Yesterday was a first, but this was a situation I’ve anticipated for many months.

a shocked expression

My 11 year old son was at his grandparents house, and was using the Internet independently. He typed in a URL directly into a web browser and was accidentally forwarded to a pornographic website.

Later in the day, he told me about this first by asking, “Dad, can you set up a content filter at granddaddy’s house?” I asked him what had happened, and he explained the story. He had closed the web browser when this happened, and then told me about it when he could. We had discussed that this could happen many months ago, but this was the first instance of it actually happening to him. Unfortunately this is something that can easily happen on today’s Internet, but as he knows there ARE simple and free ways to setup a basic content filter which can prevent some of these situations from happening.

This afternoon at granddaddy and grandmother’s house, I setup a free, basic content filter on their high speed cable modem home network using OpenDNS. I’ve written about and explained how to use OpenDNS previously multiple times, including the posts:
Reflections on home content filtering and OpenDNS after a year of use (Jan 2009)
Adware blocked by OpenDNS (May 2008)
A Common Sense Approach to Internet Safety (April 2008)
The Value of OpenDNS (free) content filtering at home (March 2008)
Home Internet Content filtering needs: Solved with OpenDNS (January 2008)

The entire process of setting up OpenDNS content filtering on my in-laws network this afternoon took less than ten minutes to complete. Our steps were:

  1. I used the OpenDNS website to set the DNS numbers for their network router/WiFi access point to use OpenDNS numbers. The router then had to be restarted. (By putting these settings on the router, then their computers as well as any laptops/wireless devices we bring over to the house automatically have the same content filtering protection.)
  2. We created a free OpenDNS account for my in-laws. We selected the types of content to filter. There are LOTS of choices, and we didn’t want to get carried away, but we did want basic protection. We selected the lowest level of filtering which protects against phishing attacks, and added filtering for pornography, nudity, and “tasteless” websites.
  3. We waited three minutes for the settings to propagate to the OpenDNS nameservers.

That was it! I then tested the filter by typing in an address which should now be filtered (playboy.com) and verified the filter was active. My son then went back in his Safari web history on the computer he had been using yesterday, and we found the website he had visited accidentally. He clicked on that site again in his web history, and it was also filtered by OpenDNS.

As I’ve noted previously, I am a firm believer that there are NOT any technological solutions which can completely address the challenges and issues which come up with inappropriate content online. OpenDNS can definitely be bypassed by users who want to get around it. That is not the point. No filter is going to be able to completely block all content which could be deemed inappropriate or offensive, particularly when/if someone is actively searching for that type of content online. What OpenDNS does provide for free, and quite well on ANY device connected to your home network (regardless of the operating system or device type) is a basic level of content filtering which can be customized and tweaked readily as desired.

I first learned about OpenDNS when I was at the Apple Store here in Oklahoma City, because at the time (and I assume still today) they use it for content filtering. Because OpenDNS is free and so easy to setup and use, I think it should be configured on every home network.

That said, however, I’ll again emphasize the critical need we have for “digital dialog” and ongoing communication about issues like this. I’m thankful my son was willing to immediately talk to me about this situation, and was confident that I would understand and not overreact when I heard what had happened. Open and regular communication is the key. I’m sure this isn’t the last conversation we’ll have in our family about objectionable Internet content, and the fact that we had this discussion yesterday and today is likely correlated strongly to the fact that it wasn’t the first time we’ve discussed this.

What are you using at home to provide a basic level of content filtering for everyone? Have you found anything that is free and as good as OpenDNS?

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2 Responses to Setting up a basic content filter for free at granddaddy’s house

  1. Pat says:

    I think it is wonderful that you prepared him for this before it happened and that when (not if) it happened, he knew what to do. He didn’t panic or try to hide it because he did something wrong. What a great example of trust you have between the two of you! I think it has a lot to do with how you treat him with respect and he returns it too. We need to do this with all of our students too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Beverly says:

    I thought the best example on this post of cybersafety was the way that you had prepared your son. What an awesome example of teaching children safety on the www. At our Kindergarten, we are introducing technology to the centre, own a blog and use the internet. We are often asked about cybersafety practices and policies with real fear about the dangers children children might face on the web. We believe these tools benefit children’s learning including ‘how to be safe on the web’. I would love to use this anecdote next time I am asked this. Thanks for sharing this.

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