5 Steps to a Family-Safe Internet


I’ve reviewed several internet filtering and internet security products for GeekDad over the years. Each has pluses and minuses. I’ve decided to come clean with what my family runs: yes, we do filter the internet for our kids — but our filtering is more common-sense than technology solution (although both play a part).

Since being a GeekDad, I’ve reviewed Safe Eyes (twice), NetBlox, OnlineFamily.Norton, and BufferZone — and there have also been several groups I’ve not reviewed. So, I’ve seen software solutions, hardware solutions, and lots in between …

Photograph by Russ Neumeier

Regardless of what I’ve reviewed, what do I actually use at home?

  1. The kids’ computer is in the living room and is visible from the kitchen and while we watch TV. This makes it easy to see which sites the kids are going to. I see this as the most important aspect of keeping our kids safe online.
  2. No laptops or wi-fi enabled devices in the bedrooms. If one of the kids needs to be online, it happens in the living room. Or at school.
  3. We use non-administrative accounts for the kids. This really helps limit what settings the kids can change and what software they can install. It means a bit more work for me or the GeekMom when something needs to be installed, but we’ve found that once a browser with the necessary plug-ins is in place, the kids need very little else.
  4. We use OpenDNS for our filtering. Yes, if the kids get the admin password for the computer or my OpenDNS password, they could then reconfigure the IP settings to use our home router versus my OpenDNS IP settings, so it’s not a fool-proof setup but it is good enough. And free. There is a $9.95/year option that removes ads and give more granular control of your network, but I’ve not tried that one out yet.
  5. When the kids hit a site that OpenDNS blocks because of our filtering settings, we have a discussion. I’ll pull out my laptop (that is not using OpenDNS) and we’ll go to the site in question. Most of the time, it’s a flash game they want to play or a site needed for a school project. If we agree, I change the OpenDNS settings to allow that specific URL and the kids are happy. If the GeekMom and I disagree, we explain why and continue a discussion with the kids on why we won’t be unblocking the site.

The GeekMom and I have had this setup in place for almost a year, and we’ve unblocked more sites than we’ve left blocked as we’ve talked with the kids. One child has tried to bypass our setup — it’s an arms race that we lose for a short time, but ultimately, the games the child wants to play get blocked — after the discussion.

Does this mean that occasionally the kids stumble on a site or an ad that we’d rather they not view? Yes — and then we talk about it and update the ad-block plugin or the OpenDNS block list.

There is no perfect internet filtering software on the market: every single one lets something through that a parent would rather not let through. However, we’ve found OpenDNS to have the level of security, customization, reporting, and flexibility (including a customized message when a site is blocked — ours encourages the kids to talk to GeekMom and GeekDad if they think the site is blocked in error).

OpenDNS is our first line of defense, and then a GeekMom/GeekDad/GeekKid discussion for the exceptions.

So, what methods do you use to manage your kids’ internet safety and security? Please leave a comment.

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