I am a parent and have grown to realize how important it is to stay current with technology so that I can protect my children growing up in a digital world. Perhaps you are in the same boat but don’t know where to start. The first step is to understand the real risks of the internet for kids. The second involves a common sense approach to limiting the reach of technology in your family life.
Uncensored content is probably what most parents think of when they picture their kids surfing the web. This is definitely a point of concern and as kids become more tech savvy, often out witting their parents, it is increasingly important to have solutions in place to protect them. I grew up loving to defeat roadblocks. This wasn’t because I was particularly interested in browsing the uncensored web, but I enjoyed the puzzle and the thrill of solving the challenge. I imagine there are a lot of kids like that these days and that can be guided into a marketable skill. There really isn’t a way to guarantee they won’t get into something they shouldn’t which is why I think an honest conversation along with reasonable restrictions will go the furthest. It’s worth mentioning that the internet is vast and evil things make their way to the screen even if they are not sought out. The moral child will likely agree it is best to leave those things out of reach. There are plenty of constructive things a tech-active child can do to keep their mind stimulated. Have them think of something they are passionate about and write an app for it, or provide books about computer science for their level of reading.
So how do you put reasonable restrictions in place for your home?
The best place to start is with your wireless router. Most modern wireless routers allow you to configure time ranges when the internet is available. Some go so far as device specific time ranges. A quick search for your model of router will get you started in that process. The next thing you can do with your router is implement a DNS (Domain Name System) filter. * I know it’s getting technical, but bear with me * To briefly explain, when you type a web address into your browser, a request containing the name of the website is sent to a DNS server. The DNS server returns a numerical address in exchange for the name of the website. If the DNS server did not exist, you could not visit any webpages because your computer would have no way of finding the numerical address. A DNS filter leverages that behavior. So, when content from a bad website is requested, the DNS filter simple refuses to return the numerical address making it impossible to visit that website. OpenDNS has a free family protection service found here: http://www.opendns.com/home-solutions/parental-controls/. If you use their settings in your router, anyone connected to your wireless network is automatically protected.
The second best place to look is on each device that they have access too. The vast majority of tablets, phones, etc. have settings dedicated to parental control. Just search the web for the name of the device and “parental controls” and you are sure to get detailed instructions.
As important as content filtering is, it may come second to responsible use of social networking. Social networking could include Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and the like. These services often provide a minute by minute account of your child’s activity if they are not careful. Child predators have learned to exploit social networking to stalk children. Photos and posts reveal the child’s location and schedule by default. If you have decided to allow your children access to these services, make sure the privacy settings have been locked down as tightly as possible. Frank conversations with your children about the very real danger of social networking will go a long way. Finally, monitor their social networking usage. It seems to be too often that parents forget their kids are, well… just kids. The internet can be a gateway to very adult situations and it is important that parents remain in the know. There is software that can be setup to help you with that. One great example is BullGuard (http://www.bullguard.com/products/bullguard-premium-protection.aspx). Facebook even has a Family Safety Center (https://www.facebook.com/safety).
If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is, but considering you’re already a parent you knew that’s what you signed up for. If this is way over your head, call your local Geek Squad and they can help you out. Do the research. Put the time in. Keep your kids safe!