The Internet is a scary place - and anyone who hasn't been living under a rock during the last twenty years is likely to agree.
I struggle with supervising my kid's access to the internet. It's HAAAAAARD. Why does it have to be so complicated?? Does there have to be 24+ different types of social media channels? There are a lot of ways kids can get bombarded with terrible things from the internet. I don't have time to make charts or list or tell my kids 100 times to shut off their devices. So, these are my 5 tips for lazy parents to monitor the internet.
1. OpenDNS - Router-level internet filter - FREE
When I first stumbled on this site, I thought it could not be real. But I was desperate; I needed some way to filter my home internet at the router level. I had tried device filters, I had tried Disney Circle and even purchased a special router with "built-in parental controls," or so it said. Nothing worked. Nothing was smooth, and nothing was seamless until I found OpenDNS. How can a parent possibly put monitors in place for 11 or 18 devices? It's not feasible. Maybe ten years ago, when it was a laptop and a smartphone, but not today.
The best thing about OpenDNS? It's free. That's right; it's 100% free. They do have a paid version if you want all the bells and whistles, but you can get a robust router-level filter FOR FREE.
You can use the following link to open the site, and all you have to do is follow the step-by-step instructions. It works on a wide variety of routers. Select your router make and model and follow the instructions.
BUT - be warned - it filters ALL devices that are connected to the wifi, parents included. So if a parent needs to access anything on wifi that is filtered out, they will need to switch off their wifi and use LTE data.
2. Linksys Router App - Wifi Kill Switch - FREE with purchase of a Linksys Router
Even though the Linksys router's parental controls were vastly underwhelming, Linksys has an Ace up their sleeve with very robust and useful Linksys App If OpenDNS is too restrictive for you, or you want to be able to filter the internet at the device level, this is a great option.
Note: in order to use this app, you do have to have a Linksys router, but I promise you will be pleased. Linksys has great routers, and just having the app will make it worth its weight in gold.
You can shut off internet to certain devices, or you can shut off an entire hotspot. You can set time parameters for the internet by device, and you can also block very specific internet sites if needed.
And here is another great feature: you can control all this your mobile phone, even if you aren't home. If my kids are home, and I call them and find out they are watching Netflix instead of doing homework, I have the ability to disable Netflix from my mobile phone by shutting off the wifi. Once you get a taste of having the power to control the flow of wifi in your hand, you won't know what you ever did without it.
3. Bark - Monitor Smart Phone Usage - $9/mo
This is a big one - smartphones. Adults have them. Kids have them. Kids that don't have them want them. Smartphones have all the baddies and heavy hitters; text messages, social media, YouTube, unfiltered internet access, and cameras. Smartphones can potentially be a recipe for disaster. And on top of the obvious exposures, in the last few years, studies have been released showing a measurable and discernible link between teens and higher rates of depression and suicide.
Here's a small snippet from one of the most recent studies:
"Researchers hypothesized that the growing incidence of serious depression and related deaths primarily is occurring within a particular age group rather than being a function of growing older or a phenomenon that people of all ages are experiencing.
What they found supported their conjecture.
The number of survey participants reporting major depression in the past year increased among those in the preteen-to-mid-20s group, whereas the incidence stayed the same or declined among people 26 and above.
More specifically, the incidence of major depression that 12 to 17-year-olds had experienced over the previous year increased 52 percent from 2005 to 2017.
Among ages 18 to 25, the prevalence rose by 63 percent from 2009 to 2017.
And the rate of those same young adults contemplating suicide or acting on it went up 71 percent from 2008 to 2017."
You can read the full article HERE, but take my word for it; it's not good.
So what can a parent do? Well, not much. But I do have one piece of technology that can help - Bark. Bark is the only comprehensive smartphone monitoring tool that I have found that seems to be a legitimate tool. Bark also packs some serious endorsements, and is backed by the National Police Foundation, the Sandy Hook Promise, the We Protect Global Alliance against Online Sexual Exploitation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
What I like best about Bark, is that is isn't a tool for seeing ALL of your child's smartphone activity. It allows your children to have some privacy. What it does have is smart AI that monitor's their apps, texts, and usage and can detect activity that is sexual, violent and can also sense language about self-harm. Their website boasts that they have prevented 16 school shootings and have detected and prevented over 10 thousand severe self-harm situations. It does require that the Bark app is downloaded on the student's phone, and if the student deletes the app, the parent is notified. But, if parents will say that having this app is one of the conditions of kids possessing a smartphone, you can probably find a happy middle ground.
I think the final thought here is that SOME monitoring is better than nothing.
4. Take the Wait til 8th Pledge - FREE
This is a tip, not technology. I know this pledge is not ideal for everyone. However, especially if you have young children, it is something you can talk with your kids about, get their buy-in, discuss with teachers and parents, and pledge to do. The younger you can get your kids on board, the less they will gripe about it.
Founded by a fellow Mom, Brooke Shannon, who was trying to persuade other families to wait at least until kids are age 14 or in 8th grade to give them smartphones, the "Wait until 8th" pledge was her solution to the problem. The Wait Until 8th pledge asks parents to "not give your child a smartphone until at least 8th grade." As we all know, peer pressure is a real thing, and there is power in numbers. We do not know what technology, social media, and smartphones do to the brains of very young children, so if you can push off the inevitable for just a few more years, isn't it worth it to at least try?
5. Ask other parents if they monitor the internet - FREE
This isn't a high-tech solution, but it is useful. I've heard horror stories about kids going to someone's house and being exposed to something online that they usually would not be at home. Every family is different. It doesn't mean some people are right, and others are wrong. This policy, asking about internet monitoring, is something I've started doing for my kids in the last year. I have an automatic zero "staying the night" policy for my kids at other people's houses unless I've had an in-depth conversation with their parents about how or if they monitor the internet. I think more than anything people are scared to say, "Hey, before Johnny stays the night, what is your internet monitoring policy?" 9 out of 10 times the parents do have monitoring in place, and for the few that have nothing in place, I share my tips with them. It's not for lack of effort; they don't know how to put monitoring systems in place.
And 100% of the parents I've spoken with have said, "I am so glad you asked that I am so worried about that myself."
As a parent, I believe it is my responsibility to protect my children from the internet. Like any potentially dangerous tool, like a car or a knife, you have to be careful, put certain precautions in place and supervise. The difference is that monitoring the internet is not as clear cut, and parents haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet. I take my responsibility very seriously. I am 34 years old. As a Millennial, I'm trying to find my footing as the parent of two kids from the digital generation. It's a fine balance between understanding that they live in a technological world and need to know technology, coding and software, and also protecting their very delicate childhoods from too much technology.
I joined Facebook for the first time in 2006, the year my first child was born. This is what also happened around that time:
2004 Facebook launched
2005 Reddit, YouTube launched
2006 Twitter, Tumblr launched
2010 Instagram launched
For those of us old enough to remember landlines and dial up internet, and yet young enough to have had a Nokia cell phone as a teenager, we are the first generation of parents with kids that have not lived in a world without Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. We, as a society, are not yet able to fully comprehend the consequences of a generation that has constant and unfiltered access to social media, the endless Facebook news feed, the 24-hour news cycle, Instagram Influencers and headline-making tweets.
Maybe exposure to technology and the internet for kids is not as bad as we think it is; or maybe it's much, much worse.
I don't know about you, but I'm not taking any chances.
- Kelsey Wagner