15 May 2006

Talk amongst yourselves: Internet filtering

Dan asks:

We have 4 boys at home and we're looking for the best solution for internet filtering.  I looked around Parent Hacks a little but didn't see any discussion on this.  Do you have suggestions or a discussion somewhere?

What say you?

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The best and really only way to make sure kids are going only where you want them to go is with a whitelist proxy where they can only go to the websites you program into the proxy server, and can not surf beyond that. It takes more work on your part to add the websites they can go to but it's the best way to ensure that they don't go where you don't want them. Any other product, or service is subjective to what some company thinks your kids should/should not see...

XXXChurch.com has some outstanding things, including filtered internet service, a standalone filtering application, and accountability software called x3watch that notifies someone by email every two weeks about any questionable sites the computer has visited. They also have some great stuff about how to talk with kids about porn, and a great commercial (featuring Pete the Porno Puppet!) telling parents about the danger of having porn in the house where kids can get at it.

Keep the computer in the family room. I also use Dansguardian on Mac OS X.

http://www.lopata.net/component/option,com_docman/task,cat_view/gid,14/Itemid,29/

I've had great luck with K9 Web Protection. Free, easy to install, and very configurable.

http://www.k9webprotection.com/

The best filter is a parent. Neither of my sons were allowed to go online without a parent sitting next to them until they were 13. We went over safe practices (like keeping personal information private) at least once a week.

And having the computer in public space (ours was in the dining room and we have an open-plan house) helps a lot. If the kids had a question or received something nasty, we were right there to take care of it.

If all your computers are part of a "home network" install a free remote viewer (like tight VNC) on your son's computers. This will allow you to view their computer real time at any time. Give them a demo of how you can view what they are viewing without them knowing it. But as other posters have suggested, talk about safe practices and what is appropriate internet use and viewing for each age group.

Here's the Tight VNC site http://www.tightvnc.com/

a) Always keep it in a public space (this is not always great for kids that chat with abbreviations parents don't understand)
b) There is no technology that is 100% kid-proof


*What I would really like to see, personally, is a linux boot disc that gives the ability to have a white list/proxy, and locks it all down. (Anyone have/know an easy solution like this?)

Obviously nothing is going to beat a parent providing supervision.

However, if you really want to stop them, and you're technically inclined, setup the machine such that it can't reach the internet other than by a proxy you control (or by some service... but I'm not convinced I trust any of them), and make it so that it's deny all except your approved sites.

The important thing to remember is if you're not supervising them, and you're relying on software, and they really want to get around your solution, they'll find a way.

Pardon my naivete, but what's wrong with putting the computer in the living room, and not letting your kids go on it without you there?

In other words, parenting your own kids instead of letting badly-designed, imperfect technology do the job for you.

Uly, no one here is advocating for "letting badly-designed, imperfect technology do the job for you", and rude comments aren't helpful to the discussion.

Lots of us are saying to keep the computer in a public area and surf with your kids. But sometimes technology can lend a helping hand, and that's a good thing.

One solution I found is a product called IMbrella ChatChecker Pro. Priced at $49.99, ChatChecker installs on YOUR PC and lets you remotely monitor, block or record instant messaging on 2 other PC’s in your home or small office. No one will know how their IM is being checked and it will never stop working until you shut it off!

As someone who routinely used to get around his parents locked-down tv let me say:
Do not rely on software you installed on the computer. some day your kids will find out what a "boot disk" is.
Your admin password to their computer will eventually be broken (by the good ol' "looking over the shoulder"-hack or with a keylogger). so do not use the same password you use for all your other stuff.
If you use a unique password and feel you need to write it down, keep it somewhere where your children never go (like a locked drawer at your workplace). Any place in the house, in the car or in your wallet is not safe.
Use a cheap router with whitelist capabilities as mentioned above.
Put it *directly* at your incoming phone line, then seal it off with a wooden box you can lock. do not keep the keys to the box in the house.
(is there a company that automatically blocks all non-text mail? and where verification is required to send mail to? Using an email client that does not load pictures automatically might also be a good idea as a temp measure.)

http://bsafehome.com/

Very effective, no bypass options...

Hi Dan,

Looks like you are getting some good answers. I agree with the poster that said whitelisting was the only real way to limit a child’s surfing to a group of “approved sites”. In the research I did, most filtering software supported whitelisting, but wasn’t really setup to use it as the primary filtering mechanism. I would look at the popular products and see if you can use them to do whitelisting. Most stores that sell software have products that may do what you want. In addition, some of the newer routers for the home also have some filtering capability.

