Protecting your home and your digital profile is one of the great challenges of modern life. We protect ourselves and our kids physically. We put locks on our doors, we put camera systems up, and we pay alarm companies to monitor our homes. We restrict the movies and the games that we buy and go see in the theater. But what are we doing to stop dangerous content and porn from entering the home digitally?
Intentional digital protection is important. You do not have to have malicious intent to get into trouble online. This applies to kids even more than adults. Most kids are first exposed to explicit content either by a pier or by accident. My first exposure came as a result of a research assignment on the sirens in the Odyssey. No ill intent, just innocent research for a school project. It happens more than you think, it happens a lot more than you think. So please consider taking steps to digitally protect your home.
There a lot of tools out there with a wide range of costs, from free to monthly fees in the neighborhood of $30. There is also a wide range of quality within these products, so do your research. Let me first say this will probably require some experimentation on your part to find what works for you. There are 3 areas of protection I want to write about today: (1) device specific parental controls, (2) digital safety add-on software, and (3) router level filtering.
Device specific parental controls are kind of like childproofing your house. There are a lot of levels you can use and the effectiveness varies. The effectiveness and necessity also decrease as kids get older. The device specific parental controls you will have access to will vary greatly depending on the devices you have in your home. Most tech comes with some sort of parental controls though.
Phones, tablets, computers, and game consoles almost all have parental controls that will help you protect yourself and your family. Some of these are easier to use than others and unless you are proactive, creative kids will likely find a way around them. Some apps will bypass parental controls, so know what apps are on their devices. If your kids use an Xbox, figure out what the parental controls on the Xbox will do and how to access them. If they have an iPhone, again, spend some time getting comfortable with the parental controls on that device.
A final note about parental controls, don’t put parental controls on your kid’s phone and then leave your own devices unprotected and laying around. Odds are, your kids will eventually figure out your password. So either, be protective of the devices or put parental controls on them. Also, don’t put parental controls on a device and then make your password for the controls “1234,” “ABCD,” or your birthday.
Digital safety software is something that you add to the devices you have. This is like putting in an alarm system. It will protect you and alert you to dangers. You will purchase it from a company that specializes in this and download the apps and software to your devices. Most of these have a monthly cost, though a few do have free versions. NetNanny, Qustodio, and Covenant Eyes all offer software and apps that will protect your devices. There are a number of reviews out there for these options, do some research.
This type of product will be a download. You will not get a physical product, you will download something to your devices. The strength of this type of protection is that it goes with you and your kids everywhere. Whether you are home or not, your devices are protected. The weakness is that it can be bypassed with some effort.
A teacher friend of mine had a student that was grounded from the internet by his parents. They put parental controls on his phone that kept him from accessing an intent browser or social media. The student used “Words with Friends” just like an internet browser, accessing Facebook and the rest of the internet through the game. Paying attention is your best defense.
Many of these solutions will do more than just block explicit content. They will help you control how much time your kids can spend on social media or playing games on their phones. Many of them even have time parameters allowing you to turn off internet access during school or after bedtime.
Router level protection is the last area I want to discuss. This is like putting locks on your doors and gates on your property. This prevents access. So the software above blocks content as you surf, preventing the device from seeing what is out there. Router level protection blocks that content from entering the home at all.
Imagine a power grid. You can turn off a breaker which would keep power from going to a specific room or outlet. That’s like parental controls and parental control software. You can also go outside and turn off the main switch, that would prevent electricity from entering your house at all. This is what router level protection does.
These types of services will include a physical product. Something you plug into your router or that replaces your router all together. The strength of this type of security is that it is harder to bypass. The weakness is this type of protection doesn’t leave your home. Your home door locks don’t protect you in the car, in a friend’s home, at work, or in school.
Circle from Disney and Covenant Eyes both offer this type of service. There are other options as well, with varying costs and varying degrees of effectiveness. Again, my encouragement is: do your research. With most things that relate to technology, being cheap will get you a cheap product. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good cheap options, it just means your going to have to work really hard to find them. Combining all three areas of protection will also significantly increase the effectiveness of your choices.
If I had kids, based on my research right now I would probably use Circle from Disney in my home, Qustodio as my digital safety software, and then the device specific parental controls for all their devices. I have not used Circle or Qustodio so I certainly can’t recommend them based on experience, but based on my research they seem to do what I would hope to accomplish. Again, do your research and try different things out to figure out what works for you.