Technology Tuesday: Protect Your Family with the Right Technical Safeguards

By Sean Wright, Founder & President of Affinity Technology Partners

Our last post detailed five steps to take toward creating a comprehensive internet safety plan for your family. Now, it’s time to discuss how technical safeguards fit into that plan.

Before we do, though, it’s important to reiterate that technical safeguards are only part of an internet safety plan. They put guardrails around kids and teens’ online activities, and they help parents maintain awareness of those activities. In other words, they facilitate, but don’t replace, good parenting.

Below is a guide to the different kinds of technical safeguards available, what they do, and where they can be installed. While none of these tools will protect your family from every danger imaginable, the right combination can make the job of parenting in the digital age much more manageable.

Parental Controls

  • What They Do: Most operating systems have some level of parental controls, which can set restrictions on app usage, purchasing rights, or even web privileges.
  • Devices They Cover: Parental controls can vary from device to device, but most devices include some level of native restrictions you can put in place. 
  • What They Don’t Do: While parental controls offer some control over what kinds of content children can access, parents often find that they need extra layers of security on top of these built-in controls. Parental controls tend to be less granular than standalone products, which can lead to frustration.

Content Filters

  • What They Do: Simply put, content filters block the bad stuff. Most provide controls over what kinds of content parents want to block (pornography, violence, etc.).
  • Devices They Cover: Content filters can either be installed on an individual device (computer, smartphone, tablet) or on an entire network. Often we recommend that parents install both a network-level filter like OpenDNS, which blocks inappropriate content on any device connecting to the web from their network, and a device-level filter on their children’s devices, which protects them when they access the internet away from home or on a data plan.
  • What They Don’t Do: Content filters don’t block every last bit of inappropriate content. They’ve become more advanced, but none of them is perfect. 

Monitoring Software

  • What It Does: Monitoring software, also referred to as accountability software, gives parents visibility into their kids and teens’ web browsing through reports that call out problematic behavior.
  • Devices It Covers: Monitoring software can be installed on computers and on mobile devices. Some vendors, such as Covenant Eyes, offer flat-rate pricing for unlimited devices within a family.
  • What It Doesn’t Do: Monitoring is a bit tricky on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) because it has to be installed as a standalone browser app. This means that parents need to use device-level parental controls to prevent their kids from downloading other browser apps if they want to monitor all web activity on an iOS device. 

Mobile Device Management (MDM) Software

  • What It Does: MDM solutions, such as Curbi, give parents both visibility of and control over their kids and teens’ devices. They typically facilitate control over app downloads and usage limits (such as shutting the device down after bedtime).
  • Devices It Covers: MDM software is specifically designed for devices running mobile operating systems (e.g. smartphones, tablets, iPod touch)
  • What It Doesn’t Do: MDM software is great for protecting mobile devices, but it’s no silver bullet. Some questionable apps are specifically designed to look harmless to parents, so parents need to stay engaged.

Social Media and Text Monitoring

  • What It Does: Social media and text monitoring provides visibility into kids and teens’ interactions over social media and text messaging. Solutions like Bark work by connecting to kids and teens’ profiles and then sending reports to parents when communications look problematic. 
  • Devices It Covers: These tools typically tie directly to social media accounts, so they track all activity on a particular account from any device. Bark also offers apps to monitor text messaging on smartphones.
  • What It Doesn’t Do: While tools like Bark cover a wide range of social media platforms, the list of platforms popular with kids and teens grows every day. Parents need to be sure that the tools they choose cover the social media that their children use.

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Affinity team, or comment below!

Sean Wright is Founder and President of Affinity Technology Partners, a company devoted to making technology a force for good in households throughout Greater Nashville. Sean has put his passion for technology to use by helping families and businesses adapt technology to their needs for over 14 years.