The Internet is a wonderful thing, providing 24/7 access to so much that is useful and entertaining and almost indispensable. Unfortunately, the Internet also provides access to some stuff that you just don’t want in your house – especially if you have children at home. For that matter, this “24/7” thing isn’t always a good idea either.
Happily, there are ways to limit and control what comes through your Internet connection, and even when it can come through to your house. Collectively, these methods are all called “Parental Control.”
Like everything else on the Internet, parental controls come in a variety of modes, levels of sophistication, and costs. The simplest and least expensive are built into Internet routers. These block, or allow, access to content on the internet, and depending on the router may also you to set certain times for access. The most sophisticated parental controls include per-device access control, monitoring, and reporting to you.
Simple, Centralized Parental Control
Parental control begins with the ability to block, or “filter,” certain types of content – like shopping, or gaming, or adult web sites – from coming into your home at all. This type of filter works by blocking the Internet (“IP”) addresses of known content types.
It is possible to put content filters into a particular computer or other device, so that only that device is restricted. But, if the user of that computer is the least bit Internet savvy, it is possible to circumvent those single device filters. The solution to this is to do the limiting or filtering centrally, through your Internet router as it distributes the content to your house.
Blocking Unwanted Content at Your Router
All Internet routers can be set to filter Internet traffic.
It may be that, in your house, it will be enough to simply filter Internet content by type, before it comes into your house. You can do that by setting your Internet router to use “OpenDNS” (www.opendns.com) – a free service on the Internet.
A brief geek moment here: DNS is an indexed directory of every domain name, like “PawlingRecord.org,” matched with the corresponding IP address. There are many DNS index servers distributed across the Internet. Every router has a setting for which DNS servers it should use.
OpenDNS is a DNS server, but with a database of sites known by the type of content. When you use OpenDNS, you select from a list of types of content that you want to restrict from coming into your home: like “games,” or “adult.” From that point on, any Internet request through your router will be instantly checked against the filters that you have set.
OpenDNS does not affect performance, and it is very effective – but it does filter content for every device that uses your Internet connection.
Blocking by Time and/or Device
Most home Internet routers include some parental control settings. These usually include the ability to control access by device, and sometimes include controls for filtering by app and/or by time of day.
For instance, the Xfinity cable routers that most of us use around Pawling includes a reasonably sophisticated set of filters for controlling access by device, by site, and by time/date. So, for example, you can set your router to only allow internet access for a gaming console in your house between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on weekdays, but be wide open on the weekends. Because it is built into your router, this type of filtering is also free.
Blocking by User -- AND by Remote Control
You can also get blocking any which way that you want it: by content type, and/or by time and day, and/or by device (e.g., an iPhone, or Xbox), and/or by registered “user.”
This type of filtering is much more sophisticated, and provides much more service to the parents. Some services will allow a parent to check and see, for example, how much time was spent on social networking on a certain smartphone, or how much time on a photo-sharing site. These systems can be $50 – $60 or more per year to monitor five or more devices. Parents get a central control panel through which to set limits and check the monitors.
There are a few of these commercial filtering/monitoring services. Search the web for “Internet parental control.” or check out “Net Nanny” or “Qustodio.”
Hoping, as always, that this is all quite clear and useful, but please do get in touch if I can help.
Mike Pepper, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at: www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.