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How Do I Keep My Kids Safe from Internet Garbage?

If you’ve been on the internet for any length of time, you probably feel like its main purpose is to distribute pornography, drug ads, and questionable financial solicitations. If you’ve got kids, you’re probably also worried about pedophiles, cyber-stalkers, bullies, and other nefarious net inhabitants.

While things aren’t nearly as bad as the press might make it out to be, it is bad enough.

What’s a responsible parent to do?

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Summary

  • Parenting is more important than software.
  • Monitoring software allows you to track activity.
  • Filtering tools try to control what is and is not allowed.
  • Any tool is easily bypassed by the motivated.

On parenting

First, I need to be clear about something: in my opinion, technology is no substitute for parental involvement.

If you honestly can’t trust your child on the internet, then no technology in the world is going to fix that. As we’ll see below, at best you can slow your child down, but you certainly can’t prevent them from accessing things that go against your wishes. That’s a parenting issue that needs attention away from the computer.

End of sermon.

Monitoring

A Child on the InternetInternet monitoring software simply records the activity taking place on your computer.

It’s normally hidden, and works in the background to keep track of several types of activities. This type of software typically tracks websites visited, but can often also record email sent and received, as well as instant messages and chats.

The tools either store the recorded information on the computer on which they’re installed, or send the information to another computer, or to an online service, for access by the parent wanting to keep track.

While many might consider this a bit of a “Big Brother” approach (in fact, one of the tools is even named that) it can be an appropriate way to monitor without controlling.

Filtering

Internet filtering software takes a more active role by blocking or “filtering out” content that is deemed objectionable, be it webpages, email, or other forms of communication. Most have password overrides and many have updated databases to track the ever-changing landscape of what is and is not objectionable, not unlike spam filtering.

The problem with internet filtering is much like the problem with spam filtering: false positives. The classic case is that internet filtering software may prevent access to legitimate sources of information regarding, say, “breast cancer”.

Most are configurable to a point.

What is “objectionable”, anyway?

Just like spam filters, internet filters are not perfect. Not only will they occasionally block legitimate content, but they’ll also occasionally let inappropriate content through as well.

Perhaps even more difficult to deal with, not everyone’s definition of what is and is not “objectionable” is the same.1

You simply can’t rely on internet filters to be completely effective, or to match your definition of what is and is not appropriate.

For every action…

For the determined, there are ways around everything.

In what I consider to be a most ironic turn of technology, the tools and techniques that allow dissidents in oppressive countries to bypass government restrictions can be used by kids, or anyone for that matter, to bypass the restrictions put into place by others.

And finally, whatever restrictions or monitoring you put into place on your computer are trivially bypassed when your child visits a friend’s house, or in some cases, even visits a library.2

Recommendations

I don’t have specific tools to recommend in this space.

My recommendation would be to look into parenting groups online, especially on social media, and see if your peers have specific recommendations and experiences to share.

Perhaps my most important recommendation, though, is not to trust or rely on software to fix what is ultimately a parenting issue.

Podcast audio

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Video Narration

Footnotes & references

1: Seriously. Over the years I’ve been taken to task for using “OMG”, as well as saying something “sucked”, because those terms were respectively considered blasphemous and pornographic in origin — at least to the complainers.

2: Many libraries choose not to filter internet access, and others are
prevented from doing so.

9 comments on “How Do I Keep My Kids Safe from Internet Garbage?”

  1. I signed up my daughter for msn.messenger from the page for web accessed messenger, not knowing that it wasn’t the software version that you install on your computer. Later, I downloaded Windows Live so she could access it more readily from our home computer. I figured the web accessed version would be great for when we vacation. When I signed her up, I was under the impression it was children safe as it immediately directed me to a children’s browser. However, when she accessed it with Windows Live, an ad for singles with picture of a woman leaning back against a man with both of them moving as if girating. How did this happen? Is this because she accessed it using Windows Live and not the web version? I just logged on with her ID using the web version and they had a site for singles. Though not as objectionable, it links to a site for finding a date.

    Reply
  2. I just recently used great software for my younger cousin. She tends to get into trouble on the internet. Signing up for pornography sites and looking up ways to do things illegal to be precise. As her family, I heard from friends that they use a perfectly safe and confidential program to monitor and restrict specific sites called CCINFORMER. I figured since my friend has 3 children, 5,8,13 that this had to be good. I downloaded a demo version to see how it worked. It sets you up with two lists, one for access to specific sites, and restrictions to specific sites. I set it up in about 5 minutes just for the major sites that I came across on my computer that my cousin does share, then went to work. I came home interested to see what would be in store. This software sent me EMAIL & VIDEO of what my cousin was searching for! The sites I missed I put on my list right away. This is definitely the best software I’ve used considering its right in my inbox waiting for me daily. ITS FOR ALL AGES and apparently works on EMPLOYEES.

    Reply
  3. I use a HOST file recommended by Mrs. Komando. I do not totally understand a HOST file but I have had no garbage on my computer. I have used one for years. Of course I don’t have kids either.

    Reply
  4. I have found that someone is using my computer to go to pornographic pages during the time my young daughter is home, but no one is in the house, and I’m sure she isn’t the one accessing them. Can someone use my computer remotely and have the history show on my computer? The user is leaving the history tab open so I find it when I get home from work. It’s really creepy.

    Reply
  5. How can kids be online and be safe at the same time? Many are asking themselves this question. But the answer is quite simple: Information. All you need is to give them the information they need. Talk with your kids. Let them know the dangers. They will know what`s safe and what isn`t.
    And you can use a guide like this one Parental control guide

    Reply
  6. There are some good places to start with some software control, like Leo said there are always ways around things! I have found and have setup for many clients K9 Web Protection (http://www1.k9webprotection.com/) Also, OpenDNS (https://www.opendns.com/) can be very helpful with some control over web content. Another thing I did back in the day with my kids (which was easier for me, I have a computer business and run a Windows Server in our house and our son & daughter had their own PCs, and yes we had to do a bit of monitoring and schooling on use) was to use my server as a Proxy Server for our network and all other computers would run through it to get Internet access. With this setup I could schedule the kids PCs Internet Access (school nights, internet went off at 9pm and on Friday & Saturday at mid-night. Was easy to make quick changes to settings for each if we found some extra time was needed for a school project!). With K9 & OpenDNS the other key is to setup Account Passwords that would be hard for your family members to figure out and change/override, to keep yourself in charge of things… Also, any of the options above can be run on Windows Workstations (does not have to be an actual Server OS). I am sure some of them will work with Apple Systems, too (I have not had the chance to work with them on a network in the above scenarios).

    Reply

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