Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the dangers of buying your kids iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches, and other Internet-connected devices. The main takeaway from that post was simple: unless you have a plan to aggressively monitor what people and content your kids and teens have access to on that device, then it’s probably going to be more of a liability for your child than anything else.
I wanted to create a follow up post to help parents understand how they can control access to content on devices they already own.
So What’s A Parent To Do?
When I was growing up, the ultimate cool-but-forbidden thing was to have a TV in your bedroom. My parents never allowed that for the simple reason that they didn’t want me to watch networks like MTV while I was alone. Instead, they preferred to monitor the content I put into my head.
Now, iDevices allow access to content that makes the MTV of the 80′s and 90′s look like the Disney Channel. Why would you leave your kid alone with an iDevice? Simple. You shouldn’t. But what if your child or teen already has an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. What should you do? Here are a few tips.
Use the Built-In Parental Controls.
Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions. You’ll be asked to enter a passcode. Be smart and make it one that your child doesn’t know and cannot guess. Then, go through and lock down Safari. This will remove Safari from the device.
As an alternative to Safari, download and install Mobicip. You can read an older review I wrote for Mobicip here, but it’s what is known as a “safe browser.” It doesn’t prohibit all nefarious content, but it helps. It also won’t provide the same deeply integrated experience as Safari because Apple doesn’t allow users to choose their own default browser, but the experience is tolerable and worth the modest inconvenience.
Adjust for Allowed Content.
While you’re enabling Parental Controls, on the same screen, you can restrict the type of content that can be downloaded from iTunes and the App Store by adjusting the allowed ratings. Don’t forget to adjust Siri and turn off “explicit language.” It may also be a good idea to turn off “web search content,” lest Siri is told to fetch unsavory things.
Adjust Location Services.
You may also want to tweak location services. Apps are able (with your permission) to report the device’s geographic location. In some instances, this information is generalized to the nearest city or town. But in other instances, the phone can report your exact geographic location with accuracy down to within a few feet.
For example, did you know that photos taken from your iPhone are set by default to contain location information? It’s called geotagging, and that geotagged data travels embedded in the original photo wherever the photo is sent.
So as a real-world example, let’s say your child takes a photo and sends it to a friend or to a blog. As long as the original file is not altered, all the original metadata, including the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken will travel along with the photo. Anyone can then view the metadata file embedded using a reader like this one to view all the info about that photo. If the GPS coordinates are included in that photo, it is possible to find out not only where your child lives, but the area of the house where the photo was taken.
Yes, it’s very creepy. By the way, your iPhone works the same way. So think about that the next time you snap that bedroom mirror selfie.
To be fair, many social media sites resize and resave the image, and the metadata, including the location, is stripped out. But original photos that are emailed or sent via SMS still contain that data.
Use OpenDNS On Your Home Router.
I don’t want to make this post too technical, so I will explain DNS (Domain Name Service) as simply as I can and to the best of my own understanding. In the early days of the telephone, a user had to first dial the operator and ask to be connected to the person they wanted to talk to. The operator’s job was to connect the call. DNS works similarly.
To use another analogy, DNS is also like a taxi driver. You get in the taxi and say to the driver, “Take me to the airport, please.” It’s the driver’s job to translate that information to a physical address and take you there.
Simply put, DNS is kind of like that operator or taxi driver because DNS servers take the website name input from a user (like “haydenwreyford.com”) and then connect that user to the server address where that particular website lives.
By default, your internet service provider (Comcast, Charter, UVerse, etc) has DNS servers that connect you to websites. OpenDNS is a 3rd party service that provides their own DNS service as part of their FamilyShield parental controls. The community of users provide feedback on objectionable sites, which are then added to the black list.
As a result, Open DNS is able to block pornography, proxy servers, phishing sites and some malware. Essentially, its taxi drivers are smart enough to refuse to take you to certain places if the place is known to be shady. You can also whitelist and blacklist sites for your own account to further customize what content OpenDNS allows you to access.
OpenDNS offers premium features, but basic site blocking is free. You can sign up for it here. If you tell your home router to use OpenDNS servers, then any device connected to your home network will have the same filtering applied–even laptops and desktops, and even computers of guests. If it’s connected to your home router, it will be filtered. OpenDNS has a handy walk thru for adding filtering to your router or computer. Again, I strongly recommend doing it at the router level for the most protection.
NOTE: If you have a device with a data plan, like a 3G iPad or an iPhone, if it’s not connected to wifi, OpenDNS can’t filter those devices. Unfortunately, AT&T (my service provider) won’t allow users to select 3rd party DNS servers. So this is one way for kids to get around your protected home network. They can just turn wifi off and fall back to mobile data to browse unfiltered. This is where filtering apps like Mobicip come in handy and can pick up the slack.
Add Access Controls on Your Router.
In addition to setting up OpenDNS on your router, nearly all routers have access controls that allow you to set time-based limits for certain devices. So if your kid has a wifi iPad, but you only want him to use it between the hours of 5pm-8pm on weekdays and 10am-9pm on weekends, you can do that. Just set up your router to recognize that unique device ID and only allow access between the hours you set. This is a highly under-used feature.
You’ve heard it said that “nothing good happens after midnight.” If you believe that, then you can shut your entire home network down after midnight, if you want. So learn to use your router like a filtering tool.
Be A Parent.
Being a parent means making tough calls. It often means your kid won’t like your decision. Be their parent, not their friend. Supervise them. Be proactive. Get involved. Monitor them. If you wouldn’t let them run with scissors, then don’t buy them an iDevice that they can use away from your supervision.
I want to help parents to understand what these advanced devices are capable of. Many parents just simply don’t know. Your job now is to take this information and make the best call possible for your child and your family. And to that end, I hope this was helpful.