At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I am currently part of a team working on a social networking based whitelisting filter for children. If only it were later this summer I would suggest you try our software, ParentProxy (http://www.parentproxy.com). :) However, we aren’t ready for public users.

Good Luck!

I'm faced with exactly the same thing, so my wife and I started a local (Northern Virginia) computer training company with Internet Safety as a key feature (www.whizkidsllc.com), along with a blog directed mainly at Dads who are faced with this same issue: (www.dadministrator.blogspot.com). Let us know if some of the information you find is useful, and/or contribute!

Technology *doesn't* lend a helping hand in this situation. What it lends is a false sense of security.

What is the purpose behind all these solutions (any of which is easily bypassed by a halfway intelligent child)? To keep your kid from going places you don't approve of?

How is that going to happen if you're monitoring your child the whole time?

I will second (third) the call for parental supervision. The other thing is education. If your kids don't see it on your computer, they will see it somewhere else. Warn them about private information, warn them about scams, warn them about potentially confusing or frightening images. But I think the heads in the sand approach will ultimately fail.
The best defense is a good offense. Prepare your kids to handle what they will eventually discover anyway.

It's been touched on but not said directly. Education works better than filtering. We hurt our children when we try to make them live in a bubble.

You can whitelist everything but the one site you want them to see and they still will see other sites at their friend's house, a borrowed laptop at the coffee shop, the library, a store kiosk, a site at school that the school's filtering missed, and so forth.

Teach the children right from wrong and to talk to you when something questionable comes up.

Our teenager found porn one day. We used it as a opening to talk about sex. Not only did he get a much needed discussion/education, he was so embarassed that he has not ventured down that path again. Btw, he also left footprints at his grandparents house also and they thought they had been paying attention.

We used the common room approach when the children were in single digits. As they enter their teens, we allow an Internet connected computer in their rooms. We monitor their log files, histories, and the router logs. We openly question them and talk about what is appropriate on the Internet. We have few to no problems.

Require your children to use Firefox (http://getfirefox.com/). Install the Adblock extension. Doing that will help slow down inadvertant ad clicks, and installation of malware/adware/viruses.

Uly's comment was not rude. g.'s comment was exceptional!

We use http://bsafehome.com/ . Heard about it on the Dave Ramsey show. Seems to work really well. Our kids are 6 and 9.

With a 12 and 15 year old, filtering is not an option (I really want them to accomplish something that I never imagined, and they routinely do).

"Monitoring" sounds "bad", but if the kids know you're doing it, and the results are used as an excuse to talk about dangers, then I think it's "good".

The problem is that most "monitoring" software is found in the darkest and scariest part of the internet, and is to remain stealthful so the cheating spouse doesn't clam-up. And many of these need to send results to the sneak, and could be sending keylogs to hackers too.

I'd like software that has zero need to connect to the network. Instead it would just randomly do a screen grab. Then, periodically I'd sit down with the child, log into the application, and we'd go through the screen captures together. I wouldn't need to read every word of every email, and if it was "personal", it would be sufficient to know who the other party was.

If the child knows that something they're doing might need to be explained, even if the chances are 100 to 1 against, at least they'll think twice.

Too bad there's no software that does what I want!

While all these software ideas are interesting put yourself in circumvention mode.

your teen boys want porn.. among other things

if they can't get it from your house. it won't take long to determine it's YOUR house causing the blockage.

They'll learn about bringing their own boot disc or USB flash drive to the machine: this will circumvent both local software and upstream proxies. Your ACLs are not in place if the underlying OS/kernel is not running.

If you go the software route you MUST also physically lock down the tangible hardware... much as you would if you ran a cyber/gaming cafe.

physical lockdown will also prevent them importing porn from a computer outside your house.

naturally the next up teen circumvention is to BYOD. (Bring Your Own Device). If they have a wired ethernet port: game over (faster). If wireless they'll employ password cracking. At this point you'll need to investigate running a RADIUS server. Then they'll look to cracking neighbor's wireless.

At this point it's a losing batter. If you haven't already instilled strong morality in your children starting at the teen-porn phase is nearly too little too late.

You can, however, use this as an opportunity to discuss- and value chastity. This is NOT synonymous with abstinence.

BOTH married and single people alike are called to be chaste.

http://pureloveclub.net


porn is not a release to their desire.

Porn is a vehicle to avoiding self discipline and avoiding a practice of virtue.

Porn is a portal to illicit sexual acts

Of course sex is SAFE as is anything else in the proper context: As abusing any other power- or ability has negative, undesirable consequences.

It is from love that they will be able to regulate their actions towards justice. Measures without a focus on this truth will be counterproductive.

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