Taking action against accidental online exposure

I should have known better. 

How many articles have we run in the past few years about the pervasiveness of pornography on the Internet, and the critical importance of parents’ putting in reasonable safeguards to protect their children’s Web surfing? 

I had a large role in assigning and editing those stories. And yet it took a frantic recent phone call from some friends of ours to goad me into taking action on our own home Internet network. 

These friends were seeking our urgent advice on options for computer parental controls. Their third-grade daughter had come home from a friend’s house with the name of an educational website, and typed the address into the browser bar of their home computer. But she mistyped the letters, and instead was stunned to be served up a screen full of hard-core pornographic images.  

Thus her mom’s phone call to us for advice, as above average computer literate users with young children of our own. What did we use? 

Well, at that moment: nothing to speak of, except for an extremely tight computer usage policy, and a password that required the children to come to my wife or me for access to it. 

But, as our friends’ experience finally hammered home, that’s not enough to protect kids from accidentally stumbling on Web nastiness, even when keeping close tabs. 

Bottom line: I spent a few hours researching what’s currently on the market, and settled on something called OpenDNS FamilyShield

Pros: It is free. It installs directly on our home’s wireless router, so that means the Internet is filtered at its first point of entry into our home. No having to set it up on each and every Internet-enabled device, whether it’s the family desktop computer, laptop, iPod Touch or Wii. It is extremely customizable, letting you block content from nearly 60 categories, going beyond nudity and adult themes to games, student cheating sites or social media. Finally, you even may see an improvement in speed in your Internet browsing experience; I did. 

Cons: For the less confident user, it can be a little daunting to go in and tweak router settings. But OpenDNS does provide step-by-step instructions for many router models. 

Did I mention it was free? 

There are other options, too, that install directly on the computer and offer other features like the ability to log a user’s activity. That might be useful if a child (or spouse) already has an Internet accountability challenge. Some of the more popular include AVG Family Safety, Bsecure Online, McAfee Family Protection, Safe Eyes, Spector Pro and Covenant Eyes, to name a few. 

Filtering applications are just the first step in teaching good Internet habits. But I’m more convinced than ever that they are essential. 

How do you protect your family’s Internet consumption? Write feedback@osv.com.