There are dangers associated with the internet, but with the combination of technology and good family practices, there are solutions to make the internet a safe and useful place. There are a number of free and paid resources that can assist parents or teachers in blocking and monitoring objectionable content on the internet. Be advised that many kids are now very savvy on the internet and can find ways around some of these technologies, so good parenting practices and keeping an open and consistent dialog with your children is very important.
Catholic Surf is a website that uses “safe surfing” technology and the Google search engine to block objectionable content. Catholic Surf produces balanced results from all perspectives, from sites all over the internet with more weighting to given to Catholic websites and sites containing content relating to Catholics and Catholicism. At the same time the search engine eliminates sites and web pages containing adult themed and explicit sexual content from web search results. This search engine used to be called Cathoogle, but I think Google made them change their name. Catholic Surf does offer HTML Code offering a widget to add to your website. Please note that Catholic Surf does offer one disclaimer in using their website, “Some of the results and Google ads that are displayed may not be in line with Catholic doctrine and we do not endorse any of the results or Google ads displayed on the Catholic Search Engine.”
Google also offers settings on its search engine to assist in blocking content called Google SafeSearch. They have also added a SafeSearch Lock that allows parents or teachers to set their own password, and as long as the kids don’t have the password–they can’t change the settings. This technology also can be applied to YouTube. Google’s Family Safety Center website offers more resources that are worth your time to review. Please look at the two videos below with parent advice and using Google SafeSearch:
Kids’ Rules for Online Safety
1) I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents’ work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents’ permission.
2) I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
3) I will never agree to get together with someone I “meet” online without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father along.
4) I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
5) I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do I will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the service provider.
6) I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time I can be online and appropriate areas for me to visit. I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission. [I urge open use of computers so that anyone could walk by and see the screen.] [All internet/computer activity is subject to auditing by parents at any time - this is no different than understanding any stranger may be capable of hacking into our computers.]
7) I will not give out my Internet password to anyone (even my best friends) other than my parents. [passwords must be shared with parents]
8) I will check with my parents before downloading or installing software or doing anything that could possibly hurt our computer or jeopardize my family’s privacy.
9) I will be a good online citizen and not do anything that hurts other people or is against the law. [I will avoid any negative comments towards peers, school, teachers that could be construed as threatening or malicious.]
10) I will help my parents understand how to have fun and learn things online and teach them things about the Internet, computers and other technology.
Rules one through six are adapted from the brochure Child Safety on the Information Highway by SafeKids.Com founder Larry Magid. (© 2004 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). Rules 7 through 10 are copyrighted by Larry Magid (© 2005)
CHOOSING FACE TIME OVER SCREEN TIME
I have too often observed in public places, families gathered and all of them are engaged with their smart phones, but not with each other. The internet is great, but it should not be displacing the precious time when family or friends get together in person. People need to find a healthy balance in their life that leads to meaningful relationships, and using social media to enhance (not replace) human contact. There was a great article in the National Catholic Register that speaks to this very issue including advice from Father Robert Barron:
TEXTING–IT IS A CODE WORTH KNOWING
Texting has become a language all its own among young people these days. It is very valuable to know what the meaning of these texts as both young people and the people who stalk them on the internet are well informed. Virtus Online is a training system that many diocese are now using across America as a mandatory class for adults and clergy who work with children. Virtus Acronyms and Other Internet Shorthand a great searchable list of all the acronyms used in today’s text messages. Here are a few examples:
POS = Parent Over Shoulder
CYT = See You Tommorrow
RUMORF = Are You Male or Female
COVENANT EYES – currently considered the best paid system for monitoring for internet filtering and accountability.
Covenant Eyes offers internet safety and monitoring for the entire family, and is able to assign the level of access based on age/maturity. Parents can also limit the amount of time spent on the internet, and can also monitor mobile devices. It is reasonably affordable:
Pricing——————————Accountability Filtering Both
First username $8.99/mo. $4.99/mo. $10.49/mo.
Each additional username $2.00/mo. $1.50/mo. $3.50/mo.
For example, if you have two usernames with both Accountability and Windows Filtering, it would be $10.49 + $3.50, for a total of $13.99/mo.
CovenantEyes also offers a great video and discussion resource about dealing with pornography.
Video: UNFILTERED: Equipping parents for an ongoing conversation about Internet pornography helps parents prepare their kids for a world where pornography is readily available. You will learn:
- Statistics and effects of pornography use and exposure
- How to use parental controls effectively
- The difference between blocking and discussing Internet use
- Simple parenting techniques to keep up with kids’ activities online
- How to have healthy and God-centered conversations about sexual temptations and what we see and do online
- Download the free companion guide: “Protecting Your Family Online: A parent’s how-to guide”
Please look at the introductory video and the two accompanying articles for more valuable information
There are two great articles relating to internet safety and using Covenant Eyes:
A new service offering family-filtered movies and TV including support for Netflix & YouTube. This system allows parents to select from a menu what undesirable elements they want filtered out including: bad language, nudity, drug use, using the Lord’s name in vain, and violence.
Video from VidAngel demonstrating how much bad language affects the family with modern media:
A Platform for Good
A Platform for Good is a project of the Family Online Safety Institute that seeks to empower parents to raise engaged kids and good digital citizens. This is a great way to encourage your kids to learn good ways of using the internet. You may also want to try searching the hashtag #RandomActsofKindness to also see positive ideas people are using the internet for the purpose of goodness.
Do you have any other ideas or systems you use for protecting children on the internet–your comments are welcome!
(Note: Blog Updated July 27, 2014)
Catholic Surf – Catholic search engine powered by Google with “safe surfing technology”
Digital Safety Guide: Technology Safety through the Eyes of Faith — a great resource from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops
Google Family Safety Center – Good information and tools for parents and teachers using Google
Google’s Safety Tools – SafeSearch, SafeSearch Lock, YouTube Safety Mode, and Android Settings
Virtus Online Acronyms and Other Internet Shorthand – Searchable list of modern acronyms used in text messages
Covenant Eyes – Paid system for internet filtering and monitoring.
Your Sphere – Family social networking and internet safety resource by Mary Kay Hoal
VidAngel - A new service offering family-filtered movies and TV including support for Netflix & YouTube.
A Platform for Good -project of the Family Online Safety Institute that seeks to empower parents to raise engaged kids and good digital citizens.
Note: Thanks to Dr. Joseph Clem, child psychiatrist, who reviewed the content of this blog and his comments were added in brackets.