Fresh on the heels of yesterday's post on technology in the classroom, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the parental controls you can use to keep kids safe on the technology they use at home. We jumped on the fast-moving technology train at our house around the holidays when an iPhone, a netbook, and two Kindles suddenly came into our lives, leaving me scrambling to ensure that my kids are getting the best of their access to the Internet without exposing them to the unsavory side of the World Wide Web.
We got my 9-year-old a netbook for Christmas so that she could Google all of her daily queries (How large is the sun? What does a bull shark eat? What does a baobab tree look like?) without having to wait in line for a turn to use the home computer. But even though I am always nearby when she uses her computer, I realized pretty quickly that allowing her to do her own Google or YouTube searches, say for wild animals, is often not the best idea.
I found it's easy to set so-called safety controls on my Internet browser or even on specific sites such as YouTube, but these settings just create a false sense of security about what is actually safe for young eyes to see. For me, in order for a safety program to work, it has to pass what I call the "honey badger" test. Surely, by now you've seen the notorious honey badger video on YouTube. Sure, it's funny as heck, but it's also wildly inappropriate for my young daughters to see. And it's exactly the kind of video that my girls — who are obsessed with learning about animals — just might innocently stumble across on the Web. Even with YouTube's safety setting turned "on," the honey badger video comes through with the click of a button. SO if you really want to ensure that your kids don't see anything they should see, you might need to look into one of these Internet filter programs:
OnlineFamily.Norton: This is an Internet-based protection tool that can be used on both PCs and Macs. You can set up profiles for each member of your family so that certain sites will be blocked depending upon your child's age. Also allows you to schedule computer time per user and even allows children to send their parents an explanatory message when they want to access a possibly inappropriate website. (Although I'm not sure why they couldn't just walk down the hall or across the room and ask their parents.) Cost: Free.
McAfee Safe Eyes: This program is a good choice if your home has more than one computer, because it can be installed on up to three systems, and additional licenses are easy (and inexpensive) to purchase. Safe Eyes lets you set up website blocking for specific sites, works on mobile devices (such as iPhones and other smart phones) and also allows you to make remote changes, say if your child needs access to a blocked site while you are at work. Cost: Around $50.
Net Nanny: Filters out icky X-rated sites as well as 35 other categories of sites such those containing hate speech, alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Also monitors social media and/or blocks social media sites, schedules computer time, and masks profanity that pops up on legit sites.
So those sites are good at blocking sites that you don't want your kid to get on, such as social media pages. But what about for kids who are old enough to access social media sites but young enough to need their parents' help to ensure they stay safe?
Programs such as uKnowKids and Social Shield track social networking activity for Facebook, MySpace and Twitter as well as smartphone calls, texts, and emails. Is it spying? That's between you and your kid and certainly depends upon whether or not your child knows you are watching. My eldest is still far from Facebook age (even though many of her friends already have profiles,) but when she is ready for Facebook, I know that I won't be able to look over her shoulder every time she is on the site. And I'm not as much worried about what she will post as what others may post on her page. So when the time comes, I'll probably look into the programs mentioned above. And I'll be sure that she knows it's on there for her safety and my peace of mind.
Oh, and you may have noticed that even though I covered filtering programs for your computer and smartphone, I didn't mention any for your Kindle. That's because, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such creature out there. Our Kindle Fire has complete access to sites like Facebook, YouTube and Google and yet there are no filters or apps that you can use to keep the content appropriate for young eyes. I would think that for all of the Internet discussions about this among other concerned parents, that some sort of Kindle-filter will be made available soon, but in the meantime, parents need to be aware and keep close tabs on kids and their Kindles.
Do you use an Internet filter on your home computer?