Parents today need to be experts in understanding the dangers that children are exposed to online, and what is required to protect them. This article is our best effort to produce a thorough guide to web filter basics – all that you really need to know to keep your family safe.
Be prepared: It’s a decent length read. But the 20 minutes you invest here could spare you from living through a nightmare …
Raising a Family in the New Online World
The year is 1991.
The Soviet Union has collapsed. Grunge is rising in popularity. The mullet is cool again.
And the World Wide Web has gone live, but no one has batted an eye …
At the time, few people really understood what the Internet would become or the type of impact it could have.
Imagine telling somebody in 1991 that, one day, they would be able to earn a college degree, launch their own business, make a successful living, and become connected to people across the globe – all within the comfort of their own home, sat in front of a computer screen.
The idea would be simply unbelievable. No one would buy it!
Now, fast forward to today. We can’t imagine a world without the Internet.
So many of its offerings have changed the way we operate. Physical libraries have become redundant because of our ability to read and collect data online. Physical stores have become less popular due to the emergence of eCommerce.
More importantly, the Internet has provided us with immediate access to an unlimited amount of knowledge. This has completely revolutionized the way we think, learn, and work, and it has super-fast-tracked technological and medical advancements.
And because the Internet has provided us with so much, and because we depend on it, sometimes we forget just how unsafe it can be – especially for a child.
The Internet has produced great things, but it has also produced its fair share of bad. Yet, many parents fail to take precautions to really protect their kids online.
So, if you haven’t considered using proper parental control software in the past, or if you underestimate the harm that the Internet can cause your child and your family, maybe a few of these frightening statistics will change your mind …
- 87% of children have observed cyberbullying.
- 71% of parents stop supervising their children’s Internet use after the age of 14. Subsequently, 72% of Internet-related missing children cases involve children who are 15 years or older.
- 65% of online sex offenders used social networking sites to gain home and school information about their victim.
- 69% of teens receive personal messages online regularly, from people they do not know; and most of them do not report this to a trusted adult.
As you can see from some of these statistics, there are real Internet dangers that affect millions of web-surfing children, as well as their families. It’s important to know exactly what we’re protecting our children against, so let’s run through …
6 of the Most Common Dangers Children Face on the Internet
The Cyberbullying Research Center released a report in late 2016, with survey results collected from over 4,500 middle school and high school students. Over one-third (34%) of students said they had been affected by cyberbullying in their lifetime, and nearly two-thirds (64%) of those same students said that it had affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.
Cyberbullying has become a serious dilemma, and it’s most present on social media, where many underage children and teens are present. It’s much easier to tease someone online, where there is little supervision and where kids are even able to remain anonymous.
“But my child doesn’t use social media. Problem solved.”
How sure are you about that? According to a study from the National Cybersecurity Alliance, over 60% of teens reported that they had online accounts that their parents were unaware of.Over 60% of teens reported that they had online accounts that their parents were unaware of. Click To Tweet
2. Inappropriate Content
Children are also exposed to inappropriate content online, and it’s not just from their peers or classmates. In fact, it’s adults who post most of the inappropriate content. We’ve played a large part in making the Internet an unsafe place for children, and now we have to do our part in protecting them from it.
A single browsing session could expose your child to swearing, vulgarity, suggestive content, violence, and nudity, all of which are inappropriate and harmful – especially for a young child.
And it doesn’t come from just one location. As long as there’s a comments section on a site or forum, you can almost guarantee that some of the comments will include profanity or filthy talk.
This is in a separate category from inappropriate content, because of how common and how damaging it can be to a young child. According to a study from Middlesex University, over 28% of children ages 11 to 12 and 65% of teens ages 15 to 16 had been exposed to pornography.
What a horrifying statistic. Pornography can be accessed intentionally, but it can also be seen unintentionally. It may show up in an ad or a pop-up. It may be accidentally downloaded to a computer. Or it may even show up on social media on occasion.
4. Privacy Leaks
One of the biggest issues children have when using the Internet is their lack of discernment. At a young age, this is a skill that is still developing, and so there are choices that have serious and even life-threatening repercussions.
Children may use their own names, give out their home addresses, provide phone numbers, and even share personal information about themselves and their families – often to complete strangers.
Leaking this information can put not only your child, but also your entire family, in harm’s way. And once the information is out there, it’s very difficult to retract. The Internet doesn’t have a paper trail that can be easily followed. In a digital world, information spreads from one place to another in a matter of seconds.
