There are plenty of options for helping to corral your kids on the Internet. Most do a decent job of keeping your progeny away from the worst of the Web; all of them have flaws. But these three stand out above the others for ease of use and effectiveness, and — better yet — two of them are free.
Norton Family Online. The free version lets you monitor every site your kids visit, examine a list of everything they search for, and track their activity across social media via any Internet connection. You can tell Norton to always allow (whitelist) or block (blacklist) certain sites, customize the settings for each child, and set time limits so you can boot them offline when it’s time for bed. A premier version ($50 annually) lets you monitor their instant messages, video consumption and mobile devices.
The downside? You’ll have to download and install a small bit of code on every machine your kids use, as well as your own. And like most software, it can be a bit finicky. I’ve had to reinstall it a few times when something wasn’t working.
OpenDNS Family Shield. This free service uses a specially configured domain name server (DNS) to secure every device that accesses the Internet via your WiFi router. Think of DNS as a kind of phone book for the Internet. Whenever you type a Web address (like Yahoo.com), your browser uses a domain name server to translate the URL into an Internet Protocol address (like 220.127.116.11) that computers can understand. Using OpenDNS, you can choose which types of websites to block in 59 categories, as well as create whitelists and blacklists.
To use OpenDNS, though, you need to be comfortable futzing with your WiFi settings. (The hardest part? Remembering the damned password for the router.) And everyone who accesses the Net through that router has to play by the same rules. If you’ve got little ones in the house, you’ll likely find these limitations a bit, well, limiting.
Skydog Smart Router. This is, frankly, the best Web monitoring solution I’ve ever encountered. (See my full review of it.) The $149 Skydog combines Norton’s customizability with OpenDNS’s router-based controls, giving you one simple Web-based dashboard to rule over every Net-connected device in your home. Parent company PowerCloud Systems recently added Common Sense Media’s age-based guidelines to its Web monitoring product.
Just about the only thing Skydog can’t do is stop your wee ones from accessing the Web via their smartphone’s 4G connection. For that you’ll need Norton or another mobile security app.
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