Several decades ago, back when there were only three television networks to choose from, an ominously voiced PSA regularly aired just before the late night news and stated, “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” The implication was that if you didn’t, well, you’d better find them … because they might be somewhere you don’t want them to be.
For the average parent, however, that late night exhortation was nearly moot. They knew where their kids were. These days, though, Junior doesn’t have to be out wandering through darkened streets in sketchy neighborhoods to stumble into trouble. He can find it on his smartphone or iPad … while tucked “safely” away in bed. He (or she) can be pummeled by video game violence in the family room, awoken by midnight texts, accosted by social media trolls and influenced by the flood of non-Christian worldviews in streaming movies and TV shows.
The book of Ephesians tells us of spiritual tools that God designed to help strengthen us in our spiritual struggle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness” (Ephesians 6:12, CSB). God equated those tools with armor and weapons that can help us stay upright and protected. And even in this high-tech world, that armor of God is a boon. But, are there any tools we can access for the technical world our kids are a part of to help protect them there, too?
Well, yes. Yes there are. Let’s talk about a few.
The internet is a marvelous invention. It can teach you about art and history, tell you stories of discovery and accomplishment, and whisk you away to gaze at the great wonders of the world. But, let’s face it: The internet can also be a cesspool of pornography and bullying, seduction and abuse. It all depends on how you use it. And unfortunately, curious youngsters don’t always swim through the World Wide Web’s waves with enough care for the sharks in those waters. That’s where an internet filter can become a flotation device, er, shark cage, um, hermetically sealed iron diving suit that young Junior might need.
What Is an Internet Filter?
An internet filter is an intricately woven software tool designed to, uh, filter the incoming flow of online information and visuals—keeping out the bad and letting in the good. It’s built to keep Junior from stumbling into porn pages, violent videos, social media outrages, gambling sites and the like. It should also throw its protective covering over all the internet devices you use—from home computers, to phones and tablets, to game consoles and smart TVs. And in the best cases, a well-designed filter can offer services and features that help parents and their kids in other areas, too.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you’re not likely to find the perfect filtering tool for every safety need you can imagine (unless you’re good friends with an android-building genius from MIT who can partner your child with an ever-vigilant robotic best friend). But you can find some good ones that cover most of your cyber wish-list. So what features and functions should you be looking for?
Internet Filter Features
Web Content Filtering. First and foremost, a filtering program needs to balance holding off objectionable stuff while welcoming in the sources of wonderment, entertainment and education that you approve of. If the software also gives you a sizable amount of control determining what those good and bad things are, that’s always a plus. In fact, a combination of URL filtering (which identifies objectionable domain names), Keyword filtering (which pinpoints certain words and phrases) and Dynamic Content filtering (which quickly examines a site’s content before displaying it) is a strong choice.
Screen Time Monitoring and Control. It’s always helpful to know how long the kids are glued to a device’s screen and what sites they’ve been frequenting, and many filtering programs offer this feature. There’s an old Russian proverb (popularized, ironically, by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s) that wisely instructs, “Trust but verify.” And that certainly works for good parenting, too. You can trust the software and you can trust Junior, but keeping tabs on both will serve you well. Another benefit with this sort of monitoring and control is the ability to limit the amount of time that devices can be used and determine when everything should be set to go dark. It’s way too easy for the night hours to slip away when you’re surfing the internet or checking your social media page of choice. And a late-night text can spoil a good rest. So turn it off.
Remote Control. A number of filtering programs let Mom or Dad control the kids’ phones through a remote connection with their own phone. That way you can forcibly shut things down on a moment’s notice if necessary. That control can also let you adjust the filtering setup and get reports and feedback from your child’s device without having to actually snatch the screen out of Junior’s hand.
Foreign Language Filtering. Oh those tricky teens. Ever heard of bypassing internet filters with use of a little Español or a bit of parlez-vous francais? It happens. But if your software recognizes foreign languages, that sneaky underground tunnel to objectionable content will stay closed.
App Blocking and Activity Reports. Being able to block the kids’ app use during school or when it’s time to hit the sack is always a great tool. And these tools will also give Mom a report of what apps are being installed and which social media apps stand out as Junior’s favorites.
Location Tracking. Some filters also allow parents to track their phone- or tablet-carrying youngster’s real-time location. That can be a plus for finding a lost device too. And some software allows you to set up a given “allowed” perimeter of movement. So if Junior is supposed to be at school and he decides to ride with pals to the burger joint, Dad’s phone will be notified.
Chat Monitoring. This feature will monitor all chat and instant messages sent and received, and filter and block inappropriate content in chat messages. And it can block chatroom chatter altogether if you wish. Some programs in this category can also tell Junior’s phone to snap screenshots when a website is visited, when a program is opened or a file is printed. Ooh, that’s a smart feature.
And of course, it’s always best if you can find software that is easy to use, that downloads automatic updates, and that doesn’t slow your devices down when the program is in use. Yes, I know I said that you won’t find a perfect filtering program … but you can reach for as much as possible.
Here’s a list of some well-known secular and Christian internet filter sites that you can check out, each of which includes different blends of the features listed above. And while we often want to know which one is considered “the best,” answering that question really requires an understanding of which of these features is most important for your family—so you’re still going to have to do a bit of “compare and contrast” homework with these programs to identify which one is really the best for you and your family.
- Forcefield: This app gives parents the ability to remotely disable children’s apps, block inappropriate content and monitor your kids’ internet usage information (including location, time and duration) across devices.
- Norton Online Family: This parental-control filter shows sites your kids visit, provides app supervision and blocks inappropriate sites.
- Net Nanny: This parental-control filter blocks unwanted apps, filters content and allows parents to monitor children’s web usage.
- FamiSafe: This parental control app for kids’ smartphones (iOS and Android) enables parents to track children’s location, as well as blocking in appropriate content and setting screen-time limits.
- Qustodio: This cross-platform (Windows, iOS, Android, Nook, Kindle) program provides content filtering, app blocking and an online activity log.
- Covenant Eyes: This accountability and filtering software sends a report of your internet activity to an individual you select. It’s especially targeted at helping users to “live porn free.”