Free Parental Control Online For Your Whole House:
Anyone who has internet access knows what a wonderful thing it is, and also knows what dangers can be lurking out there. As a parent, one of my jobs is to try to preserve my childrens’ innocence and raise them to be of sound mental health. As an IT professional, I also know what ways are the most feasible to protect my kids online. However, parental control software can be cumbersome and feature rich, but that will come at a cost. If you feel you need to monitor online activity, set time limits, and a bunch of other features, you may want to look at paid-for parental control solutions like AVG Family Safety or Net Nanny. If you just want to start somewhere, to get some basic protection, don’t’ let money be an excuse not to have parental controls anymore!
Disclaimer: This article is only focused on blocking inappropriate content.
Time Investment: 1 Hr
Cost: $0 (Unless you need a home network router – $30 – $50)
Assumptions: 1. You own a home network router. If you have WiFi you already have one. If you purchased your own router, it is almost certain that yours will work. If your internet service provider gave you one, you may need to ask them if the “DNS settings” are changeable (see more below).
Adverstised on their site as being used by 1 in 3 schools, you know OpenDNS is a trusted solution. The link to their free offering is located here… http://www.opendns.com/home-solutions/parental-controls/ . Trying to keep the “tech talk” to a minimum, every device that connects to the internet needs DNS. DNS gives your PC directions on how to get to the websites you try to access. By applying OpenDNS settings, the directions your PC is asking for are first passed through a filter - like a bouncer at a night club – to see if the site is on the “bad” list. If so, the site is blocked. The single ”direction-asking” point for all internet traffic in your home is your router, and OpenDNS has done a great job of providing instructions on how to make the necessary changes in a vast number of routers out there. See this link (even though it says “Store” the directions are free).
Choosing Your Control Level
After signing up and associating your home network IP address with them (which they will tell you about), you can configure the filtering preferences. If you’re like me, you’ll probably start out with a general level like “Moderate”, then customize it as needed, to add or remove category choices as seen below. After you have set the filtering, and wait for about 5 minutes, you can have your wife ( Guys!!) test it out on the Victoria’s Secret website.
If your wife then says, “but I want to be able to visit Victoria’s Secret” website, you can then whitelist (never block) www.VictoriasSecret.com , while still filtering out everything else. Conversely, if there is a specific website you want to block that doesn’t fall under one of your blocked categories, you can blacklist (always block) it through the filter.
Leaving The Nest
OpenDNS on your home router will filter online content for anyone connected to the internet through that router. If your kids have mobile devices that leave the home (and hence the router connection) they would not be protected by its filtering, but there are options. For a few $’s you can buy an app for Android devices like “Set DNS Pro”, which can then be configured with the DNS addresses for OpenDNS. Another android option is Net Nanny which has an app that runs about $20 per year. AVG Family Safety for iPhone (free), installs on mobile devices like iPhones ( iOS ) and Windows phones to protect them on the go, as they connect to other networks which may not have parental controls. Controls with monitoring is available with AVG if you upgrade to the full suite – $49 per year (including PC protection), but there is still no Android device coverage as of this post from AVG. The free version requires you to use their browser to block inappropriate content, which is also not comprehensive.
There are other free options out there for DNS filtering, but OpenDNS, at the time of this post, is probably the best. If you have another favorite you like, let us know. Maybe you’ll be helping to write the next article on parental controls.