With kids spending more and more time online, it's important to keep them safe. Tech Talker explains how to create restrictions and install monitoring services on your child's laptop or computer.
In last week's episode, I talked about different configurations you can set up on your child's mobile phone to keep them safe and monitor their online activities. Be sure to check out the episode How to Keep Your Child Safe on the Web.
This week I’ll discuss how to do the same for your home devices, such as desktops and laptops, that you child is using to access the internet..
Tip #1: Set Up a Google Alert
The first step toward securing your child's online activities is to set up a Google Alert for their name. If you’re not familiar with Google Alerts, it's when you give Google a term to search for and if something comes up in the future that matches the term, Google will send you an email with the results.
Adding a Google Alert for your child's name is a great idea because anything that is posted on the web publicly with or about their name will be emailed to you within a day or so. This is pretty powerful because you can monitor sites that you never thought your child visited, or that you never knew existed. I’ve seen this help parents in many cases. For example, say your teen skips out on school and the repercussions are that they're banned from using Facebook. That's fine, but the parents have no idea about Google+. As soon as the child posts on Google+, a Google Alert fires off.
It's important to note that if your child has a popular name that has a lot of Google results (like John Smith), you should also include the name of your city, or their school in the Google Alert that you set up. There’s no limit to how many Google Alerts you set up and they're free and easy to set up.
Tip #2: Use Parental Controls
But Google Alerts can only go so far. They will only notify you after something has already been posted, which may be too late. They also only monitor public posts, which doesn’t protect against emails or direct messages.
The next step is to create parental controls on your router. The router is the gateway for your home network to the internet. Any device connected to your router has to use it to access the internet, which means that parental controls placed on the router are a really powerful way to limit what children have access to and what is filtered out.
My favorite router, the RT-N66U, has parental controls built into it. You can reference the router’s manual for exact steps, but essentially you log into the router, enable parental controls, and then select the schedule that your child’s device is allowed to access the internet. I’ve known parents who don’t allow the internet to be accessed after 9pm on weeknights.
The schedule is completely flexible and can be controlled on a device-by-device basis. This is useful in a household with children of different ages who should be able to access the internet at different times.
If you want to be able to filter web content for your child, you can sign up for a free account at OpenDNS. OpenDNS maintains a large database of websites and ranks them based upon their content and age appropriateness. They will then provide you with a DNS entry to add to your router. This way, any shady URL will be blocked from your router.
What’s really great about this service is that you can customize what types of content are allowed, and allow any exceptions that might have been incorrectly flagged. It also prevents your child’s friends from accessing anything you’ve restricted when they come over.
Lastly, it's important for parents to decide on the level of control they’d like to have over their children’s online activities. Some parents require access to any online accounts their child creates. Others require that they be allowed to connect with any social media pages their children post on. This is an individual decision that every parent must make.