After writing about the Navigator not wanting to attend reproductive health classes at school, and confessing my painful naivete about how easy it was for him to see inappropriate pictures online, some folks asked what we did afterwards to control what the Navigator saw on the internet.
Even thought it was a bit “closing the barn door after the horse has bolted,” we still wanted appropriately monitor his future online experiences. We focused on two approaches – securing the websites he frequented and securing the devices he used.
Looking for dinosaur pictures and videos of gamers playing Minecraft, the searchable websites he frequented were Google and YouTube.
Google has a whole page on internet safety and we used the “Manage Online Content” and “Safety Tools” tabs to filter what he could post and see. They are both really easy to use. The Google “Safety Tools” page also explains how to secure YouTube, the Play Store, and Google+.
We also monitored what websites he played on and researched and guided him to supervised servers, like the Autism-focused Minecraft server Autcraft.
The first place we started was the wireless router because that was the way the internet gets into our home – all of our internet accessible devices are set up to default to the wireless router.
Our router can be programmed to filter out certain content – explicit content, gambling, etc. The blocking options on ours were very specific and it took some fine tuning to get a balance for appropriate access for both the adults and child in the household.
Next we looked at the computers themselves. We use PCs running the Microsoft operating system which has a “Parental Controls” tool incorporated into the software, as well as an online monitoring option. I assume apple-based computers have similar tools.
We set up separate users, one for Autism Dad and me, and one for the Navigator. The user setting we use as parents is set up as the administrator, which is the user that can make changes such as downloading programs or changing the parental controls settings.
This means the Navigator has to get our password (and therefore our permission) before he can download anything.
The tablet and the smart phones can be set up the same way creating different users with different access and controls which can be tailored to your needs.
We use Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime as our primary tv source and have set up parental controls on those sites. Hulu can be controlled but it takes work as currently Hulu does not offer a parental controls tool (one of several reasons why we dropped Hulu).
Here is a great blog post looking at the parental controls pros and cons for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.
There are essentially three levels of passwords we use – passwords for the devices, passwords for the parental controls on the websites, and passwords for the games and servers he plays.
The passwords for the devices and the websites we keep secret from him. We allow him to set up his own passwords for his online games and servers, which gives him a sense of control.
One of the most important components of parental controls for us was the realization that his use of the internet wasn’t static. When he first started playing on screens, we limited his screen time to the weekends only, never on school days.
As he got older and more developmentally mature, we were able to expand his screen time use to school days, along with incorporating chores as part of the steps needing to be completed before screen time.
We used to use a timer to control how much screen time he had. Now we use it as a tool to help him understand the passage of time, and not as a tool to limit his time.
It has been important to his ongoing cooperation and buy-in that our oversight of his screen use has evolved with him as he has grown older. Recognizing him as a contributor to the process has given him a sense of responsibility, independence, and control.
What parental controls strategies and tools have worked for you?
I tried my hand at an infographic for this – let me know what you think!