To a growing number of parents, the internet is becoming a scary place for children. On the contrary the internet can be an amazing place for children to learn and play. The key is to understand that there are some simple, free steps that parents can take to protect your kids online. Just as we baby proofed out homes before we brought home our new baby we can and need to do the same with our gadgets and internet today.

Below are 3 simple and, best of all, free things you can do right now to help protect your kids online:

1. Use Parental Controls on Your Devices

If you didn’t already know about it, more most if not all smart devices and computer operating systems have parental controls built right into them.

  • iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch– go into your Settings App click on General and scroll to Restrictions. When you click on enable restrictions it will ask you to enter a new passcode. Once the passcode is set up you are able to turn off applications you don’t want your children to access. You’re also able to change the ratings allowed for things like Music, Movies, TV Shows, Books and Apps.
  • Apple Computers– go to the System Preferences app (looks like gears and is usually in the dock). Then click on Parental Controls. Here you can create accounts for each child, set time limits and control games and content. A feature that I like is if you have younger children you can create a list of only approved sites that the child will be able to access, sites not on the list will not be allowed. You are also able to specify which applications are able to be used and who your child can email or message while logged in.
  • Android Devices– Google Play Store > Menu > Settings > User Controls > Content Filtering. Tick any of the boxes next to the ratings listed above that you think are appropriate.
  • Windows Computers– Start (or Windows) button > Control Panel > User Accounts > Family Safety > Parental Controls. You can create new accounts for each teen, set time limits and control games and content.

Web content filtering is different for every browser. I am not familiar with the Windows browsers, but I am told that you are able to setup a content filter. From what I know below are the ways to choose allowed content.

  • Google Chrome Browser– Google Preferences Page > SafeSearch Filtering > Save Preferences
  • Windows Internet Explorer-Tools > Menu Bar > Content Advisor > Enable. Select the web content categories you’re looking to restrict (sex, drugs, nudity or foul language).
  • Apple Safari– there are no features built into the browser itself, but content filtering for users can be done from within the Parental Controls (not available for Administrator accounts).

2. Content Filtering Services or Software

Although you have set up parental controls on all your devices this does not mean that unwanted content does not make it through. Kids these days are quite tech savvy, and can learn ways around the basic parental controls built into the devices operating system.

One of the easiest ways to filter and monitor your internet is via OpenDNS. Creating a FREE account with OpenDNS allows you to set content filters (as many or as few as you choose) and identifies and blocks phishing websites automatically. If you want to track websites being visited and blocked it will cost you $19.95/year.

The nice thing about OpenDNS is that “when you set up OpenDNS Home Basic on your router, every device in your home sharing your Internet connection gets protected. In addition to computers, this includes your kids’ Playstation, Wii, DS, Xbox, iPad, and even their iPhone.”

Paid Options

There are also a number of paid option and to be honest I have never used any of them. I have listed some of the most recognized:

3. Take Back Control

The most important way to protect your kids online is to be an involved parent. Sit down with your child and discuss the rules of conduct for the internet. Explain your expectations about internet and iDevice use. Your children may not be happy with the rules be sure to explain you are doing this for their safety and well-being.

If you’re thinking of getting or giving you child an iDevice take time to look at “Our Daughter’s iPod Contracts” post. It shows the 18 point contract we gave our girls with their iPods. It’s not perfect, but it help you lay out our expectations for the device.

Another easy step is to keep computers out in the open and not behind closed doors. It’s harder with tablets and iDevices, but ask that computers be used in a common area. This makes it harder (but not impossible) for children to view unsafe material.

Most of all make sure that you as a parent are up to date (or as much as you can be) with the technology of today. The best tool of all to protect your kids online is knowledge.

As much as I would love to tell you these are fool-proof steps to internet safety, they aren’t. As technology changes these steps will change as well, but these are a good start on the way to protecting your kids online.