How Our Family Handles Online Safety

By Karen Frana, Current Langley Parent

I was one of many parents who attended the PALS presentation on technology in April. It Karen Franawas an informative discussion of our children’s use of technology laid against the backdrop of child development. Thus, it helped me understand what online content my son was being exposed to and what content was appropriate for my child as he ages. Once I was armed with a sense of “age appropriateness” of content, I set out to learn about the various ways in which parents can help manage our children’s use of technology. As a result of what I learned, our household has implemented a multi-tiered approach to technology safety. I wanted to share what our family is doing as a way of starting the conversation at Langley and spreading knowledge.

Home PCs, Macs, iPads, or Tablets

The first level of security or “filtering” that our family implemented was on the device itself. We set up individual user IDs for our child on all devices that enter or remain in the house. Each user ID has its own password and user controls which can be set with the highest degree of filtering for young children and with more flexible filtering for older children. Parents can use user ID controls or settings to keep our children from accessing undesirable applications or websites, while still having access ourselves.

This was a bit cumbersome at first. We were all used to using our PCs seamlessly. However, I can see how the extra effort will help protect our son as his eagerness to explore grows.

YouTube

YouTube has its own privacy settings or filters which we set. I just logged in to our YouTube account and used the settings at the bottom of the first page to filter out some of the inappropriate content. This filter is not very sophisticated, so it doesn’t filter out everything we would want. It should be used in addition to what’s called an “advanced YouTube filter” which can be found in third-party software.

YouTube expands and changes daily. So while I know we are using filters, I am careful not to trust any video that I haven’t seen and heard myself. This gets harder, of course, as our children get older and more tech savvy. 

Third-Party Software

Free and fee third-party software applications add additional protection to our son’s exposure to content. We use K9 Web Protection software from a company based here in Vienna, VA, which actually monitors a device’s usage at what’s called the subdirectory level. This means that it will know the actual YouTube video that our child watches on that device. It also limits usage at the same level. I am told that this software can be implemented in such a way that it will e-mail the parent with historical data showing all of the websites and YouTube videos our children have visited.

Separately, if your children like to use an application called “Steam,” which is a company that sells many online games, there is software called Steam Nanny at www.steamnanny.com that helps monitor and filter usage of the Steam-based games.

Games

The games that our children play using Internet access and multiple players are referred to as MMOs, or Massive Multiplayer Online Games. Games like Minecraft and Roblox are MMOs. These MMOs are either something we have to buy (or pay a monthly subscription fee) or they are free.  The games that we have to pay for are potentially safer for our children for two reasons:

  1. There is a company behind them that is trying to make a profit, so appropriate business standards should apply.
  2. That company does not allow access to the game source code so the game’s original content cannot be changed.

Minecraft requires buying a subscription and setting up an account; Roblox does not. Roblox is free or “open,” meaning that the game’s source code (software) is available to anyone who wants it which means anyone who wants to can change the content. This doesn’t mean that all content in Roblox is bad. In fact, Roblox is like building with Legos, but online, so our kids are naturally drawn to it. Some of the Lego-like worlds that have been created in Roblox are fun and appropriate for our kids. But it requires supervision because if our children don’t understand the risks, they can end up playing in a stranger’s world with strangers interacting with them.

The safer option for playing Roblox is in a “hosted” environment where our child or a child we know has created the world. As parents, we can do a couple of things proactively. First, vet each game for its content. Then, determine whether or not the game’s content is customizable. Many of these games have “filters” or privacy conditions imbedded in the user account. I had to work hard to find it, but I actually set up a user ID of my own for Roblox and found a way to set the privacy settings to keep strangers out of my access. I’m just not sure how well it works.

With summer starting this week, I am fighting the fear of screen time becoming a threat and instead trying to think positively about the skills our child can be building while doing something he enjoys.

 Click here for more resources from Langley’s April PALS meeting about online safety.

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