As wireless home networks become more common, the potential for kids and teenagers to use these networks to gain access to inappropriate online content increases. Filtering and reporting services such as Covenant Eyes can go a long way toward giving parents peace of mind about their kids’ web browsing habits, but my husband and I decided to go one step further and take steps to minimize the content that can be viewed through our Internet connection.

Why did we need to do this?

Our college-age son’s friends come here, laptops in hand, for all-night video game gatherings. Our teenage daughter’s friends come over after school to work on group projects and need to do research online. And our ten-year-old’s friends want to log in to our Internet connection and use their handheld games, Nooks, and iPods.

For the record, I am not comfortable sharing our wireless-network key with kids in grade school. I’ve refused to share it with our neighbor’s daughters, who are welcome in my home every day, who feel comfortable bringing up rather tough subjects with me, and who are good kids. After discussing it with their parents, we all decided that if they wanted to use the Internet, they should do so at home. So far, that’s been our policy for all the youngsters who ask for the security key. Older kids are allowed in on a case-by-case basis; we’re careful about who gets the security key.

What’s a security key?

We keep our network secured with a password that’s about 197 characters long (that’s a slight exaggeration, but it feels that long when you remember that it’s case-sensitive—capitals matter—and one typo early on in the sign-in process is going to submarine the whole thing.) That password is our “home network security key.” We didn’t get to pick the password; it was randomly generated by the wireless router. If you don’t have the key, you can’t get into the network, which means you can’t use the Internet in our house.

Locking the network helps to protect us from people outside our home searching for a free connection, because they could possibly access information from our computers. Locking the network allows us to decide who uses our Internet connection.

What else have we done to protect our kids on the computer?

My husband tweaked our wireless router’s settings to enable parental controls.  He’s a computer programmer, but he promises me that anyone can do this. Because each brand of router is different, he recommends that you visit OpenDNS to investigate the free parental-control filters available. The website explains how to enable these filters on many different routers. We know that no one using our Internet connection, no matter what their age or device of choice (including that Xbox my son’s friend just plugged in to our TV) will be able to search for objectionable content. Parents can choose particular content areas to block, or just use default low, medium or high levels of security. While there is also a paid filtering option, my husband and I have found that the free features work well for our situation.

Of course, there’s no substitute for supervision, but parents can’t see everything all the time. Locking and filtering home networks protect your private data and can help prevent your kids from exploring things you don’t want them to see on the Internet.

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Copyright 2012 Barb Szyszkiewicz