filtering an internet world for kids

From: Jim Ensign
To: Kareem
Subject: locking down computer files and web browser for preschoolers?


This is a great question and spans 2 of my favorite topics: parenting and technical.  I will share some ideas from both perspectives.

1st, I do not have a lot of experience with locking web browsers to a specific site.  I have worked a little with filtering Internet content with ie content settings and more with computer file security.  I also ran my thoughts by Chris (age 15) who is very in tune with the Internet, school computer limits and his peers.  He concurred with all I am writing. 

Here is an article that covers some of the more popular tools for preschool parents.  I agree with their general summaries and most of their conclusions.   Internet safety for preschool children | Mumsnet

As far as limiting access to deleting your documents and installing programs I would suggest the following:

1.      Set a password on your own login.  For keeping out preschoolers, it need not be that long or secure.  Just enough to discourage them from going in there on accident.

2.      In display options, screen saver tab : check box:  on resume display login screen.


3.      Create a limited account for the kids.  No password required.


4.      Remove non-essential desktop shortcuts and start menu items from easy view.  To be really secure give them their own computer with its own ghost image back up.

5.      Set different wallpaper for the kids login so you can both tell when they are logged into the right account.

6.      Install only browsers that you are comfortable monitoring.  Shutting down internet explorer is not a viable strategy if they also have:

Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Maxthon, RockMelt, SeaMonkey, Deepnet Explorer, Avant Browser, Chromium,  Comodo Dragon, SlimBrowser, Epic, IE for MSN, or SRWare Iron

7.      Check the temporary internet files from time to time.  if they are scary or deleted all together they you know something is up. This is low tech and free but works until you let the cat out of the bag.  At that point that strategy is done. Instead when you find surprising stuff just use it as a reminder to start a relevant conversation.  

8.  Once your child starts online social networking that is a larger topic for another time. 

Low tech solutions:  Some parents have just one computer and keep it in the kitchen or a high traffic room of the house.  Still there is no substitute to maintaining a regular dialog with the kids about what they are discovering on the computer/internet.  Preschoolers and grade-schoolers are curious but very focused on their favorite sites and games etc.  This habit of dialogue may actually come in handier when they reach ages 11-16.   During that span they will discover the entire internet.  There is really no stopping this exposure. As secure as you make your computers, kids will still talk to friends and visit other computers.  Long term, maintaining an open mutually comfortable dialogue is the key to helping them to make good decisions whenever their world becomes unfiltered.  Adults need stronger decision skills early in an Internet connected world.

Above is an overview of the technical side of your questions but let me comment on the parenting side.  Many parents attempt to raise their kids in the pristine world that they grew up in.  Some think that do this they just have to limit the evil portal to the world called the internet.  Others think that private schools will shelter them from making poor decisions.  I say that this is not really possible and maybe even unnecessary.  Teens have and will forever discover the outside world.  This discovery generally happens very rapidly between the ages 11-16.  I know it was true for me in the 1970’s and it is still true today.  It starts at the same age but happens much faster than before.  So as parents we must start earlier letting kids make choices and feel natural consequences as early as possible.  I believe that quality decision making starts at age 4 or 5.  For practical purposes if you are not confident in your child’ decisions by age 12-15 it is likely to late.  You have missed prime opportunities, and have closed yourself out of key parts of that process. 

At sports games I hear moms bragging that they will not take their 15 year old boys to see R rated movies like “21 Jump Street” or even worse: “The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo”.   I can safely assume that they are still waiting to expose their kids to an R rated world.  I cannot be with Chris when he is at high school so sitting next to him at an R rated comedy movie about an undercover high school drugs sting operation gives me a chance to monitor his thinking about the subject and have interesting discussions on the way home.  I have maintained a relationship with Chris where we can discuss things comfortably. 

It is a small jump to assume these parents of 15 year olds who still highly protect their teens and will ignore the transfer of responsibility of decision making until the final  months before college. I cannot knock their parenting skills as this mom boasts about how their older kids are exceptional college students or even medical students. Ironically, however I do listen to these same boys talk during carpooling. I know that these same protected private school kids who are not allowed to watch R rated movies are already living R rated lives and making x rated decisions.  Meanwhile, I suspect these teens shelter their parents from this information.   This reminds me of kids who are leaders in Optional Snowball, 1st Class and DARE programs who do drug and work their way through college as strippers.  So despite expert efforts there is still a wide gap between their training and their decisions.  

In my life time I have observed a pattern where parental strategies of holding onto decision making are generally ineffective and will frustrate both the kids and the parents.  A childhood swimming prodigy was strait edge in high school but as a college athlete alcoholic he drifted between college programs.  Now at age 50 he has learned the hard way to make much wiser decisions.  So in my opinion the internet is just a very small piece of a much larger parenting strategy.  My own strategy is aimed at gradually handing off decisions to the child as early as possible letting go early giving yourself the longest possible time to guide you child’s own make decisions.  Then be there to listen to their own process of reflection on the results of their decisions. 

