If you’re a parent, you probably want your kids to have access to all the good content the Internet has to offer but none of the bad content. Unfortunately, achieving that goal is nearly impossible, especially if all you have to work with is Internet Explorer’s Content Advisor – perhaps the worst tool ever created for filtering Internet content.
Many parents choose to install a special filter on their computer, such as CyberSitter or NetNanny. You can also purchase a relatively new tool called SnoopStick that enables you to monitor computer use and even block access from a remote computer – in other words, you can see what you’re kids are browsing at home from your office.
What parents may not realize, however, is that routers often commonly include their own content filters. What’s a router? A router is a networking device commonly used not only to network computers but also to allow two or more computers to share a network connection. If you have cable, DSL, or satellite Internet service, and you have two or more computers in your home sharing that service through a single modem, you probably have a router.
If you have a router, dig through your computer stuff to find the manual that tells you how to access its settings. To access the settings for my router, I have to enter its IP address in my browser. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a number that looks something like 126.96.36.199. You’ll probably need to enter a username and password.
Once you’ve connected, look for the Content Filter settings. These settings commonly allow you to do the following:
- Block sites based on site addresses and/or a list of words or phrases you deem inappropriate.
- Block services to prevent certain computers on the network from accessing certain features of the Internet, such as http (for websites). I haven’t found this very useful.
- Schedule access to the Internet; for example, if you normally go to bed at 10 pm, you could block access to the Internet between the hours of 10 pm and 7 am. (My teenager was a real night owl and liked to “explore” certain Web sites as soon as my wife and I were sound asleep, so this option came in very handy.)
- Log Internet use, so you can tell where any computer on your network wandered off to while surfing the Web and which pages the person viewed. (Again, very useful.)
- Have logs and alerts e-mailed to you, so you remain in the know concerning any suspicious activity. (By receiving notices via e-mail, I didn’t have to log into my router to check logs and alerts.)
Warning: No content filter or snoop program or gadget is foolproof. I always recommend that parents place the family computer in a central location, where they can monitor computer use without seeming too snoopy. In many families, however, everyone has a computer in their own bedroom, making this impossible. The next best thing is to set some rules, be snoopy, and enforce strict consequences – such as losing access to the computer or the Internet for a set period of time.