5. Sexual Predators
Similarly, there are dangerous individuals online who are not only looking to obtain personal information from children, but to also use it for their own sinister purposes.
Per a report issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), approximately 15% of children between the ages of 10 and 17 have had at least one person contact them with sexual intent.
Predators are extremely manipulative. Some children will even agree to meet up with strangers, with no idea as to what they’re really getting themselves into. Again, children lack proper discernment, so these are dangers we need to shelter them from.
6. Malware / Viruses
Malware is sometimes difficult for adults to avoid; how much harder do you think it is for a child to avoid?
Creators of malware disguise it very well. All it takes is an irresistible marketing ploy or an article that looks interesting, and boom – you’re redirected to a page that automatically downloads harmful content to your computer without your permission. Next thing you know, you have a virus that cripples your system; or worse, it provides access for keyloggers or scrapers to steal your personal information.
If you’ve had this experience before, you know that there are a few ways to stop malware. But a child? They don’t have that same level of knowledge.
These are just a few of the main threats that the Internet poses to your child, and these dangers present themselves to millions of people every day.
What can I do to protect my kids from these dangers?
The first thing to do is purchase a parental control / web filtering software. But, the market is saturated with all sorts of products. Without any knowledge of them, you can easily purchase something that doesn’t meet your needs.
So, it’s important to have a good understanding of what web filtering software is, and how it works.
Web Filter Basics: How Does It Work?
The purpose of a web filter is just that – to filter web pages as we browse. When you type a web address into a browser or search bar, the filtering software will determine whether the content is safe, in either one of two ways.
First, there is a URL database where the reputation of the site is checked. Either the web address has a poor reputation and the page is blocked, or the site has a decent reputation and the site is allowed to load. The parameters that are set for your filtering software affect the criteria, and we’ll talk about that later on.
The second method is through real-time analysis. When the user enters a web address, the filtering software will “look ahead” and determine whether there is any harmful content on the page that the user is attempting to load. And again, the levels of content that are permitted are dependent on the parameters that have been set.
Web Filter Basics: 5 Most Important Features
Now that we have a basic understanding of how web filtering works, let’s look at 5 of the most important features that parental control software should include, so that you can make an informed decision on a good product!
1. Monitoring for Multiple Devices
A few years ago, it would have been perfectly fine to have parental controls set up on your household computer. However, with the emergence of laptops, phones, and tablets, that is no longer the case!
Today, many kids who are just 9 or 10 years of age have access to cell phones. Find a product that allows you to monitor multiple devices. And if you have a few children, who use many different devices, this becomes essential.
Make sure your product has this kind of versatility, because you’re going to need it!
2. Management Portal
It used to be that parental control software was managed on the device that was being monitored. Then web-based management portals came along. These are online locations where all devices can be monitored and user-specific parameters can be set, making parental control extremely convenient for you!
Do you want to block a specific site from being used by kid #3? Do you want a specific keyword filtered on kid #1’s device? Or do you want kid #2’s account to be locked at 8pm? Management portals allow you to make such adjustments on the fly.
Though most software has caught up, make sure you’re not getting a product that doesn’t have its own management portal. Today, with multiple devices and users, monitoring each one would prove to be a difficult task.
3. Social Media Monitoring
Blocking a page is one thing, but filtering it for content is another challenge all together. And on social media, where there is no shortage of bullying, predators, or inappropriate content, it’s important to have software that can determine what content to block.
Thankfully, there is parental control software that has this capability. In fact, software often includes anti-bullying filtering, which blocks out words or phrases that could be offensive or hurtful to your child.
4. VPN Blocking
Virtual private networks (VPN) allow people to surf the web anonymously so that their information and history goes untracked, bypassing many functions of your parental control software.
Don’t think for a second that your kids can’t figure out how to use them! All it takes is a friend from school giving them a specific URL for a VPN, and they will be able to use it like any other browser – while remaining hidden and bypassing your software.
VPN blocking is a must. Make sure your software includes it!
5. Automated Reporting
For parental control software to be effective, parents have to be diligent in managing it. In the past, parental control software management has been so inconvenient that parents would rarely check on their child’s Internet usage, or just stop checking all together!
More recently, convenience has become a huge point of focus for developers.
Automated reporting is one feature that adds to that convenience. You can have reports delivered directly to your email as frequently as you desire, as well as notifications sent to your phone or other device. Now you have no excuse not to keep an eye out!
