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Protecting Your Family Online

May 29, 2018 1:00:00 PM

Protecting Your Family Online

Because of their leadership with various communication channels, church communicators are sometimes asked by parents how to keep kids safe online. This article was originally posted on the CPH Education blog to help parents and teachers learn how to do just that. We hope this post is helpful to you as you serve the families God has put in your life.

As a parent, God has entrusted you with the care and upbringing of your children. This task has not changed throughout all time. We are called to bring them to the life-giving water of Holy Baptism, to teach them the faith, and to protect them from all harm and evil. No pressure, Mom and Dad.

Every age has had things that parents must do that they feel woefully unqualified to do in the raising of their children. Today, the advancement of technology can leave people, even those who have grown up with computers, feeling lost and bewildered by what they need to do to protect their family from the vast amounts of vulgar content that lives online. As a former director of technology for a school system, I can only begin to describe the complexities of what it takes to keep a network’s traffic filtered.

Thankfully, there are some simple solutions to aid you in this task that do not require a PhD in quantum mechanics. The intention of this article is to help you filter content for free. There are several premium devices and programs that allow you to go beyond just content filtering in your house—things like being able to limit screen time, blocking certain applications on tablets, etc. Those are great, but they also bring up other conversations that this article does not intend to address.

A Seat Belt in Case of an Accident

Before helping you set up this free service to filter the internet content that comes into your home, I want to make sure you understand two things:

  1. Outside of not giving your children access to an internet-connected device, there is no 100 percent guaranteed way of being sure that every piece of terrible content gets filtered. These programs are really good at what they do and, in most instances, will catch everything. That being said, they rely on their databases to analyze traffic. There can be mistakes and things can get through the cracks, so you should never assume that once you put this in place you are free to give your child unsupervised access to the internet.
  2. This setup will only filter the internet access that comes into your home, through your home network. It will not filter the internet to a cellular device that has its Wi-Fi connection turned off. To that end, I want to make sure that you, the reader, know I am not advocating for some world in which we don’t teach our kids responsibility. It’s like driving a car. We don’t teach our child how to safely operate a vehicle and let them go without a seat belt. It takes both things, learning how to operate the vehicle (using technology and the internet) and wearing the seat belt (content filtering).

With all of that out of the way, we will now focus on utilizing OpenDNS as a free and easy tool to filter the traffic coming into your home.

Two Solutions for Your Home

OpenDNS, which is now owned and operated by Cisco, has two free products: OpenDNS Family Shield and OpenDNS Home.

OpenDNS Family Shield is a very simple product that is preconfigured to block adult content. Basically, you change a setting on your wireless router, and adult content is blocked in your home. It will take a day or so for the settings to take place (unless you manually dump the DNS cache on your computer, so depending on your comfort level with doing that, you may opt to just wait a few days). This is the most basic service that OpenDNS has, and it safeguards your internet connection from adult content. You can learn how to set this up here.

OpenDNS Home is a more customizable solution than Family Shield. It is also the solution that I use in my home. With more customization comes more setup, but do not fret! These are very simple solutions that are not challenging to set up. Note that to use OpenDNS Home, most people will need a computer in their house to run the OpenDNS IP updater program. Without getting too far into the weeds, most home internet connections are dynamically addressed. This means that your home’s IP address (think of it like a physical address to your house) can and will change. In order for the program to keep working according to your settings and not revert to only blocking adult content, it is important to have this updater run on a computer in your house so that your IP address is automatically updated in the OpenDNS system.

How to Set Up OpenDNS Home

OpenDNS has put together a stellar guide on setting this up in your house. I will give you the quick version, but be sure to follow the instructions in the guide for a more detailed and robust setup.

  1. Configure your wireless router to point at the OpenDNS name servers.
  2. Set up your OpenDNS Home account.
  3. Create a network.
  4. Download the OpenDNS IP updater.
  5. Run and sign into the OpenDNS IP updater.
  6. Configure the settings for your network.
  7. Enjoy filtered content.

This entire process took me about 10 minutes to complete. For someone who isn’t comfortable with technology, I would imagine that this process may take 30–40 minutes to complete. I used custom settings to select which categories to filter out of my internet traffic. OpenDNS has three predefined levels, which are easy for you to turn on. It’s also really easy to go through their list to have a custom filter set running in your house.

I hope this short guide is helpful to you. Remember that putting a filter in place is like a driver putting on a seat belt in a car. It doesn’t diminish the importance of teaching and practicing proper use of the device. Rather, it’s here to keep you as safe as possible in the event that an accident happens.

Ask Joe more about this topic when we live-chat with him.
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Joe Willmann

Written by Joe Willmann

Joe Willmann is the senior instructional designer for Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis, Missouri. A former teacher and administrator, Joe has a passion for education and learning theory. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University and his master’s degree from Concordia University Ann Arbor. He lives with his wife, Nicole, his daughter, Ava, and his son, Carter.