Parental Controls that Actually Work

The Internet has become exponentially ubiquitous. Young children no longer play blocks, puzzle, and kick ball like they use to. Instead, they’re hooked to their smartphones playing games, internet browsing, using social media networks, downloading apps and watching YouTube, amongst many other things.

While this exposure can make them more knowledgeable of world events, many hidden dangers are lurking in the shadows of the Internet. And safety only takes a major hit when it comes to children.

Curiosity tends to drive inquisitive children in to asking, experimenting and testing boundaries. They often copy what their peers are doing without realizing the risks they may be exposing themselves to. This curiosity affects their Internet browsing habits and often leads young boys and girls onto the wrong websites overflowing with inappropriate content.

Often, and sadly, the reality of the matter is that some children end up becoming victims of physical and mental abuse as a result of this type of behavior.

As a father I feel that have a responsibility to use parental controls to ensure that children have a safe experience online. As a technician by trade, I frequently come across parents who may not always fully understand how to implement these type of controls and protections in their homes so I decided to write an article about it.

Common Censoring Techniques

What a lot of individuals are not aware of is that for the most part, the Internet can be censored at the home network level, if they understand how implement the appropriate settings in place.

For example, if a household has a Wi-Fi router, a laptop, an iPad, and some mobile devices. Parents can modify router settings to prevent access to certain websites that may be deemed inappropriate for your family.

Use of filtering software on laptops and mobile devices or a filtered DNS like OpenDNS can help you. OpenDNS is a sort of internet filter for your home. It will allow access to a certain website or type of website that you approve of and block access to content you do not approve of.

Software based Parental Controls on Desktops and Laptops

Commercial software is available for both Windows and Mac operating systems. Parental control software facilitates online safety by blocking access to malicious and other types of content that you may find inappropriate.

For a somewhat reasonable fee software like NetNanny, Norton Family Premier, and Kaspersky Safe Kids are a few programs that can allow parents to set what controls they want to enforce and or when they would like to enfore them.

The software ensures Internet safety basically blocking bad content. What these programs also do is provide parents with reports of which parents can use to understand the browsing habits of their child.

Personally, I find the data log features to be very helpful in understanding what my children are searching for and more importantly what questions they have that they may or may not be too ashamed to talk to me about at this point in their lives.

After all, no one knows your child better than you and nothing works better than teaching your child right from wrong.

One thing to note though is to ensure that the settings for your Parental Control or Internet Security Software are password protected. Children, may innocently disable any blocks you have in place just being curious if they know the password of your program and are blocked from a website.

Another thing that was recommended to me at work is to never give administrator access to my childs user account in Windows or Mac.

My co-worker who is also a father explained to me his strategy. He advised me to think about your home like a work computer that has various levels and security features being implemented behind the scenes to ensure the stability of the network.

Allowing children too much access can risk down time for your network and peace of mind. So think if your home network like your work network where no monkey business is allowed online.

Administrator privileges are often misused in many ways to bypass Parental controls. The most straightforward being uninstalling the censoring software.

Enforcing Safe Browsing using your Wi-Fi Router

Configuring your router is one of the easier ways to enforce parental controls to ensure online safety for your children.

When you open a website, the phone, computer or other device communicates to the Internet through the router. Your router is a door through which all data passes. If you filter the data at this point, devices connected to the network cannot easily bypass these controls.

When finding a website, a process goes into place in which something call a DNS query is used. Without getting too technical the DNS (or Domain Name System) is like a directory that stores information about all websites.

Basically it kind of works like this, when you type facebook.com and press enter, your request goes through a Domain Name System and the DNS checks if facebook.com is in its records. If it is, the request goes through to Facebook’s servers and the website loads.

What would happen if the DNS did not know the server associated with Facebook.com? Simple – the site doesn’t load.

A DNS normally holds a pretty significant sized database of a lot of websites. There are filtered versions of the DNS that “do not know” or “remove” the server names of websites with a common theme such as gambling, pornography, and extreme content.

When that website does not load, for the most part your child will not suspect that you have done it unless they are more computer savvy than usual.

OpenDNS is a company specializing in offering various DNS solutions and Internet security solutions. Network solutions giant Cisco acquired OpenDNS in 2015.