Web Filter Basics: Our Recommendation
Now that we’ve introduced you to some of the most important features that a web filtering software should include, we want to recommend a popular, proven product that includes all of these features, and more . . .
Why do we like Net Nanny?
Where do we start? First, they have a great track record. Parents love it because it’s easy to use, the reporting is convenient, and the customizable parameters are ideal for protecting your child’s safety.
Net Nanny supports Windows, Mac, Android, and with an add-on purchase, iOS; so the versatility is there, and you can manage up to 10 devices/users.
Features like remote management, per-user settings, HTTPS filtering, social media monitoring and VPN blocking are all included, making Net Nanny an easy-to-use software that you can trust to do the job.
And finally, it’s available at a very affordable rate. Check it out!
Web Filter Basics: The Guardian
And of course, the best filter of all is . . . you.
You can help your child avoid all types of dangers by monitoring, as well as limiting, their Internet usage.
We understand that it’s impossible to look over your child’s shoulder 24 hours a day. So, here are 7 important tips and rules that you can put in place. These will go a long way towards preventing the Internet dangers we’ve discussed.
1. Establish a Moral Code and Set an Example
This should go without saying; but yet, we’re saying it. Some parents set low standards, loose restrictions, or an unclear set of guidelines (or none at all!), and then act surprised when their children get into trouble online.
Similarly, some parents do set moral codes, but then fail to follow them as well. Always be cognizant of the example you are setting with your children. They’re watching your every move.
2. Educate Yourself
In order to effectively monitor your child’s activity, you’re going to need to do a little homework …
Remember, each generation is going to be more skilled with technology than the generation before it. If you only have a basic understanding of computers and the Internet, don’t assume that your child has only an equal level of understanding.
This time, they actually do know more than you!
Spend some time learning about the Internet and the methods by which web filters can be bypassed. Your child may already know how to bypass parental controls. You need to stay one step ahead – after all, their very safety is at stake.
That means you should be immersing yourself in your parental control product too. Learn how to read the data in the reports you receive so that you know how and when your child has been using the Internet dangerously.
3. Don’t Let Your Child Download Anything Without Permission
Even adults don’t always know whether a download is completely safe. Today, malware is disguised so well that it often goes undetected; and by the time you discover it, it’s usually too late …
So, instruct your child not to download anything unless they have permission to do so, or unless they are being supervised. At least if it’s on your watch, you can take responsibility, should anything happen.
4. Don’t Let Your Child Give Out Personal Information
This can be surprisingly difficult to manage, considering how often we are required to use our real personal information to perform tasks online.
But, an adult using personal information is one thing. A child using personal information is another thing entirely.
First, tell your child that they are not to use their full name, address, phone number, or any other personal information in any online conversion. If they need to use or share an email account, put that account in your name or create a username that doesn’t give any information away.
You can make use of personal information as limited or as flexible as you choose, depending on the age of your child; but regardless, it’s best to establish a set of guidelines up front.
5. Don’t Let Your Child Talk to Strangers
Well, no duh! Right?
But monitoring your kids’ conversations is actually quite difficult, especially when kids are inquisitive, curious, friendly, and often uncomfortable turning someone away.
So, the best thing you can do is convey the importance of not engaging in conversation with strangers, and explain the repercussions that can come from doing so. Once they understand the seriousness of that limitation, they will be more likely to adhere to your instructions.
6. Set Time Limits and Enforce Them
Your child doesn’t need to be browsing the Internet for 5 or 6 hours a day. At most, they may need a couple of hours on the computer for homework or research purposes.
Set a daily time limit for Internet and computer usage. As I mentioned earlier, you can even manage this within your parental control software’s management portal. This makes it easy for you to set time limits for each user on each device.
In the event that your child needs to use the computer for additional time, allow them to do so under your supervision. This way, you’ll know exactly what they’re doing with that extra time.
7. Watch Your Child’s Behavior
There are a number of behavioral responses that you should identify as red flags.
A child may become withdrawn and isolate themselves from family members. This is not uncommon, especially when there is an online relationship that is developing. Predators and sex offenders try to create separation between child and family, as it helps to prevent transparent communication, preserving the predator’s secrecy.
Be perceptive to this, and investigate any behavioral changes that warrant suspicion.
Start implementing these 7 tips and you’ll create a much safer environment for your child and your family.
And that concludes our guide to web filter basics! I hope you’ll use this information to make adjustments that will protect your children from the dangers that are present online.
If you know of any other valuable tips that can assist with Internet safety, feel free to share them with us in the comments section below!
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