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.