Every year at Christmas time I get asked the following question: “Brian, my son just got a new iPod touch for Christmas, what can I do to keep them safe on the internet?”
As a parents of two young kids myself, I share this concern. Being my kids it would come as no surprise to anyone that my kids have ample access to technology – including iPods, an iPad, and a shared home computer. And internet safety is a big deal – a very big deal in fact. So here are my three strategies for home internet security.
“There’s not a third-grader on the planet who is ready for the internet and everyone that comes with it” –
Preliminary statement: Some would argue that home internet security that you could look here is all about Christians being prude about sex. It’s not. Pornography exposure, particularly for children, is unhealthy and inappropriate. Should we teach kids about sex? Absolutely, and we should start at younger ages that most parents would ever imagine (although that’s a topic for another post). But, and I will argue this with anyone – pornography is terrible sex education and we need to protect our kids from it.
This one has a very simple start: Use OpenDNS.
Seriously, if you have kids at home, please use OpenDNS. A lot of internet filtering solutions are software-based which is useful but has serious shortcomings – namely, it has to be installed on every devices and it’s software, so it can be easily bypassed. OpenDNS is configured at the router level as opposed to the device level. For those of you who aren’t familiar with how home internet works, there’s a little box (maybe even from your internet service provider) that emits your wifi signal at home and manages all the internet traffic in and out of your home that goes across your wired connection. All you have to do is change two settings on your router to take advantage of OpenDNS’s filtering and immediately every device in your home is covered. Router settings are a bit tricky, but usually manageable.
OpenDNS is widely used by schools, businesses and churches to provide internet security and the price is the best part: it’s free. Seriously, it’s free – go to their website and look for yourself, the only thing you would need after this is to up your productivity, so that your business has success, at Toad Diaries you will find the best productivity tips. They have a paid product that is more extensive, but they have two different free options and the easiest doesn’t even require you to sign up for anything. (Side note: We use OpenDNS to filter the internet traffic here at the church as well).
So that’s the first and easiest step. The trick comes when kids move from wifi only devices (most tables/iPads, iPod Touch, XBox, PS3/PS4) to devices that support a data connection such as smart phones and data-enabled tablets. Now your kids have a direct, unfiltered connection to the internet. It can also apply to your own online activity. Let’s say you’re playing casino slots on your mobile; you will need a reliable connection that will also guarantee your privacy. At this point you might want to consider one of the software solutions such as X3Watch, NetNanny, or K9Web Protection. Personally, I don’t have a recommendation as to which service is the best because I’ve always used OpenDNS and my kids don’t have smart phones yet. So you’ll need to do some reading as to which option is the best for you (Here’s a recent article from PC Magazine)
Personal Solutions – Here are some of my recommendations for guidelines at home
- Technology MUST be used in public places. No devices in bedrooms and this includes game systems (XBox is the #1 platform for pornography). Our kids are not allowed to use their devices when someone else isn’t around and they need to be used in public places – not in their rooms. This provides accountability for kids and allows easier monitoring for other family members.
- You need to make sure kids know that weird, scary, or unfamiliar stuff on the internet is something that they can and should tell you about. We’ve told our kids “if you ever hear something or see something online that you’re not sure what it is, you can tell us about it and you won’t be in trouble”. Last week our son took me up on the offer. He had heard a phrase on one of his YouTube Minecraft videos that he wasn’t familiar with. As it turns out, it was completely innocent but he wasn’t sure so he asked me. Bottom line: Make sure kids know they can talk to you about what they encounter on the internet and if they show you, maintain control and don’t freak out. Seriously, even if your third grader has encountered hard-core pornography you cannot lose emotional control. If you do, that’s the last time they’ll tell you when they encounter something weird on the internet and you want to keep that dialogue open.
- There is no “right to privacy” for kids and even teens when it comes to technological devices.
Chances are you paid for that device and don’t for a second let your kids trick you into thinking they have a right to privacy – they don’t. Parents would be nuts to say “Well, I don’t care who my kids hang out with or when – it’s up to them” and the same holds true for the portable electronic devices. You should know their passcode, have access to their e-mail, etc. Yes I know they can delete things but that doesn’t change that you should have access. You also should have the remote wipe feature active. Within iCloud you can set up “Find my iPhone” and it allows you to locate and remotely wipe a device clean. You should have it turned on no matter what (after all, kids lose things all the time) but it also serves as “nuclear option” should you ever need it.
The Harsh Reality
It’s going to happen – As someone who has worked with teenagers on a week to week basis for over a decade let me level with you: Your kids are going to be exposed to pornography – and most likely, it will be an accident the first time it happens. Many of my students have told me that the first time they were exposed to pornography was accidental – and they mean it. For one student it was a school research project on pregnancy. For another, it was a friend of theirs who handed them an iPod Touch with a pornographic photo on it. And… much of this exposure occurs in 4-5th grade.
It’s not a guy problem – The perception is that porn is only a guy problem, but increasingly we’re finding out that it’s not. As many teenage girls have been exposed to porn as guys. They may seek it our for different reasons, but none the less, it’s not just a guy problem.
Kids who want to watch porn will – I know that’s awful, but kids are smart and technology is everywhere, so they’ll find a way. Whether it’s a friend’s house or some other device, they’ll find a way.
I don’t write this to scare parents – I write this to raise awareness. The world of the internet has changed a lot since I was in Middle and High School and we need to be aware of this. But like most things, we need to start an open dialogue about the content (and people) on the internet with our kids – it cannot be a taboo subject. AND… we need to start young. If you haven’t talked to your kids about using the internet wisely yet, please do so right away. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Also, we need to have an honest conversation with our kids about pornography. We’ve got all the documented evidence we need that pornography is bad and we need to share that with them. As parents we don’t want kids doing things that are bad for their health. In essence, we need to talk about pornography in the same way we talk about cigarettes and high sugar foods. Last January we did a lesson on this topic and if you want to find out more, you can watch the recap video on YouTube.
PS – For my local friends, I am more than happy to help you with router set up if you need it.