My wife and I have five children, the older kids have their own laptops, the younger kids have access to a family laptop and to iPods. Giving a child a computer with unfiltered Internet access in his bedroom is like handing a child a loaded gun. Letting children access the Internet unsupervised is like leaving a gun lying around the house. Without proper precautions it can be deadly. We had a close call not too long ago that woke us up to the reality of the dangers kids can be exposed to online.
The growing number of connected devices in our home (Samsung Galaxy tablets, iPods, Android phones, Microsoft Surface Pro 4, Windows Phones, Windows laptops and XBox 360 & One, and Kindle) have forced us to find a solution that works regardless of the platform (Blackberry, iOS, Android and Windows 7, 8, & 10). This new situation called for a 3-PART STRATEGY to protect our family while online.
PART ONE: We looked for a way to control the router which broadcasts the household wifi network. (We tried iBoss, but found it to slow down our network quite a bit so that streaming Netflix, for example, became impossible if someone was also listening to music. With future upgrades, hopefully they will fix that limitation.) The best solution we have found is OpenDNS. It provides filtered Internet access for all household connected devices, and allows the keeping of a log of websites visited. It gives the user the ability to select from categories of unwanted sites and/or to add individual sites to be blocked. And the price is only about $20 per year. Check it out here:
OpenDNS Home VIP – Customizable Filtering, Stats and Support
PART TWO: We also looked for a way to filter content according to the age level of each member of our family. For this we turned to Covenant Eyes. This subscription based service can cover the whole family (even when your kids are in college) for $13.99 per month. (Plans for individuals or couples start at $9.99 per month.) Once Covenant Eyes is installed on every device, each user gets a unique username and password under our one family account, with filter safety levels customized to each user. It works really well on our computers and Android phones and tablets. For Android it gives us controls over the device to block unwanted apps, and log all Internet activity. It does not filter Android Internet activity. For the iPods, it replaces the standard web browser with a filtered browser, and we use the iPod settings to block unwanted apps. (I’m not sure if it works as well on iOS since we don’t have any iPhones or iPads. But an alternative only available for Apple’s mobile products is Forcefield, recommended by Focus on the Family!) GET COVENANT EYES NOW using PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Amex, or Discover!
PART THREE: Unfortunately, we found that though the above strategy worked really well, it was not perfect. An app called TextMe on one of the children’s iPods allowed highly inappropriate text messages to be sent to one of our kids. (Some images were also sent, but blocked by our OpenDNS filters so that they could not be viewed.) My wife and I suspected some of these inappropriate messages may have been sent by an online predator impersonating a child. For this reason, “Part Three” of our Internet safety strategy is good old-fashioned parental supervision. We found out about the problem texting during a random check of the iPod in question. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do REGULAR checks of your kids’ devices: particularly texting apps (and there are lots of different texting apps available!). Texting, even if images are blocked, can potentially expose kids to predators.
Android and iPod settings allow parents to set up the device so that no new apps can be installed without a parent’s password. In this way, you can ensure that IF your kids have access to a texting app, for example, you know what it is called, and you check recent conversation threads regularly and unannounced.
If you have questions or comments about any of this, use the form below and my wife or I will respond.