How do you protect your kids while they are using the computer?

Some people are scared of letting their children use a computer because they think it's a bad influence. They have been confronted with images unfit for young eyes or they think the child will be at the computer all the time playing violent games and not play outside anymore. I tell you that neither of this should scare you away from setting up a PC for the kids. You are in control and decide what the child can and can't do. if you don't want the child to go on-line, just don't plug it in. If you don't want it to play certain games, just don't put them on there. it's all very simple really.

I have had two types of requests when configuring a PC to be used by a child: make sure the PC can only be used a certain length of time or make sure he/she is not confronted with porn or violence when being on-line. I want to add a third one: protect the identity of your child, yourself and your family.

Time limitation

My personal opinion might surprise you: I don't do anything on the computer to protect my kids from both of these situations. As the computer they get at their disposal only contains educational software i want my kids to use the computer as much as possible. The more they use it, the more they learn. Besides, if you set limits they will be even more eager to taste the “forbidden fruit”. Sometimes my kids don't use the computer for days on end because it's just another commodity and not something they are only allowed to use for a certain time. Personally I want my kids to be on the computer a lotwithout making it “special” or “something they should not do”. The computer must be a positive and natural thing. It has proven to be be beneficial.

Explicit images

In regard of protection of porn and violence I think it's better to inform your children than to protect them from it completely. I do not want my children to grow up being absolute strangers from the real world. Reality is that some grown ups are interested in porn or in violence. I inform my kids they might be confronted with such explicit images and that they should call my wife or me when this occurs. I regard this as a perfect opportunity to explain things of life and guide my kids. I think they will get on line without our supervision anyways, be it at a friends place or otherwise, and be confronted with porn or violence. It's better that they are prepared for it than that they do not know how to deal with it, or worse, get a trauma from it. The less you make a deal of it the less interesting it becomes.
Does this mean I let a three year old stumble on hard core porn sites? Of course not! A three year old can not read or write and can not go on line by him- or herself. Even when you provide shortcuts to specific sites like Sesamestreet it's impossible for a three year old to get off that site and get to a malicious one.
TODO: investigate the possibility of switching menus and toolbars off at the command line
There is one major requirement though: the computer has to be placed in a pretty public place like the kitchen or the living room. Your children will not be able to hide stuff from you.
The major advise I can give you is: be open and honest. Don't shy away from facts you and them will be confronted with anyways.

Identity protection

Identity protection is a real problem on line. This not something to be taken lightly. Once your child can read and write you have to explain what they can and can't do on line and how they must react when they encounter certain situations.
Let me sum up a few situations to sketch the problem:

  • A seven year old gets on a chat room and starts to talk with another child. The children like each other and agree to meet up in real life. The other kid appears to be a pervert ...

  • An e-mail is received by a ten year old offering free stuff. He justs needs to go to a web site and enter a lot of information about himself and his family. The information is used for malicious purposes and of course no free stuff is ever received.

  • A thirteen year old goes out and puts graffiti on a public building. To show off he recods everything on video and puts it on line for bragging rights. Of course this video makes it easy to catch him and on top of that he is later refused a job because his future employer has found the video too - what you put on line is for eternity - and got doubts about the kids morals.

  • A twelve year old girl got a decent smartphone for her birthday. She is so happy with it she takes a ton of pictures with it and puts them all on line. Unfortunately the pictures are not well protected by the on line picture hosting service.
    A few days later she throws a bid party and invites all her friends over. She uses a badly protected social media site to do this.
    A week later the house is robbed and completely emptied out. Many of the pictures the girl put on line were taken inside the house and showed the antique furniture, expensive paintings and top of the range multi media gear. Together with the address on her birthday party invitation made this an easy target.

So how can you protect yourself and your children from situations like this? You can sit next to them all the time. You could also not give them internet access. until they are of age and liable for their own actions. Of course these options are not viable in this modern world we live in.
You need to take the time to inform you children nd talk about the dangers in the internet. Just having them visualize the internet as a magic box that keeps a copy of everything you put in it, even if you take the original out. Then tell them the box has many openings and you can never see all the openings at the same time. You are never sure the box is completely closed and can never be sure nobody can access the information. On top of that, some openings are closed and other openings added.
Every time any bit of information, no matter how small, is put on line it should be regarded as accessible by anybody, if not now, then later. Just make them think “Do I want my worst enemy to see this?” and when they are not sure, have them ask you. Tell them you will support them in this, but will never accept exceptions to this rule. The longer they will be on line the better they will understand what is dangerous and the less they will have to ask for advise. Again, informing your children instead of playing the authoritative parent gives your the result you want.
The problem of identity theft can not be fully solved by software. Internet filters can block access to certain sites, but that solves only a small part of the problem. The problem lies with ignorance and stupidity. There is no patch for stupidity, but ignorance can be resolved by educating.


Of course these are my personal opinions. If you think it is necessary to protect your children from themselves or from the real world until they are ready for it, please do so. I will explain how you can accomplish this as much as technically possible using my preferred software.