Internet safety for the elementary school set?
May 12, 2015 9:47 PM   Subscribe

How do I protect my small from teh pr0n?

My son, who is nearly seven, has started asking to use the internet in order to use the Minecraft wiki. These requests have made me realize that it's time for him to start learning how to use the internet, and I'm all for it (how many times have I had to explain to some supposed "net native" college student the difference between Google and a proprietary database?!). However, his reasonable request opens a whole new can of worms: how do I protect him from things he's not ready for? In a sense, yes, I'm talking about censorship, but I don't think that he's ready to surf accidentally his way, um, adult things or worse. I know about parental controls in both Mac and Windows, and I know that there's software out there that can help, but is it any good, and which is the best? Where do I start, and what do I need to look out for? I've looked through previous Metafilter questions, and they've given me some good ideas, but I'd like to take this further. I've started asking other parents, and so far the best advice I've gotten is not to be hands-off, but to sit there with him and talk with him as he surfs, and to help him stick to text rather than images or video. Of course, all of this is highly malleable -- what's appropriate for a seven-year-old is not the same as what a ten-year-old can handle or a thirteen-year-old or onwards. So, Metafilter, if you have strategies, tips, caveats, or other bits of advice, I'd be very grateful.
posted by pleasant_confusion to Technology (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I decided it couldn't be done, but I made my girls online IDs 85 year old Malaysian women. I would watch over him, as he works. It is weird I look on the web a lot, like constant education, I never stumble onto porn.
posted by Oyéah at 9:59 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Use Open DNS
posted by Mac-Expert at 10:40 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Our sons are 6 and 12 and so far this has never* been a concern so far. They generally want to play Minecraft or watch specific shows on YouTube.

What I have done is set up Chrome as the default browser and have created a kids' profile. Chrome itself uses Google as the default search engine, so you can just use Safe Search to avoid the chance of coming across questionable content. In YouTube you can also set up parental controls (which irritated my older son because some of his gaming channels are filtered out).

Computers and tablets must be used in a common room like the kitchen or the living room when other adults are present.

You're pretty much going to avoid issues this way.

Our 12-year-old is now wanting to go to his friend's house after school when there is no parent around. The friend has a nice gaming computer (we don't) so before agreeing to this new step I set down some ground rules.

While Internet use has to be managed, as a parent I want to teach my kids some self-control as well, and to have the common sense to avoid the bad places of the internet.

Probably a hopeless endeavor, but I figure even if I tried to block porn or whatever out of the older boy's life, he will find his way there eventually, so it's better to help him have an internal dialogue to determine what is right or wrong, rather than there being some external arbiter of morality if that makes sense.

And the conversation has not ended; it will continue.

As well, we have said that until he turns 13 we will have access to his email and chat logs. After that he will enjoy privacy, but we're hoping once again to give him that internal monitor which should help him out throughout life.

For our younger son, now six, we of course have set up the parental controls and so on. But not to control per se, but to manage the situation.
posted by Nevin at 10:54 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Whenever anyone asks me this, i roll my eyes at any technical solution.

My parents didn't know anything about computers. And they weren't interested in trying that.

Computers and tablets must be used in a common room like the kitchen or the living room when other adults are present.

This is what they did, and it worked great.

They put the computer right in the living room, next to the couch and chairs. I was only allowed to use it if someone was out there to read the newspaper or watch tv or whatever and casually supervise me.

If i had a laptop, or i was using one/theirs, i'd use it on the couch where they'd be sitting next to me, not in a chair where the screen faced away from them. They could glance over whenever they wanted.

Anything remotely questionable caused a conversation about what it was that started out completely non accusatory and casual, like "hey what's that? haven't seen that before". Where it would go would depend on how nervously/weirdly i reacted or how full of shit i seemed. I quickly figured out just to... not really try anything stupid.

13 was about when i got my own machine, in my room. And i just... didn't do anything that stupid? Yea i pirated GTA and looked at a few sites my mom wouldn't have approved of, but i didn't go "crazy".

This is very similar, in my opinion, to parents who let their kids have candy and junk food in moderation Vs parents who absolutely forbid it. I agree with nevin, it's all about the "internal monitor". Too much restriction will cause them to just seek out and look for everything that was forbidden since it's cool just because they never got to see it.

