A common question from parents is: how do we keep our children safe on the Internet at home? This article provides some simple, effective ideas and additional resources for you to explore.
Idea #1: No electronics in bedrooms
Children should not have devices with Internet access in their bedrooms at night. Younger children should be in a supervised space when they are online during the day as well. This includes smart phones, tablets, laptops, Playstations, Xbox, or any other devices with Internet access. We recommend these rules up to 10th-11th grade. Social media, Youtube and online games are powerful temptations to be distracted from homework and to stay up late. Night-time exposure to “always on” Internet applications can lead to sleep deprivation and poor performance in school. Physical control of the devices is the most powerful tool that a parent has for their childrens’ Internet safety. At night, keep these devices in your own bedroom if necessary while children are learning to manage their time online.
“But my child is home alone in the afternoons while I’m at work! What should I do?” Here are more ideas:
Idea #2: Control your Internet service
Filtering Internet content is a requirement for every home with children today. Uncontrolled Internet access for children is a recipe for trouble. Fortunately, there are many solutions available to families. Here are some that we see parents using in our community — click on the links for more information.
OpenDNS has been around for many years — it is simple, effective, and free. You change the configuration of your home router, and OpenDNS filters the sites that your network can reach. The beauty of this solution is that it works for every type of device or application on your home network — phones, computers, game consoles — because they all use DNS services. It’s not a panacea: there are ways around it, it only works at home, and it has limited configurability, but it’s good basic protection with a free option.
Network Filtering at Home
You may want deeper control of your home network, and what sites people can access when they are connected. This is a complex technical area because the Internet landscape changes every day. The best solutions provide filtering capabilities that are updated daily from cloud-hosted sources.
The place to start is your Internet service provider’s Web site. They will have resources for parents that want greater control over their home networks. Your provider already has extensive filtering in place on your Internet pipe, but it may not be set up for children. Many of these companies offer stronger controls for a fee.
Parental Control Applications
Many fee-based services are available for parental control. We see NetNanny, Norton Family, CovenantEyes and Qustodio as good options. These solutions work in different ways and may have apps to install on childrens’ smart phones and computers. These services give parents various reports on usage and have other notification features. They are configurable so that parents have substantial control over the types of content that children can access. They typically cover social media and games in some depth, in addition to Web site browsing. Their goal is to protect and to enable positive family discussions about appropriate content and screen time. We encourage frequent parent-child communication about screen time as the primary way to develop good habits online.
This Tech Office page provides more on digital media usage, with ideas on how to approach social media with your children.
Common Sense Media is an advocacy organization with excellent online resources for parents. Their site explores many different topics related to Internet safety for children.
Finally, we encourage your engagement with your church and school communities on Internet safety. It is a major issue for parents, and one that is constantly evolving. We bring a Catholic perspective to both the challenges and opportunities of the Internet, recognizing that our children will one day guide the direction of the digital world as adults. We are working together to form them with a healthy understanding of digital life, founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
CIO, North Deanery, Archdiocese of Indianapolis