Protecting Children From The Dark Side Of The Internet

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Every technology has both a positive and negative impact. 

I’ve been writing a lot about Technopoly in the past few months. In the last few days, the social media behaviors of teens in the wake of the alleged rape of a 16-year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio, have been exposed in the harsh light of the national media. It was brought to their attention by the hacker group Annonymous. The Twitter posts and YouTube videos shared by the teen boys who may have witnessed the alleged rape serve to illustrate the truth of social technology’s double-edged sword. In one sense, it’s existence surely exposed the alleged rape, and in the same case, equally exposed the dangers that come with unfiltered, 24/7 access to forms of media that encourage the marginalization and objectification of women.

I wrote a short piece, Combating The Objectification Of Women Begins At Home, about the incident on my Stop Child Slavery blog this morning. One of the factors to consider in looking at this case is how much of the bad goes unfiltered to our children, and how it may be impacting their ability to stand their ground in the face of moral challenges. It’s not the only factor, but in this specific case – the gross objectification of a teen age girl in the wake of an alleged rape – I believe it is a contributing factor.

Most of my friends have open wireless access to the Internet in their home, but they have no way of knowing what sites their children may be visiting while they are online. Of course, everyone will claim “tight monitoring,” but you can only watch so much when access is available on highly portable smart devices.The proliferation of devices like iPhones and iPads only makes access to literally anything easier than ever before. Even kids who aren’t actively looking can be lead to visit sites that could play a role in altering the moral compass parents try to instill in their children.

So, I thought I’d share how I do filtering in our home using OpenDNS

For some time now on our home network, I’ve been blocking four distinct categories of sites defined by OpenDNS. Here’s what I block:

  • Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 1.10.46 PMSites that provide information, images or implications of bondage, sadism, masochism, fetish, beating, body piercing or self-mutilation.
  • Sites providing proxy bypass information or services. Also, sites that allow the user to surf the net anonymously, including sites that allow the user to send anonymous emails.
  • Sites that contain information on such subjects as mutilation, torture, horror or the grotesque.
  • And, anything relating to pornography, including mild depiction, soft pornography or hard-core pornography.

OpenDNS is easy to set up on your home network. Tthe OpenDNS Home VIP account costs $19.95 per year, but the free OpenDNS FamilyShield or OpenDNS Home accounts can accomplish the same mission. “When you set up OpenDNS Home on your router, every device in your home sharing your Internet connection gets protected. In addition to computers, this includes your kids’ Playstation, Wii, DS, Xbox, iPad, and even their iPhone.”

I chose a free option because I only needed to block one network, and I selected the OpenDNS Home account over the OpenDNS FamilyShield option  so I could customize the settings a bit more and also see exactly what sites were being blocked. The OpenDNS Home account also allows me to unblock specific sites. I can also block usage of social media sites with the flick of a switch. I’ve not had to do this yet, but it’s nice to know that I can enforce a disciplinary action of “no social media” if I ever choose to do so.

Setup Is Easy.

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 2.28.44 PMWhile setup for the FamilyShield is a one click install, the setup for the more flexible home account is easy enough for anyone who can navigate a website and follow instructions to use. To setup my network filters, I clicked on “Settings” than added my network. This is the IP address of the router coming into our home. The site walks you through finding this number and downloading the Dynamic IP Updater client for Mac, Windows or Linux. From there, you choose the overall level of content filtering you desire, from none to high. The high setting blocks 26 of the almost 60 categories defined. You can customize any option by clicking on the “customize” link right next to each option.

I also went a step further and set up a custom message that displays on the screen when my kids are taken to a site that is blocked. It reads: “Site blocked. [DOMAIN] is not allowed on this network by the netowok administrator…. your Dad.” I wanted them to know that it was me, not the Internet, who had made the decision to block the site. The message I want them to get… I don’t approve. I want it heard loud and clear.

What may surprise you is what I’ve learned in the last few months. The top site, blocked 9 times is a pop up, ads.crakmedia.com. That’s not surprising. Here is what was for me. The site that is most often blocked by my filters is one of the most popular sites on the internet for teens… Tumblr. Here is a brief list of the url’s blocked in my house recently… tightwhiteshirt.tumblr.com, tittecity.tumblr.com, oopslip.tumblr.com, quality-porn.tumblr.com, sweet-sex-pics.tumblr.com, and the list goes on. Of the top 80 sites blocked, 37 were on the Tumblr domain.  And tag searches aren’t blocked at all, unless I block Tumblr completely.

The Internet Is Powerful.

It can be used for good. It can be used for bad. I don’t want to leave the Internet’s influence to chance in my house. As a parent, I want to be able to control, to the greatest extent possible, how my children’s moral compass is calibrated. I can’t control what they do at another parent’s house, or on an open network at Starbucks, but I can control what happens where it matters most… my home. OpenDNS helps me do that.

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Comments

  1. says

    Opendns is an awesome tool to lock down the family network. It’s not perfect but IMO is the best for the price. No filtering tool is perfect but I like how it works and I use it myself. The caveat is that if you have a child that knows how to change the DNS settings on his personal computer then it can be bypassed, unless you lock down the machine to not allow the settings to be changed.