Casual direct supervision is a million times better than a digital solution. Knowing you're there, and might be giving it serious attention at any moment without having to really move or engage to do so works wonders.
posted by emptythought at 11:29 PM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Some years ago I was pseudo-uncle to a set of boys. The elder of whom was pushing boundaries, for one Christmas (with his Mom's assent) we got the gaudiest vibrator sleeve we could possibly find, and wrapped it in a way that it'd be completely exposed on opening, and got himself banned from the school provided dial-up even though I'd left plenty of hints as to how he could educate himself to tunnel traffic.

The younger, by only a few years, and who was constantly competing with his brother on many fronts... well... at some point the topic of porn on the net came up and he said "you know, I'm not ready for that yet".

Kids are pretty tuned in to where they are. They'll be much more likely to seek out what's forbidden. Make the computer a public family activity, as emptythought suggests, and don't sweat it.

Besides, most of us who grew up pre-Internet still managed to find the odd Hustler and Penthouse and it didn't damage us too much.
posted by straw at 7:08 AM on May 13, 2015

The question here (which I'm also interested in the answer to) is less about how to handle a child in search of porn and more about tools for teaching them common sense, and some parental controls for backup where their common sense (or spelling skills) fail. And perhaps a tutorial on which parental controls you've had good luck with.

Last night, while I was putting the baby to bed, Micropanda (4) illicitly got hold of the iPad because he wanted to watch the Bloodmobile. Except he ended up in Safari instead of the video browser, so he did a search for "blud". Because he spells like a 4 year old. Aaand when I came downstairs he was confusedly looking at a picture of a woman in bondage gear slashed open and covered with blood.


Obviously this would have been prevented had I been sitting there, and he's not supposed to use the iPad illicitly, but he's 4. It would be nice to have a bit of a safety net. I'd rather not take Safari off entirely, though, because we do use it to look up things he's interested in (pics of animals with weird names, x-rays, etc.)
posted by telepanda at 7:35 AM on May 13, 2015

I know that there's software out there that can help, but is it any good, and which is the best?

I tried Net Nanny and found it very disappointing from a UX standpoint. I can't speak to its effectiveness at filtering content because I could never get it set up properly for my kid's user profile on a Mac.
posted by bassomatic at 8:53 AM on May 13, 2015

There is basically no foolproof technological solution to this. Most of the filtering products that exist either create a false sense of security, or they filter out so much stuff that they get in the way of legitimate use, or are a pain to configure.

On the bright side, though, compared to 20 years ago, I think there's actually a lot less weird stuff that you're just going to blunder onto in popular Internet venues than there used to be. has been gone a long time, and popular sites like YouTube are pretty sanitized. (Not really G-rated, but they maintain a pretty consistent PG or PG-13 unless you log in and click through a warning banner. No worse really than flipping cable TV.) Yeah, sure, there's still 4chan, but you have to be trying to get in there, and nothing is going to stop someone who is even mildly determined.

Google SafeSearch, though, isn't terrible. I actually think it walks a reasonably fine line pretty well, and might prevent some truly accidental fat-fingering leading to weird corners of the 'net. But beyond that? OpenDNS's filtering gets a big "meh" from me; the level at which it works isn't granular enough to do much good, and at least as of a few years ago, OpenDNS was slow.

The very best thing you can do is put the computer in a 'public' place, although admittedly this is harder now with portable computers being as dominant as they are. When everyone had desktops it was pretty easy to just set them up in such a way that the monitor faced the living room or kitchen and that was that. You might need to do some social engineering / rulemaking with regard to laptops.

For really young kids, e.g. telepanda's anecdote about a 4-year-old, you can lock specific apps like Chrome or other general browsers on Android (but, oddly, not iOS? not an expert there) using a bunch of aftermarket apps. This isn't something that is going to keep an even moderately-intelligent 7 or 8-year-old out, but it'd be fine for a younger kid. I've helped some friends do this in order to convert old phones to "digital pacifiers". Except that it's unreasonably hard to do on iOS devices, I think this is a pretty nice middle-ground solution.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:10 AM on May 13, 2015

Absolutely use OpenDNS. It takes a bit of messing about on your router, a bit of clicking and a site registration. Nothing crazy difficult, but harder (rather: less obvious in the workaround) to bypass than programmatic solutions.
posted by mfu at 8:49 PM on May 13, 2015

Don't forget to install the Open DNS app on one of your computers to keep Open DNS informed about your current iP address when it changes (assuming you don't have a static iP address).
posted by Mac-Expert at 4:53 PM on May 14, 2015

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