Customizable Tools and Strategies to Keep Your Kids From The Bad Crap Out There

technology.pngBack in the day, kids would snatch a dirty magazine (or maybe a
lingerie catalog) and secret it away. That ain’t today, folks.

While I’m not a hugely prudish person – at least, when it comes to my
kids – I do have a problem with how easy it is to come across inappropriate material on the interwebs… no matter what your definition of inappropriate might be. Experienced and veteran users are able to avoid the nasty stuff, but kids – especially curious ones – can wander into some pretty nasty territory really quickly.

Again, it’s worth noting that I’m not a fan of complete isolation and prudishness. My concern is that there’s often no “shallows” – you can go straight from saccharine sweetness and light to necrophiliac beastiality with only an ill-phrased search term. So these tools are specifically chosen because they’re free and customizable (and relatively easy to use).

1. Turn on the search level that you want (all OSes). Google has search preferences (including “adult” levels) at this link. Yahoo! has its preference page here. Bing has its preference page here.

2. Install K9 Web Protection (Win/Mac/iOS). This is a highly customizable filter that lives on your computer. Some of its features include:

  •  Set as many (or few) categories as you want to filter
  •  Explicitly create black and white lists of sites
  •  Give time-enabled permission to “blocked” categories on a by-category basis (For example, “Social Networking” for 30 minutes.)
  •  Have it turn off internet activity by time period
  •  Turn off web activity after a configureable number of attempts to access blocked sites
  •  Log web activity

This is the program I use. The customizability (though it’s out of the box defaults are pretty good) let me adjust it to both my sensibility and where my kid is at. One note – if you decide to have it block the internet after too many restricted attempts, do NOT select “Ads” as one of your categories. One page (that might be an “okay” page) can call five or six advertisements and make it look like your kid did something wrong.

3. (Windows only): Hide the icon for Internet Explorer; install Firefox and/or Chrome. IE is still much more of a security risk than FF or Chrome.

The next three should be (IMHO) separate programs, and you should be able to find a free one that works for you. Everybody’s needs and preferences are a little different with these two areas…

4. Have a good free software firewall that blocks inbound and outbound connection attempts. ZoneAlarm is one such, though it’s not the only one by any stretch of the imagination. You
should choose the free option, without any of the other bells and whistles. It just needs to block connection attempts. While Windows Firewall is actually pretty okay at blocking inbound attempts, I think it’s important to block outbound from a machine that a child has access to.

The reason is simple: As an adult, you’re (hopefully) not going to download anything that tries to “call home” without your permission. Your kids? Not so smart. This helps minimize the damage.

5. Have a good free antivirus program. I used Avast’s Home Edition when I ran a Windows PC, but anything with real-time scanning will do. Again, you should be able to find a free program that works
well. I think real-time scanning is important for a machine that kids have access to for the same reason as the firewall.

6. (Optional) Have a good free spyware program. Spybot Search & Destroy is a good one for Windows. The TeaTimer service that comes with it is also helpful.

These tools are not a substitute for parenting. They can all be circumvented. But they do serve a purpose – they help provide more of a “shallows” so that your children have a chance to learn from mistakes without the consequences being catastrophic.

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