Internet safety

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This page contains advice from CATUG members in response to a request on the Mac Ministry List for guidance on internet filtering, accountability and safety.

For people who want additional software to help with this, there are some links at the end of the page.

The question

I need internet filtering/accountability/safety for my whole family. I'm the only one privileged to have a Mac, so the rest are still on PCs. Thus any solution should handle both. There are currently two PCs and the MBP I'm on that need filtering.
I really like it when the filter program lets me set time limits (x minutes per day). I don't like it when I have to set the time of day they can use it. I'd rather say they can have so much time, no matter when in the day. (SafeEyes and Bsecure don't do that, best I can tell.)
I know some of you use openDSL. Can you explain? What's it do? How? Is it a pain to set up?
What else can you recommend?

Technical advice

OpenDNS won't do the time limits thing, that I know of, but it is good for filtering the internet content. There are broad categories you can knock out, with exceptions, too (for instance, I allow Youtube, but not DailyMotion nor MyFace.) It's a two-step process. First you put the OpenDNS server numbers into your router, and then you create an account, and enter in your external IP address. There is actually a little Mac tool that can simplify this part, which will also find your IP address and update the OpenDNS servers, so your customizations work. IMO, for content filtering, OpenDNS is probably sufficient, although if you want more (such as language filtering on web pages), I don't think OpenDNS will do this.

- Jon Glass

I think I recall that you still need to set your google filtering settings, because image and video search results come thru google's servers, not directly from the originating website. Maybe other search engines too. I know google has an option to lock the filtering, and I think it locks the setting for all users of the computer.

- Aaron

Pastoral advice

Fortunately, it was 17 years ago when our kids were young teenagers and the internet was "new" that we went through this as a family. However, my wife and I sat down and discussed long and hard as to how we would handle this with our son. Our discussions continued for several weeks and months. If we were faced with this again today I seriously doubt we would handle it any differently. Even with the coming of sophisticated software, gadgets and new-fangled techniques, we both feel very strongly the way we proceeded still works today and is the best. You see, the results we have are a son and daughter who grew up to be strong Christian leaders, exceptional parents themselves, and they have both come back and thanked us for how we led them through this very situation with wisdom, grace and guidance.

In a time where we didn't have software to help us, we explained and taught values to our kids; carefully showing them how we felt, what our dreams and fears were, and the consequences of irresponsibility. We let them know the pain of disobedience, carelessness and yielding to their friends. They both understood. I am sure my son broke the "rules" a few times, but I also know his heart was pierced and he was very uncomfortable. His sojourn was very, very brief. My daughter never stepped over that line.

Our strategy was to teach values, righteousness, family and sincerity all under the protection and love of our Lord. Our kids always knew where they were, loved and safe. They also knew they could never be outcast if they came to us with repentance. There was always room for them in our embrace. Like tonight, it's cold, rainy outside, has been all week and more to come. But I know it will always be warm and cozy inside this home.

So, on a technical side, I don't know how to turn on or off a software program or a user account by a clock and I really doubt one exists. But what do you do, require your family to wear bags over their heads every time they ride in the car for fear they see an inappropriate billboard? Do they wear ear muffs so they don't hear a negative word? Do you mute the television during commercials or make them avert their eyes? That's silly and will teach them to rebel against your values when then get older and away from your commanding watch. Teach them to love you and love the Lord and trust the Holy Spirit to protect them and guide them.

- David Larson

I'll give a strong, experience-backed second to David's advice. I've been an IT professional for almost 20 years, and everywhere I've worked, at some point management came to the IT folks and asked us to keep their employees from abusing the internet. I struggled with the issue for several years until I finally realized that it's a management issue, not a technology issue, and it really can't be solved with filters and timers and usage logs. Managers have to educate their team about proper internet use, and hold them personally accountable for sticking to the rules. Technology really only works if both parties want to use it as a helpful tool. Same thing goes for parents and kids.

That said, I do enable Parental Controls for my almost-teenage son, and use the "Try to limit access to adult websites automatically" and the total-usage-per-day features. He and I have discussed the whole issue of using computers wisely, and he is actually very appreciative for the extra (even if only slight) help offered by the technology–but it's all ultimately wrapped up in our father/son relationship, which, as David pointed out so well, has nothing to do with technology.

Grace & Peace,
Jon Gardner

External links


The answers were posted by Jon Glass, Aaron Hunyady, David Larson and Jon Gardner on the Mac Ministry List on December 21-22, 2010.