by Melissa Kroeker
As parents in 2017 we are treading on new ground. We are the inbetween internet generation - we remember our childhood life before the internet, we were teenagers dialing up to use MSN Messenger to talk to our friends down the street, and we didn't get a cell phone until our early 20s. Now many of us are parenting in this new age where our kids don't know what it's like to not know something ("Hang on, I'll google it"). But with the wealth of information comes a weighty responsibility. I love that my kids can wonder what life in space is like and then we can watch Chris Hadfield's Youtube tour of the international space station. I don't like that anything and everything is on there for a child to stumble into (statistics say a child's first exposure to pornography is now 11-12 years old).
So what can we do? I recently explained internet filtering to my 10 year old like this: When we go for a drive, I drive as safe as I possibly can. I obey the laws and drive defensively. But I still wear a seatbelt. Using the internet is like that. We need to make good choices and be careful where we go and what we view, but we still use filtering software on top of that to protect us. I've done a lot of research on this topic and here are some resources and links for you to check out as you look for your own "seatbelt".
There are two main types of internet safeguards I've discovered. Filtering software and accountability software. We'll start with filtering. Here are my two favorites:
1. K9 Web Protection is a FREE filtering program that you download onto your device (Windows, MAC, iphone, ipad, android). It's quick and simple and if you have nothing else currently in place, start here, you'll have it up and running faster than you can make a cup of coffee. It offers easy pre-set filtering levels to choose from depending on the age of your kids, safesearch enabled on all search engines, time restrictions to turn the internet off during designated times, ability to override with a parent password, tamper resistant for tech-saavy kiddos, and it can even send you reports showing you activitiy to categories of websites. We personally use K9 on our family desktop computer and I think it's great.
PROS: quick, easy, free, ability to limit internet time, easy for parental override if setting is too strict (i.e., blocks a benign website I'm trying to access.)
CONS: devise-specific - must install on each computer/device
2. OpenDNS Is a free or paid (depending on your level of protection) DNS that begins at the router level protecting all your devices both from attacks from malware, and through filtering of content that comes into your home. You can filter by category or content, block specific sites, and keep logs of web activity. A friend of mine uses this and highly recommends it.
PROS: protects all devices on your wifi network, offers customizable settings and more options in the paid version (which is still a steal at about $20 USD/year), protects against malware and phishing as well.
CONS: a bit harder and more time consuming to set up for the very-non-tech-savvy like me...otherwise no real cons that I could find!
1. Covenant Eyes is a Christian service provider that offers a myriad of resources. Their aim is to help people break free from the addition of pornography by offering transparency, accountability, and filtering. Covenant Eyes tracks and sends out customizable reports every week or two with details of all online activity across all devices to an accountability partner. Covenant Eyes is for anyone but is especially helpful for anyone who has struggled with their internet choices in the past and desires to make a change. It's extremely user friendly with lots of video tutorials and live help setting up and maintaining it. It offers a level of accountability and protection with features like a panic button (for users struggling with temptation to push to temporarily disable their internet use), plus a TON of ebooks, blog articles and resources on how to talk to your kids or how to rebuild trust in a marriage etc. Covenant Eyes offers additional filtering software to protect against exposure to inappropriate material. We use Covenant Eyes in the Kroeker house and highly recommend it!
PROS: Offers accountability and trust through their reporting and for many marriages or parent/child relationships this is invaluable! It offers so many excellent resources, tutorials, live chat or phone help, unlimited installation on most computers and devices including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android, even Kindle Fire. In addition to its own web browser it monitors many apps including facebook, twitter, youtube, google search, instagram, netflix, and includes their usage and content viewed in their detailed reports. You can also block internet access for a certain device or all during certain time periods (i.e., turn off internet access on a teen's phone from 10pm-7am)
CONS: Costs $10-$15/month depending on whether you have an individual or family plan, plus an additional few bucks for filtering. Can be a hassle at times when something benign is blocked. Must install Covenant Eyes mobile app on all devices.
2. X3 Watch is similar to Covenant Eyes but a bit more basic. It's only $25 USD/year for the basic or $65 USD/year for the advanced option which includes filtering. It's main difference is it's limitation to one user account across the board (where Covenant eyes allows for multiple user settings for various family members). It sends out reports to up to 8 accountability partners and even offers live alerts sent out in the advanced option.
PROS: Cheaper annual fee. Live help alerts to accountability partners
CONS: Doesn't offer customizable plans for each member of the family.
3. Net Nanny - another really good option to look in to, Net Nanny offers internet filtering, parental controls, time restrictions, and reporting. Prices vary from $39-$89 depending on how many devices you want to use it on. Net Nanny was the gold standard for many years, has been around since 1996 and is ranked highly.
PROS: All encompassing program that offers accountability and filtering in one package
CONS: Costs $39 for each device (discounts for many), and is a little more complicated to run and maintain. See here for a review .
4. There's also an amazing device out there called Circle. It pairs with your home Wi-Fi and lets you manage every device on your network, both wireless and wired, without ever needing to put software on them. It gives ultimate control to parents to fine tune the filtering on each device in your home. My favorite is the internet pause button. Who needs a dinnerbell in a house full of teenagers? You can also manage time limit on specific devices. Circle costs about $100 to purchase (you can find it on amazon or at walmart) and that's it. The only downside to Circle is that is only protects the devices while they're on your home wifi. However, they've also recently created Circle Go which continues Circle coverage on portable devices over 4G. This is a monthly subscription (in addition to buying the device) of about $10/month. I've heard nothing but great things about Circle and I imagine that we'll likely be getting one down the road once we have more devices in our home.
Pros: Ultimate parental control over filtering from the router level, specific to each device. Internet pause button.
Cons: A bit costly up front as well especially if combined with a subscription to Circle Go. Also no ability to customize users who share a device (for example in my house we have 1 ipad my 4 kids and I share so if I set up the ipad to filter at an 8 year olds's level, it would be like that even when I used it). For more info on Circle, read this helpful review.
Did you know Google offers a "safe search" setting and YouTube offers a "restricted" mode? Pop those in place in a second if you haven't already. Even if you don't decide to sign up for Covenant Eyes, check out their blog and ebooks and other free resources. Really great stuff http://www.covenanteyes.com/blog/ and I found this article about protecting your kids and Apps really helplful: Apps and Internet Doorways: What Parents Need to Know
Another great resource is the White Hatter - a group that does school presentations on Internet and Social Media safety for kids grades 4 and up. My son recently sat through presentation at his school and learned so much helpful information on how to keep safe online and what's private and what's not. Highly recommended and so helpful to have the school reinforcing what's being taught at home! The White Hatter has a blog and lots of other helpful resources for discussing these important topics with your preteens and teens.
Also check out:
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