Despite my role at LearnZillion, leading the construction of one of the more popular sites for students, I’m not convinced the Internet is a safe place for kids, unprotected.
Incredibly, the Internet has become this global city—a warehouse of the world’s information, an international marketplace, our long term memory organizer and storage unit, and an endless educational playground. And yet, at the same time, it has become a cesspool of the most vile and disgusting ideas, words, media, and communities humankind has ever concocted—all conveniently streamed into our houses! It’s my personal and professional opinion that it is generally unsafe for kids. It begs for guardrails—badly.
Until the powers that be fix the situation, what’s a parent of young kids to do about the Internet? Our solution as a family until recently was to keep ours off it. We got them an Apple iPad Mini, locked it down, and installed a handful of Lotinsky-approved apps for the kids when we were traveling. We picked up an NES and an SNES Classic for our video game fix. But then, last year, I learned my oldest, who was in 2nd grade, had access to the Internet at school during class, including Google Search. We needed to get ahead on the home front.
Most of the options for Internet parental controls are either a pain for parents to configure or a frustration for kids to use. For two decades now, I’ve followed and experimented with the options available. Even though my access was practically unrestricted growing up (my parents relied on their kids’ consciences), I knew my kids weren’t going to be given that same level of freedom. I knew what the Internet was back in the 90’s, and I foresaw its inevitable future. I wanted to be ready when the time came. We’ve always planned on being active parents and not hand over parental responsibilities like open and frank conversations with our kids, teaching discernment, and warning of the dangers of certain content and people. That said, we have always determined to protect our kids with technology as best we can.
We’re introducing our third grader and kindergartener to the Internet through a Chromebook and Google Family Link. We’re providing access to a selection of educational sites their teachers recommended, a few we’ve selected, and Google Docs and Drawings (not Search) for creative expression—nothing more.
After a little bit of setup to designate my wife as another parent in the Google Family Group, Family Link was very easy to configure and manage for the kids. We start with everything blocked. If the kids get their hands on a web domain that we haven’t whitelisted yet—either one they type in by hand or reach through a link on a whitelisted site—they get blocked by their Chrome web browser and are given the option to request access from their parents. Requesting access prompts my iPhone and my wife’s for us to allow the domain or dismiss the request. If we allow a domain, any content on it is allowed. This is extremely convenient because most other products require approving a series of domains or IP addresses for a site to work, since most pages pull in content and code from other web domains. We can rest assured the whole site will function, and it is a forcing factor in deciding whether an entire site is worthy or not. This convenience and the forcing factor mean we’ll actually use the parental controls rather than throw our hands up and tear it all down or write-off technology for the kids altogether. The only slight annoyance is that many Google products are hosted on google.com proper—no subdomain. God knows it’s going to be a few years before I whitelist that root domain!
We’ve been using this setup for months now and it’s holding up great. I’m sincerely hoping that Apple takes a cue from Google Chrome OS and Family Link. We prefer Apple’s ecosystem, but this works great for now. Thank you, Google!
I hope this is helpful for other parents trying to navigate the World Wide Web Wild West. Stay strong, parents!
P.S. While I’m on this tangent of what works and what doesn’t, we love how Netflix has a kids experience—although a short lockout code from the adult profiles once the kids one is activated would be nice. Don’t even get me started with Amazon Prime Video though! There are shows on Prime Video we would love for the kids to watch, like Reading Rainbow, but we throw our hands up and avoid it. Even I don’t want to see all the suggestive B- and C-grade movies they’ve managed to amass.
P.P.S. Wait, what about Circle? You’ve probably seen ads for it or heard about it. I love the concept, but I’m not a fan of the technical implementation. It relies on a hacking technique that has a good chance of slowing down your home network and overall connection to the Internet. Good luck letting your kids get into online gaming with something that can add latency to your connection. I already have enough trouble trying to get my Verizon Fios Quantum Gateway to clock in above 50 Mbps, which is half of what we pay for—100 Mbps. I simply don’t want the hassle.