Protecting Your Kids and Grandkids Online and at Home
Before I get into how I'm currently helping them, let me highlight the obvious: There is no protecting your children from the threats which is why I use the term helping them. When they leave your house or devices that you have installed software on, they are able to get to the online world "without protection." When they go to school, they will be approached by friends and bullies that software won't see. When they are at a friends house, your porn blocker isn't going to work. So as parents/grandparents, we have to focus on guiding them rather than protecting them. That doesn't mean that we should leave our homes and devices and devices "open," but it does mean that it is only a part of the solution.
Because there are so many devices (iPads, iPhones, droids, desktops, laptops) in my house, it is not practical (nor is there any reliable software) to protect every device. So I use www.opendns.org to block porn and other sites. I also use it to block YouTube because of the poor filtering of YouTube. I can remove the block when I choose, but there is no "time limit" or other option for this. So it is an imperfect solution from an administration point of view, but it is effective (except when I forget to re-enable it, which I've done). There are routers you can buy with greater control and tools, but that introduces new challenges that are not worth the trade off for me yet (but I have a feeling as my kids get older, I'll be ready to invest the time in new tools). So if you are looking for something to completely block sites, www.opendns.org is a free and reliable solution.
There is no parental override, so the sites you block will block the sites for everyone. And unfortunately, this does not block Google Image search, so if porn is your biggest concern, kids can easily get around the protection. As I said above, I like the monitor-first approach so I can see where my kids are hoping to go. Thus, better not to block everything if you use www.opendns.org and see where you need to be talking with your kids.
2. Inappropriate behavior in the home
I heard a horrible story recently that got me thinking about how can I reduce the risk of something stupid happening in our playroom (the Florida equivalent of a basement) to my family if I'm in another room. So I installed the DLINK camera in the playroom and explained to my kids that we can see and hear what they are doing in the room at any time. We can access this from our iPhone, iPad, droid, or desktop device wherever we are. This allows us to check in when things get too quiet or too loud to ensure things are OK without having to interrupt the harmless fun which it will most often be. And the kids know the purpose is to protect them, not to spy on them, which is why we've been open about it being there and why. (I plan to upgrade to a set of two-way devices so we can talk to each other. I'm open to suggestions?!)
There are numerous other tools and as my children get older, I'll be using more. For now, these tools are very helpful to give my wife and I peace of mind. I strongly encourage you to explore Windows 8 time restrictions (I use kidwatch for Windows 7) to ensure you are in control of the screen time. For my family, screen time is the biggest risk because I'm always at a computer or looking at a screen. We don't watch much TV, but there are a lot of active screens in my house.
One bonus tip: For helping my kids to learn about money, I'm using www.allowancetree.com. There are numerous sites/apps that provide allowance options, but I've found this one the best. It does not have an app, but I don't mind. The functionality allows my kids to see how much money they have and make me put money in each week (it does it automatically) and I can adjust based on a good/bad week. It also teaches interest and investing (the investing is in their grades) principles in a way that my kids have started to save more. Perhaps a full blog post on this at a future date.
Now share your knowledge with me and others. What should I be using to help protect my kids online and at home?