My parents are great but in the 1960’s and 1970’s Midwestern suburban parents generally put their heads in the sand and managed anything outside of puritan standards by simply saying NO.  Like most teens I found ways to do discover the world anyway.  I survived their short their tempers by keeping them in the dark about the things they would not approve. In a crazy way this parental darkness allowed me space to make my own decisions about friends, social issues, drugs sex,alcohol, and risky driving behavior etc.  I made independent decisions both good and bad.  My parents did a lot of good thing along the way too.  I learned to love playing outdoors with friends, music, singing in the choir, playing in the School bands, plays and student government.   I learned that the environment was important and that hard work may or may not lead to success.  I had many opportunities enjoied good healthy things like being a leader in my church, taking week long bike trips, repairing homes in Appalachia, running my own lawn mowing business, participating in sports like swim team, baseball and running cross country.  Working jobs, earned responsibility and had my own bank account and budget.

As a young adult, in the 1980’s and 1990’s I employed and personally got to know over a thousand teens.   Listening to them talk I observed how many decisions they made good and bad while parents missed out with their heads in the sands.  I know a lot of outstanding young adults and others who struggled a lot more.  By the numbers most made hundreds of good and bad decisions that their parents were unaware.   Unfortunately some of these bad decisions lead to the most horrific consequences like: accidents, drugs, gangs, prison, teen pregnancy, violence, overdoses and even murder.  So some did not survive their teens others witnessed family tragedies.  Some teens lost were from strict puritan families while others were from dysfunctional or broken homes.  The troubles did not seem to be tied to any single social status.  In many cases how kids survived or avoided tragedy came down to their own decision making skills.

Proudly, we have raised 3 successful kids. I credit my parents, my vast experience with teens and hundreds of hours of parenting tapes and classes which I choose to pursue.

My son Chris has grown up with more advice than limits.  He made good and bad choices his whole life so he could make wise choices for his own reasons. We took a lot of parenting risk along the way. For example he choose rougher and tumble grade school fiends that had a heavy bully mentality.  As a consequence, he got into trouble with grade school teachers and lost privileges at the YMCA for a few weeks.  By association he developed a reputation as a kid to be watched closely.  However, he now hangs out with a much sweeter crowd.  He clearly understands the difference between friends and partners in crime.

I am currently teaching Chris to drive.  That gives us our final bulk of forced time to enjoy a one on one time.  He has become keenly aware of the challenges, benefits, heartbreaks, complexities of relationships with high school girls.  He is doing very well but at the same time, I pray daily for his continued ability to make good decisions.  Chris has matured in the blink of an eye.  Due to 2 older sibling and sports connections he has a large number of friends ages 16-28.  Our police chief says arbitrary national standards rate this as “safe community” but warns that Naperville has many teen problems including an abundance of heroin overdoses and other drugs related problems.

I know that Chris is at risk every day but at the same time so are we all.  I am far from perfect and feel I am still growing up myself. Meanwhile my kids are living their own lives.  It is Good Friday, Chris enjoyed sleeping in and then got up made breakfast and went out for a run.  Kayla says she will be driving to pick up AJ so they both are hustling home for Easter weekend.  As a parent today I have a major thought weighing heavy on my mind…  How will I maintain the tradition where I try to outsmart them when I hide their Easter baskets?  Stay tuned….

     Jim Ensign    –


Subject: RE: locking down computer files and web browser for preschoolers —

From: Kareem
To: ‘Jim Ensign’
Date Sent: 4/17/2012 9:38:26 AM

I knew you loved technology, but I didn’t know how much you loved the 2nd part-parenting. I’m in the same boat.  Ok– so I’m thinking like Jim– which is good :). I’ve done most of these steps. I may do step #4 at a later date–good idea. At this pt he’ll ask for “computer time” and we try to limit the time, so he get some other activities in (i.e. Lego’s, bike riding, sand box, etc).

Communication is interesting with a pre-schooler. If he’s doing something he shouldn’t, he’ll look at you and say how can you see that (peripheral vision lol). Huh?

The 1960-1970 Midwestern suburban parents portion…I think applies across the board 🙂  You referenced parenting tapes and classes? Hmm? Can you tell us more. BTW I loved this “My son Chris has grown up with more advice than limits.” The parent advice portion — is great. Thanks for taking the time to put this together! Hope you were able to hide eggs ok. Dean found all the ones for his little brother :). He got some legos….and thinks they are soooo cool. I wish the little things can always put a smile on our face. Here’s to a nice day.

From: Kareem

Wednesday, April 04, 2012 8:43 PM

To: ‘Jim Ensign’

Subject: RE: Which streaming media device is right for you?

Just downloaded an audio book for the kids via the library — kind of cool.


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