    Overall a great tool

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing this useful info. Definitely looking into setting something up. They will FREAK OUT when they get that blocked message from ME. I appreciate the tips.

    Oh and I just thought… I should really do this at work too. That could be super fun! :)

  3. Cindy Souza says

    I am fortunately beyond the need for filters in my home (my children are now adults) but you have hit the nail on the head… the message from you to your children is THE most powerful one that can be heard. Speaking from the “other” side of parenting…your kids do hear you; they may not like what they hear and whine and pout about it, but the truth of the matter is, you are giving them the excuse they need in front of their friends. “my parents don’t let me ….” You are wise to set up the parameters of searching the Internet, particularly with all the opportunities they have between phones, iPads, and even old fashioned computers :} don’t we all wish for the days when sneaking a dad’s copy of Playboy was the biggest thrill?

    • says

      The next big conversation will be about the attack on the 16 year old girl and what was NOT done by those watching who knew what was happening was wrong. I want them to know more than just right from wrong, but how to stand up for right.

  4. says

    I just finished locking down everything in our house at the device level, but now they have to get me anytime they want access to the internet.

    I’d much rather have the controls at the router level and for the site monitoring/filtering be automated.

    I will definitely try OpenDNS

  5. says

    I usually don’t go in for blocks and limitations. But I also don’t have kids.

    What makes me like what you’re doing here is the but about being up front about why/who is doing the blocking: dad.

    This changes it from a technical challenge to a moral challenge.

    Dealing with the moral challenge is honest and more likely to yield the long term results desired than simply throwing out technical barriers (which would simply make them better hackers).

    I would be interested to hear what you teach in the talk about what the witnesses of the alleged rape should have done as well.

    Powerful stuff here Jeff.

    • says

      Thanks, Gahlord. I’m still formulating my talk with the two oldest boys, who can handle the details of this latest incident. It will likely be free-flowing and impromptu.

  6. says

    Thank you for posting this. I had not heard of the OH incident and frankly am mortified. But you are right – this begins at home – on so many levels. I will share this info. Thank you for taking the time to share it Jeff.

  7. says

    I love Jeff Turner… #justsayin
    Thanks, my friend. This is what Lori and I have been looking for our young children.
    Love the ” how my children’s moral compass is calibrated” line. :)

  8. says

    What an excellent introduction to a valuable tool that, while not perfect, can help families take back some of the control over what their children are exposed to in their own homes. As one of the people commenting has said, there are no perfect solutions at this point in time.

    My kids are now grown but we dealt with much of this while our younger son was still living at home. I remember my shock when he explained to me how his gaming system (one of the portable PlayStation options, I think) allowed him unfettered access to the Internet. In those days that kind of access was new and we really hadn’t understood what we were giving him.

    I would also caution parents, who are waking up to the reality of 24/7 access to the web, that teens and tween are making great use of Facebook chat (which is hard for parents to monitor), Snapchat (a controversial new mobile app which lets users share images or videos that disappear after a few seconds. http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/03/tech/mobile/snapchat/?hpt=te_t1), and the unfettered access in the homes or on the mobile phones, tablets and gaming systems of their friends.

    So it imperative for parents to have very frank conversations about what the family expectations are with regard to their behavior online. It may not prevent all possible problems but it will certainly help. It did for our family.

  9. says

    I shared this on our Facebook page, because I’ve heard too many times about “monitoring” from parents I know, yet I see things their kids are doing on the internet and doubt they truly know everything.

    Your point about Tumblr is especially noted, as it has become one of the biggest internet free-for-alls I’ve ever seen. While I would never take up the battle cry for censorship over such a site, I do believe many parents have no idea what’s going on on a site such as this.

  10. Eric says

    I like the sound of the open DNS for parental control on my son’s Chromebook. If I set DNS to block porn and various other sites, would/could these settings be specific to his computer? My wife and I would likely not want to have our surfing curtailed, just the kids! Ha!

  11. Nicola65 says

    I have two teenage boys whose gadgets that can access the internet seem to be growing monthly. It’s also not convenient or possible to only let them use those gadgets whilst being monitored anymore. I’ve tried to install OpenDNS but unfortunately the router provided by my ISP doesn’t have that functionality – I can’t alter the DNS address. Are there any alternatives that use something else?

  12. says

    Hi Jeff, great article.

    If you can forgive the spammy like nature of this comment, your readers may be interested in a very recent update to our Windows parental control software, ModemLockDown.

    Where Loren points out that savvy kids can change the settings, ModemLockDown allows you to set the DNS values on a PC and it stops kids from changing them – even if they are using the Administrator account. And with ModemLockDown, using OpenDNS’s FamilyShield service is as simple as selecting a single option!

    More information is available at http://www.modemlockdown.com and I’m happy to take questions.

    Thanks
    Brendan – owner/developer of ModemLockDown

  13. tabassum Hussain says

    Hi Jeff
    I wanted to ask will I be able to install OpenDNS on my Sony Xperia phone and if yes how can I do so

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