off to be safe.

Camera – If you’re worried about your kids taking inappropriate pictures, then you may want to turn off the camera app.

FaceTime – This app lets you video call people.  This can be a great experience with grandparents and when Mom/Dad’s gone on a trip, but it’s also a wide-open tool for anyone to see and communicate with your child.  I’d recommend only turning this on when you are there to supervise use of it.

iTunes – This app is also supposed to abide by the age restrictions we’ll cover below, but unless you want your kids buying movies and songs unsupervised, I’d recommend turning this off.

Ping – This app is a social media add-on to iTunes where you can talk with others about your music preferences and such.  If you’re going to leave iTunes on, I recommend keeping Ping turned off for kids.

Installing Apps – If you set up your age restrictions, you should be able to let your kids install apps without too many concerns. I prefer to supervise and approve all app installations, partially because I worry about the effectiveness of the age restrictions and partially because I want to be sure they aren’t overloading the device with so many apps it affects the device performance.

Deleting Apps – This is helpful with young children who may inadvertently delete things.

Siri – This app lets you ask the device for advice (only certain iOS devices have this option). Keep in mind, it will answer ALL sorts of questions. I’m old fashioned in that I believe parents should be the only ones answering certain kinds of questions.

 

 

Additional settings include the ability to restrict content based on specific ratings. These age-specific restrictions apply primarily to Apple apps such as iTunes, YouTube, and installing Apps. You’ll want to be sure to turn off  “In-App Purchases”. Otherwise you may get some fun surprises when your next Apple bill arrives.

 

And finally, you can restrict the ability to make changes to the device’s “Location”, “Accounts” and “Find My Friends” settings. If the device is GPS enabled, you can lock down the location settings. This comes in handy with older kids who are lucky enough to have their own iPhone. With the Location and Find My Friend settings locked down you have the ability to keep tabs on their location and they don’t have the option of selectively turning this great feature off. By restricting the Accounts settings your child will not be able add additional email accounts, nor change any of the email settings. In this post I describe how to setup a Gmail account for your child to use that lets you monitor all their email activity. By locking down the Accounts settings, you can set-up the email for your child on their iOS device, enter the password, and then they can use email all they want without having access to the Gmail settings online.

Now you know how to make your iOS device safe for a child of any age.  Hopefully your kids enjoy them as much as mine have.

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My Kid Wants Email

Have your kids been bugging you for their own email account? Are “all the other kids” getting one and leaving your child in the dust? What are you waiting for?

My kids have had their “own” email account since the 3rd grade. You’re probably thinking, “Wow! You are braver than I am!”

Notice how I put parentheses around the word “own”? That’s because, while my kids are able to send and receive all the email they want, they are technically using a Gmail account I own. This is a second Gmail account, separate from my primary account. One that I manage and monitor using a few easy-to-access Gmail tools and settings. If you’re worried about child predators (and rightly so), this email method lets you keep a close eye on everything your child sends and receives, right in your own inbox.

The following video shows you the specific steps you can take to set up two Gmail accounts, one as your primary email and another that sends copies of everything sent and received to the first. Using this method you can set-up any iPod, iPad, Kindle, computer, etc to send/receive email using this second account, giving your kids safe, reliable, monitored email access.

The video details a number of very specific steps. I recommend opening it in a 2nd window so you can pause it and follow along. Once you’ve completed the steps described in this 10 minute video, you can return to this blog post to read instructions on setting up your respective devices as listed below.

Links to instructions for setting up Gmail accounts on different devices and email clients:

Mail Clients

Wireless Devices

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