It’s important to ensure that our children are safe when they are online. Parents should be aware of the risks associated with children using the internet and take steps to protect them from harm. There are many ways to ensure that children have access to useful resources while also respecting their privacy. Here are some tips for keeping your child safe while they are engaged in online activities.
Provider-Level Content Filtering
Parental control and content filtering at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level can be a powerful tool to protect children from harmful or age-inappropriate content. This can restrict access based on a website’s classification, such as whether it includes pornography, violence, hate speech, gambling, or other materials deemed inappropriate. Providers know at all times what sites are being accessed. A DNS (domain name system) call is made to resolve a website’s address to a numeric IP address. The provider can at that point check whether that website falls into a prescribed category, and deny access if needed.
By blocking these sites at the provider level, parents can make sure their children are not exposed to potentially dangerous or concerning content. Parents can also monitor their children’s online activity in real-time, set time limits for internet usage, and block certain social media accounts or applications. They can even turn off access to the internet during certain hours of the day.
The chief advantage of monitoring at the service provider level is that the monitoring is done outside the home. It cannot be easily evaded by a technically savvy teenager. A potential disadvantage is that because this filtering is based on a third-party appraisal of internet content, it may potentially either block content that the parent would have preferred to remain available or vice versa. So although this monitoring provides a good baseline of protection, some manual fine-tuning of content rules may be necessary.
Router Security Services
You also have options directly on the router to allow access to or restrict content. One of the most useful features of the router itself is whitelisting. It contains a pre-approved list of devices that will be allowed on the network. Where provider-level content filtering may fail is if a new device accesses the network. The provider may not know who that device belongs to and may not apply the rules appropriately (such as if a child normally accesses the internet with a computer, but then decides to use their phone instead.) Setting a pre-approved list of devices ensures that you are aware of all devices that connect to your network, and who they belong to.
Changing the Wi-Fi password also allows you more manual control over whether a specific individual is allowed onto the network. Setting a rotating password will allow you to revoke access to the network itself whenever needed. This includes withholding internet access until homework or chores are done. Router security settings are extremely powerful for allowing or denying access at a moment’s notice. However, it also requires manual administration to make changes when needed.
Local Computer-Based Monitoring
Finally, it’s a good idea to monitor home computers locally. Having internet access only in public areas in the home, such as a family room, allows you to keep visual tabs on what children are accessing. Doing so also allows you to monitor what may be brought onto the computer physically. This includes if your child brings software or content home through physical media such as a USB drive, which online content filtering may not be able to catch. You can also review logs from the computer itself to see what may be being done on it, even if the user does not access the internet in the process.
Ultimately, there are several ways to monitor and protect your family’s online activities. The best approach requires that they work in concert with each other. A judicious combination of content filtering, router-level management, and good old-fashioned visual inspection will provide the most security. If you have any questions about how best to protect your family while they use the internet, feel free to reach out to the Tenney School for more information.