Increasingly technology is being developed with one demographic in mind: children. Tablets are marketed with kid-proof cases resilient enough to be tossed around by the youngest of users. App stores like Google Play and the iTunes App Store are filled with toddler games that provide enjoyable experiences.
While there are benefits to understanding technology at an early age, parents must be sure to set healthy boundaries on the time children use this technology and set up strong defenses against the dangerous materials this technology could expose their children to. Three steps for helping you protect your children are: limit access, limit content, and have open conversations.
Minecraft, YouTube, and SnapChat have become standard vocabulary for many middle school children. Apps like these require an internet connection. Being able to limit access to the internet is parents’ first defense.
Many new home routers, including those made by Linksys, NETGEAR, and Asus, have parental controls built into their software. These settings can be configured to limit your children’s time on the internet and also block certain apps and websites on any device your children may have connected to the internet at home.
The benefit of restricting access at the router level is that it is harder for children to circumvent the restrictions compared to on-device parental controls. Router-level parental controls can be a great first line of defense alongside the on-device parental controls.
Limiting content through a filter is a way of protecting our children against exposure to unwanted material freely available on the internet. Another step you can take at your router level is to change your Wi-Fi router’s DNS setting. DNS is like an internet phonebook with caller ID. It will not allow content you don’t want onto the devices that use that router.
To make the necessary changes, you need to access your administrative settings for the router. You can change it to something family-friendly like OpenDNS Family Shield, which restricts access to a long list of known malware sites, adult sites, and other sites that children should not access. (See the end of the article for more resources about how to do this, or contact the author for help).
If you want to restrict other sites, you can add them to the list by creating an account on the OpenDNS site. OpenDNS Family Shield is free. It’s been around a long time and has a great reputation.
If you are willing to pay a little and want to have more options, Covenant Eyes has been the go-to application for many families for years. While best known as a filter for pornography, Covenant Eyes has great controls to set up special block lists and blocked times of day. It also sends a detailed report of all sites visited for parents to review. This gives parents a starting point for conversations with their children about what is being viewed.
Have open conversations
Probably the most important thing parents can do to help protect their children from pitfalls on the internet is to have open conversations with them about what apps they are using, what they talk about with their friends, and what questions they may have about life.
Never assume that your children will resist temptations online or that they are too naïve to understand things they see. Ask good questions and listen to get to the heart of what is going on. Be a parent that can read beyond the smiley faces and hashtags.
Assume they are being influenced by technology. The internet has become the meeting place for many kids in today’s generation. And while we may not completely understand it ourselves, as parents we need to be willing to enter their world and find out as much as we can about what is going on. This will allow us to ask questions that will help us shape our children for the future, so that they can make wise decisions and handle anything that the world throws at them in a biblically-sound manner.
It is never too early to put proper boundaries in place for your family regarding the internet and the use of technology. Using these things can help you preserve the time you have with your children to shape their hearts in meaningful conversations and tech-free times together.
OpenDNS Family Shield: https://www.opendns.com/setupguide/#familyshield
FTC: Protecting Kids Online: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-kids-online
Protecting your kids online takes a lot more than tracking their devices, Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/09/08/how-can-parents-protect-their-children-online
Jared Jones lives and works in Takasaki, Gunma. He’s a church planter for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He’s been in Japan since 2009 with his family. He and his wife have five children.