Recently, a mother of teenagers asked me about locking down the internet. She wanted to be sure that her kids weren’t accessing the internet at all while she was not at home or during the night; she wanted to be able to restrict recreational use (e.g. facebook) at certain times, while allowing homework research (e.g. wikipedia). She was also concerned about online safety for her daughter in particular from bullying and predators.
[Parents: I don't want to preach at you or assign blame. I'm interested in your thoughts on this topic. Please let me know what you think!]
There are a number of thorny issues behind the question, which I won’t go into – e.g. attempting to use a technological solution to fix a social problem. What I’d like to research, however, is how to effectively apply controls on the sites that kids can go to, and when. I’m restricting myself here purely to the technical and practical aspect, and skirting the wider questions of online safety, discipline and parental authority in general. These wider questions are certainly important (and perhaps primary) but I’m not going to discuss them here.
My first answer was that the most reliable option is supervision, because all technological solutions suitable for a home environment can be bypassed. Constant supervision, however, is not always possible. Sometimes the kids are at home while mum is away.
One option is to unplug the router and lock it away, a method which this mother has tried; but this is not always practical, for example when her older children need internet access for legitimate purposes.
There are a number of tools out there that can be used to achieve most of what she needs. These include the Parental Controls built-in to Windows 7, which would allow her to dictate at what hours during the week individuals can use the computer, and what sites they can access. However, my big proviso is that all of these tools can be circumvented, given time and ingenuity. Even if the home is locked down securely, the kids will always have friends with unprotected computers.
A quick search on Google yielded the following:
“I have set up a limit on how when my children can use the computer. However, they have managed to bypass this limit by just altering the time backwards a couple of hours.” (source)
“I don’t know about any of you, but I know that I have to watch porn, anime, music videos, and download everything, it has even became (sic) an addiction to me as to the point that I would litterally (sic) go insane if I am completely restricted from all of the things I need to view and do. I am even suffering here, more than you can possibly imagine…” (apparently, a 16 year old) (source)
Some of the advice on that last page is incorrect or out of date, but some of it is perfectly suitable for bypassing Windows’ parental controls; in addition, other advice given removes the parent’s control over the computer.
The kind of parents I’m thinking of here are way behind their kids in their knowledge of computers and the internet. I don’t know any way forward except for education. I think I’d like to learn more about these parental controls and teach them to other parents. As a parent myself, I suspect these sorts of things will become more and more relevant as my kids get older.
Some apposite whirlpool forum discussions:
- Parental control at ISP level
- Modem Router w Firewall/Parental control
- Parental control of wireless network
- Windows parental control?
(parental control seemingly broken in Vista)
- Parental control software to run on XP??
- adult sites filtering program?
Some resources from Focus on the Family:
Some more good advice:
“the internet is more like the real world than television” - Parent’s guide to Internet safety
Finally, for the lighter side: