Whorled View

July 3, 2007

Healthy High-Tech Family Living

Filed under: Family,Lifestyles,Miscellaneous,Religion,Sociology — lullabyman @ 8:30 pm

We live in an amazing time with wonderful technologies to greatly improve and enhance our life styles. As always, there’s bad that comes with good, and in a world where we all live in glass houses it’s critical that parents be thoughtful and take necessary precautions to protect their children. For example, we all know there are unsavory characters in chat rooms disguising themselves as other children. There are other dangers in cyberspace too that if unchecked can have disturbing consequences. This blog entry introduces ideas on both 1) protecting your family and 2) how to leverage high-tech tools that are otherwise wasted on unproductive activities in most households.

What The Research Says
Pornography, for example, is usually only a typo and a click away in most households. The research (see here) concludes that pornography elicits the same biochemical response as PCP or any other highly addictive hallucinogenic drug, requiring increasing doses of a more concentrated and vile nature to provide the same biochemical response with consecutive addictive pornographic voyerism. Another example of cyberspace dangers are the myriads of activists (example: Clinton Fein’s “ADULTeration”) who feel compelled to expose as many children as possible whether “four years old or seventeen” to “mature dialog”, and since it isn’t technically pornography their efforts are unrestricted, and in some cases it’s even promoted by educational foundations (examples: “Advocates for Youth”, “Siecus”, etc.) that are paid by your taxes to encourage alternative lifestyles among youth as young as 5 years old. In short, enjoying the benefits of living in an information age while protecting youth from untold unwanted influences is a significant challenge, but one that is easily addressed with just a little upfront effort.

“Very young kids don’t need the internet. Within a few hours of training any 13 year old can be nearly as computer competent as another 13 year old regardless of their background. Beyond 13 years old however it’s critical that kids gain certain computer skills or they will be left behind. Unfortunately even many children who already grow up with computers never gain the computer skills that will most help them”

How best to meet this challenge? Do you shut your children out of the digital world entirely? Actually, this is not necessarily a bad approach when kids are less than 13-14 years of age (although you can’t do this when they’re not at home). Computers provide few advantages for young children than can’t be quickly made-up later on. For example, within a few hours any 13 year old can become nearly as computer competent as another regardless of their background. Beyond 13 years old however it’s critical that kids gain certain computer skills or they will be left behind. Unfortunately even many children who already grow up with computers never gain the computer skills that will most help them.

How about giving them an unconnected computer to use any time they want? This has many advantages over internet capable computers, though it’s only one of many viable strategies and can be part of a multi-faceted approach. A properly configured unconnected computer can have all of the scholastic advantages of a connected computer and then some. Student based research is perhaps even made easier by using an unconnected computer if it is loaded with Encarta, or Encyclopedia Britannica on DVD, etc. Teachers would far prefer those references to most web-based references (although you can get wikipedia on DVD). Having them use an unconnected PC whenever they want can help them focus on really learning about the computer, computing, programming, etc… instead of surfing the net and loitering in ineffectual chat rooms. The truth is that “the digital divide” is a political and marketing term unscrupulously used to promote government funding of broadband projects, whereas a cheap (used) properly configured unconnected computer can be far more advantageous for kids than an expensive window to the internet requiring a $25/mo to $50/mo fee.

Allowing a net-capable computer in your kid’s bedroom (or other private area) will almost guarantee access to whatever they want no matter how “good” you think they are. It isn’t about them being “good”, it’s about them being curious, and kids are curious. Don’t kid yourself, kids are kids; I kid you not. A simple typo can peak a curiosity, which often becomes seemingly harmless voyerism, descending to a habit, and from there even worse – again, it’s all in well documented research. Again, don’t kid yourself… it isn’t about being “good”, it’s about the curiosity of a child (which is a good thing) and human nature, which can be an entirely good nature if nutured by conscientious parents.

“… kids are curious. Don’t kid yourself, kids are kids; I kid you not. Would you tell your kid to never play with guns and then put a loaded one under their bed? Would you?”

Here’s the multifaceted approach that we use at our house. Feel free to borrow as much of it for your own high-tech family strategy as you’d like:

  1. Educate. Explain in detail to kids why computers are wonderful, while also potentially dangerous with dangerous people, and why porn victimizes and how it alters judgement, alters character, and is socially repugnant. Even if you protect them from harmful internet influences in your own house you can’t place filters on their friend’s computers libraries, etc. so they need to be personally educated on it’s effects.
  2. Provide a “Safe” Environment. Also, give them a protected environment where they can feel safe in, and where you can feel comfortable that they’re safe. You wouldn’t tell your kid to not play with guns and then put a loaded one under their bed would you? Then get to work, here are some methods – you can use any one or a combination of them:
    Method: KidRocket Glubble Client Based Filtering
    (Blue Coat k9)
    Proxy Server Filtering
    What is it: Dedicated kid-friendly fullscreen locked-down browser that won’t exit (not a plug-in), that we link to in the startup folder of their XP account. So when they click their account it boots straight up to this browser. See kidrocket.org. Free. A plugin for Firefox. Restricts where kids can go. You can define where it can and can’t go. Free. More flexible than Kid Rocket, and allows your kids to go to alot more places. Be sure to remove other browsers. Filter all content on each computer as it comes in from the internet or as it is requested. You can do this for free with Blue Coat k9 which is one of the best out there. It doesn’t noticeably slow down the browsing experience and is easy to administer. WHETHER YOU DO ANY OF THE OTHERS AT LEAST DO THIS! You ought to put this on every computer in the house (unless you are doing proxy server filtering). Filter all content by setting up a proxy server. Every webpage viewed on your network is automatically routed through this server, There’s no way around it. Think of it as Big Brother. You can do it for free with a spare computer and Dansguardian and Squid. There are also retail products for doing this.
    How easy is it: Easy. Download and install on their own account (note, early windows versions won’t allow you to create seperate accounts). Put a shortcut in the startup folder so it boots up when they log in. Delete all other browsers from their account. Then password protect your account. Easy. Install Firefox, then install this plugin on their own account (note, early windows versions won’t allow you to create seperate accounts). Delete all other browsers from their account. Then password protect your account. Very easy. Just download and install. For experienced users who know a bit about servers
    How secure Secure enough for under 10. Not very secure, but better than nothing. Pretty secure. Can be circumvented, but not very easily. Only Proxy Filtering is better. Very secure. Can’t go around this as long as they’re using your network.
    Downsides: Very limited. Content is for kids under 10 only. It doesn’t really lock down the user environment (like kid rocket does). Seems like it might be easily circumvented. Not many Downsides. You have to type a password to go to a non-approved site, but that’s easy, and you choose right then whether to make the site temporary or permanently available. Takes some server knowledge, but nothing that you can’t learn given enough time.
  3. Public Area Internet Access. Keep all Internet capable computers in public places (kitchen, family room, etc), and access should only be allowed when they aren’t alone. This can be facilitated by an account with a password that only parents know, to prevent unsupervised use.
  4. An Unlimited-Use Unconnected PC. Provide an Internet-free computer they can do non Internet stuff on (multimedia and DVD-based encylcopedias, homework, journal, write letters, play games, burn cd’s, create, print, make cards, run CD-ROMS, learning programs, etc). Ideally this computer will physically have the Internet capable hardware removed so they can do anything they want, although a password protected network may be adequate. Note: once you have the computer correctly configured then back it up (and create a system restore point) so you can easily do a complete reinstall (this will be necessary from time to time).
  5. Be Upfront and Follow Up. Explain to kids that you’re using a separate program that records all the websites they visit and that you’ll check it regularly (nearly all internet browsers allow this). If you have a way to really do this periodically ask them about a site or two that they visited – that will really let them know you’re seriously interested. It might bug them – but ask yourself whether are you their peer or parent… you can’t have it both ways. They’ll respect you more as a parent if you act like one, and you’ll discover a more enriching and rewarding experience in the long run when that relationship naturally grows into a justifiable peer-peer status.

If you have any more suggestions please post them here.


1 Comment »

  1. 2 more worth mentioning:

    1) you can manually filter domains in your router, so it will affect all computers on the network. The router setup is generally accessed through a browser by typing this into the address bar:, or, or Default user and password is usually admin, admin – check your manual if not, and be sure to change it to something else you’ll remember. Somewhere in the menu there will be an option to filter domain names. Generally you just need the .com address that you want filtered (example: live.com). This is best for domains that your other filtering software might allow but that you don’t want. It is not a comprehensive solution at all though … there are millions of domains you’d have to enter and keep updated daily to use it as a comprehensive one. It’ just good if your kids have figured out a way to get around filtering to access a certain domain on which they are hooked (for example certain chat sites, etc).

    For example, live.com and search.yahoo.com incidentally are good ones to filter if you have kiddies using the computer because they doen’t have a very good “safe search feature. Google does have a good safe-search filter. If you use the K9 filter it will enforce google safe search, but not safe searches on live.com.

    2) DNS filtering – quite easy, and there’s a free one called opendns (see http://www.opendns.com). It filters content before it gets to your house based on criteria that you specify, and is extremely easy to setup. Just go to opendns.com and read the how-to section. Unfortunately I’ve found it quite inadequate compared to say K9, it errors very much on the side of free expression, and being free it doesn’t get updated frequently but it doesn’t hurt and I have not noticed a slow-down in my connection and transfer speed.

    Comment by dave — May 11, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

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