How To Make Your Home Internet Child Friendly

It's not hard to filter out the worst of the internet without installing crippling net nanny software on every device in your home.

Internet Pic via Shutterstock There comes a time when every parent is forced to consider the best way to keep their children safe online. The child-friendly plug n' play hub is one solution, creating a separate filtered Wi-Fi network for the youngsters in your house, but there are other solutions if this doesn't suit your needs.

The advantage of the plug n' play hub is that you don't need to install filtering software on your end devices, which is useful because you're unlikely to find software to protect every internet-enabled device in your home such as the browser on your Smart TV. Net nanny software also has a tendency to cripple end devices as it tries to block content on the fly.

The disadvantage of the plug n' play hub solution is that it relies on a separate Wi-Fi network. This might not suit you if you're happy with your existing wireless router, especially if you rely on Wi-Fi extenders to reach the far corners of your home. The plug n' play hub also fails to protect devices which are connected to your home network via Ethernet cables rather than Wi-Fi.

Look It Up

The plug n' play hub doesn't inspect every webpage on the fly, instead it relies on custom DNS servers. These are the telephony directories of the internet, helping your devices look up webpages. By default every device in your home probably uses your internet service provider's DNS settings, but it's easy to change this — across your entire home or just on individual devices.

Services like OpenDNS and Norton ConnectSafe offer custom DNS servers which modify the listings for inappropriate webpages, serving up a "page blocked" message instead. They offer free and paid options, granting you different levels of control over what's blocked.

The paid services are linked to your home IP address, which can be a problem if your IP address changes whenever you reboot your modem. There are websites and apps which make it easy to notify the service of your new IP address, or you might find it easier to pay extra to your internet service provider for a fixed IP address. This also comes in handy if you're using DNS-based geo-dodging services like Unblock US to sneak into US Netflix.

Pick And Choose

If you want to protect your entire home then it's just a matter of changing the DNS settings in your modem, so it automatically hands out the address of your child-friendly DNS server to every device.

Alternatively you can protect individual devices by just changing their DNS settings, which lets you stick with one Wi-Fi network. The process of editing the DNS settings works slightly different on various devices, but a quick Google search will help you along your way.

For example, on an iGadget you can't create a default DNS setting for every Wi-Fi network, you can only change the DNS settings for specific networks. This is useful in that you can configure child-friendly DNS settings on an iPad at home and know these settings won't cause trouble when your child connects their iPad to their school's network. Unfortunately you can't enforce your child-friendly DNS over 3G/4G or when connecting to a new Wi-Fi network.

Not A Magic Bullet

DNS-based filtering is handy if you want to prevent young children stumbling upon inappropriate content, but it's much more challenging to stop older children who go actively looking for it.

Tech-savvy kids can beat DNS filtering by changing the DNS settings themselves, using a VPN or proxy server to bypass the filtering or simply switching to an unprotected Wi-Fi network. You can lock some of these options down on a computer by ensuring your kids don't have administrator rights, but it's harder to do on mobile devices.

Remember that at the end of the day web filtering is not a substitute for adult supervision, so it's important to take an interest in your children's online activities and discuss the dangers. How do you keep the youngsters in your home safe when they're online?

This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


    you cant make the internet kid safe.

    kids will find away around it

    Adam: thanks for the review. It also helps guide our FAQ and How does it work page.

    Some technical clarifications that aren't accurately captured in the article:

    1. After speaking with many parents as part of our market research, we found that parents actually prefer kids to have a separate wifi network (privacy and productivity). The technical correction here is that we don't replace the parents' wifi-router, we plug into it. The parents stay on their original router, and kids are moved to the separate safe wifi network from our hub.

    2. Also absolutely agree that there is no way you can ever truly secure access but in the toddler through early teens, our research shows that parents mostly care about accidental exposure, and a lot less about evasions. The goal there is to start early and nurture your kids through digital citizenship guidelines rather than creating an impenetrable firewall. Having said that though, another technical correction we would like to make is that our plug n' play hub intercepts DNS requests and enforces the use of our DNS servers.

    By focusing on the two most important concerns parents bring up - 1) their own privacy where they are not monitored or filtered in an way and 2) a plug n' play approach towards keeping their kids safe online - we achieve the best of both worlds.

    Thanks again for the writeup!

    Co-founder of Plug n' Play

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