Our kids are more tech savvy than we can ever hope to be. We block a web site, and they find a way around our blocking software. We put up a firewall; they go through it. What's a parent to do? We can never be sure that any of our parental controls will work, but we try our best to keep our kids safe. Here are eight things you can do to make your internet parental controls a little more effective and harder to circumvent:
1. Talk to Your Kids and set Boundaries and Expectations.
Let your kids know what is expected of them. Explain to them that you are trying to keep them safe and that you expect them to be responsible. Let them know that while you trust them, you will still verify that they are following the rules and that their online use can and will be monitored. Explain that internet access is a privilege that shouldn't be abused and that it can and will be taken away if they don't meet your expectations.
2. Physically Lock up Your Router.
One of the easiest ways for your child to circumvent your security settings is to reset your router to its factory default settings. This usually involves simply pressing and holding a reset button located on the back of the router. Once the router is reset, most routers will default to wide-open wireless with no encryption, revert to an easily googled factory-set password, and have most of its security features disabled. The kids have an easy alibi because they can plead ignorance and blame it on a power spike. Lock the router in a closet or somewhere way out of reach to prevent them from pressing the reset button.
3. Set Router-enforced Time Limits for Internet Access.
Most routers have a setting which gives you the ability to cut off access to the internet at a certain time of day. You lock your doors at night, right? Do the same for your internet connection. Go into your wireless router's setup and turn off your internet connection from midnight to 5 in the morning. The kids should sleeping during this time anyway. Time limits also prevent hackers from being able to attack your network during the set time-frame. You have effectively isolated yourself from the rest of the internet during the hours when most hackers are just starting on their second can of Red Bull.
4. Disable Wireless Remote Administration of Your Router.
If you turn off the "Remote Administration via Wireless" feature on your router, then someone trying to hack into its settings (i.e. your child or a hacker) would have to be on a computer that is physically connected (via an Ethernet cable) to the router. Disabling this feature doesn't prevent you from being able to change your router's settings; it just makes it a little more inconvenient for you, your child, and hackers.
5. Scan for Unsecured Wireless Access Points Near Your Home.
All of your firewalls and filters go out the window if little Johnny attaches to your neighbor's unsecured wireless access point and starts leeching off of their internet connection. This essentially cuts your internet filters out because they are no longer in play as your child is using a different network entirely.
Use the Wi-Fi search feature of your Wi-Fi enabled cell phone or laptop to see if there are any open Wi-Fi hot spots near your house that your child could connect to. It's best if you do the search from inside their bedroom or wherever they normally get online from. You may be able to determine where the hot spot is originating from by looking at the signal strength meter as you walk around their room. Talk to your neighbor, explain your objective, and ask them to password protect their wireless access point. It not only helps you enforce your parental controls, it also helps keep people from getting a free ride courtesy of their unsecured Wi-Fi hot spot.
6. Enable the Parental Control Features on Your Child's Game Systems and/or Mobile Devices.
Parents often overlook the fact that their kids can get to the internet via their game consoles, iPods, and cell phones. These devices have web browsers just like your home PC does. The filters you install on your computer will do nothing to stop your kids from visiting forbidden sites using their mobile device or game system. Thankfully, most devices such as the iPod Touch and PlayStation 3 have parental controls that you can set to restrict the content that your kids can access. Read up on these features and implement them. Periodically check the device to see if the password you set is still in effect. If not, your child may have reset it and disabled the controls.
7. Put Their PC in an Open Area of the House That is Well Frequented.
It's hard for little Johnny to visit "bad" websites if he has to use the PC in the kitchen. If the PC is in a well frequented area where you can see it, your kids are less likely to attempt to go to unauthorized sites. Kids may love having a PC in their room, but consider moving it somewhere less private so you can keep an eye on what is going on.
8. Enable Activity Logging on Your Router and PCs.
Your child will most likely figure out how to cover their tracks by deleting browser histories or by enabling "private browsing mode" where no history is kept. The best thing you can do is purchase monitoring software that is not easily defeated or detected by your child. Periodically review the log files to make sure your kids are staying out of trouble. Another option is to enable activity logging on your wireless router. Logging at the router will allow you to capture connection information even when your child is using their mobile devices or game consoles (unless they are using another wireless access point other than yours).