Monitoring your Child’s Internet Usage – Finding the Right Balance
Helping our children stay safe online is something that many of us find challenging. At SCEGGS we filter websites and enable them or disable them according to the category they fall under. We may disable access to a site because of an age restriction, or we may decide it does not provide any benefit to the student to enable it. This system is not without its issues so we actively manage it and work closely with teachers and students to find the right balance.
Web filtering solutions for private use have been available for a number of years. The increasing focus on cyber-safety has seen the development of a number of new solutions. It can be a little daunting deciding on what will fit best so I’ve spent some time looking at a few different solutions and would like to share my findings with you.
Here are some of the keys features available in various solutions:
- Ability to block or allow websites, individually or in pre-defined categories.
- Get alerts when some activity happens – like your child trying to access a blocked website, or installing a new application. This could be a real-time alert or a daily summary.
- Ability to monitor/control which applications are installed on a phone or computer.
- Ability to control total time spent (Access Scheduling). This could include the hours you make the internet available each day, the total time you allow internet each day or even the amount of time you allow a particular app to be used each in a 24 hour period.
The various solutions also use different technologies. Here are some of them with brief descriptions:
- VPN (Virtual Private Network). If a device has a VPN installed and turned on then this will send all internet traffic to/from that device to another external location where the monitoring and filtering occurs. This ensures 100% of internet traffic is monitored.
- Router. Some solutions offer the installation of a device at your home. This physically sits in-line with your Internet connection so that you can be sure all the network connections in your house are monitored, as they must pass through the router.
- Local policies and software. Many of the solutions require the installation of specific software or security policies onto the laptop or mobile phone. These may set restrictions, network settings or other controls on the device. These are particularly important for mobile devices where a user may be connecting to a number of different networks as they are not tied to a specific location.
- DNS (Domain Name System). DNS is the technology that allows us to use plain English web addresses instead of numbers like 188.8.131.52 (www.sceggs.nsw.edu.au). By taking control of DNS a system can restrict or allow access to particular websites.
There are many different products available. I have personally tested some of these and have gathered information from friends and the professional community for others. The attached table lists a selection of some of the most popular products along with key features and costs.
As a parent, I have found honest and open communication, along with clear expectations, are best to effectively support any technological solution. My children are in Primary school so they are still relatively innocent and are learning how to be safe and sensible online. I am quite comfortable closely supervising their activity at these ages. Every child is different so I work with them each on an individual basis where practical. I believe there should be a balance between privacy, responsibility and safety. As they get older and demonstrate more responsibility I will provide a lighter touch.
I hope you have found this article useful and please do contact me if you would like any more information or would like to share your experiences.
Director of ICT