How to use OpenDNS:

Disclaimer, I am a fan of OpenDNS Family shield. It is a great free service offered by the company and they do a fantastic job of keeping their database up to date with websites that may be deemed inappropriate for children.

To ensure safe browsing for your children, you may login to and change your router settings to use OpenDNS Family Shield instead.

Here are the OpenDNS Family Shield IP addresses:

  • 208.67.222.123
  • 208.67.220.123

These two IP addresses will need to be entered into your router as your primary and secondary DNS servers.

Once you have entered these IP addresses into your router, all internet browsing activity will be filtered through their Family Shield servers.

The feature that I like the most about OpenDNS is being able to filter by content type and website domain (pictured above). You can even put your picture in the notification page so that if and or when your child lands on a website that is blocked they will see your face along with a message saying “You are not authorized to access this page” or a custom message of your choosing.

If you feel that it is complicated for you I understand. Some people have to ask a family friend or someone who is more well versed in computers to assist. But it basically adding numbers into your router, nothing to be intimidated by.

What to Do With Legitimate Websites

While Linksys and OpenDNS may prevent your child from doing a lot of unsafe browsing, what about the legitimate websites?

The world’s most popular video-sharing website YouTube.com is also a leading search engine extensively used for entertainment, educational videos, and how-to guides.

As I have mentioned on other post Youtube is a source of misery for me with much age-inappropriate material. Google requires users to sign-in to their account if they want to watch a video that community users flagged as sensitive.

But children quickly learn how to circumvent this process. Recently, YouTube has taken steps to ensure protection of children online highly recommending that Parents use the YouTube for Kids app.

Meanwhile, if your child accesses YouTube you may now enable or disable “Restricted Mode” with or without being logged into your account. All videos flagged as sensitive for minors will either not play, prompt your child prior to viewing or be avoided in the backend through YouTubes programming algorythem

Internet Safety on Mobile Devices

Just like laptops, mobile devices have software available to enforce Parental Controls and ensure internet safety for children. While free versions are available, the paid version do a much better job at enforcing on access protection from internet threats as well as safe browsing habits.

Caveats

We may have good software and ways to control what our children see on line. Yet, every system has some weak-point or a way through which it can be bypassed. Being aware of the following may come in handing in ensuring that the safety of your child is not compromized.

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A VPN is a sort of internet tunnel that can be used to bypass the DNS protection system. It establishes a connection using another country’s or locations server. After that connection is established, all websites are accessible regardless of what filters you have in place.

Opera Browser

Opera browser has a built-in VPN, so be cautious if suddenly you see your child using Opera instead of Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer (IE).

Router Access

Restrict your child from accessing router settings. Changing your routers default login name and password makes good security sense overall. Most routers have a default password as simple as admin, password.

Changing the login name and password adds that extra layer of protection to your home network that is well worth the time it takes to learn how to do it.

Admin Access + Minors = Bad Combination

As mentions above, giving admin privileges to your children on the family Windows Mac OS is a precarious thing to do. Children and teens have a fearless clicking nature about them that many adults do not have. Adults have seen or experienced the various disasters that can result from clicking an unsafe link.

Allowing access with a Standard account minimizes the likelyhood that this will happen because at least with a Standard account any threats are not allowed to completely take over your PC with Administrative rights.

Mobile Devices

Locking the browser, settings page and the app store down may help in many ways as well. Locking restricts any malicious app from being installed without your prior consent, investigation and or approval. This also blocks content not deemed appropriate for children from being viewed on the devices browser.

At this point, I use this technique the most because my children are heavily into iPads. This keeps me engaged, and forces me to oversee every app they install to ensure that not only is the app age appropriate, but also that it is not notorious for having malicious code of some sort hidden in the back end.

While this may come acress as a sort of policing approach, it works well, and more importantly to me encourages conversation with my children. They frequently ask me about apps they are interested in that they dont completely understand the context of.

Our rule is they are only allowed on their ipads in the living room where I can see and hear what they are doing on the ipad as well.

Concise and to the point communication seems to work really well for me. Please share any thoughts ideas and or suggestions you may have. At the end of the day, we have children to protect and provide for.

As fathers, this is probably one of the most difficult times in history for us to fulfill our fatherly duty. Predators can literally sneak into our homes right through the internet, so I am open to sharing any ideas you may have.

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