Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kids and the Internet

NiƱo Manzana courtesy
I've decided to start teaching my son (7) how to use a computer and the Internet, to an extent. I've seen how not to do this firsthand and heard plenty more horror stories. There are some things on the Internet you cannot unsee - especially when you're seven.

Additionally, I've been talking to some of my daughter's teachers about designing a "kid friendly/proof" computer for use in the classroom. Being a computer guy, I set to design the simplest possible solution that would work with the least amount of maintenance. Though I use Windows XP (with user permissions heavily locked down) and Google Chrome, this approach will work with any platform, as the only software needed is available on most major platforms.

I use a twofold approach:
  1. I filter all content with a web proxy. BlueCoat's K9 what I use, as it is free for home use. I start out by configuring K9 to block everything (commonly known in the security industry as whitelisting). I then allow the bare minimum that I want my kids to have access to, one URL at a time. Right now, I have only Google Maps, Wikipedia,, Fraboom and whitelisted. I also highly recommend turning off the "barking" feature in K9 every time a page is blocked, as it will eventually drive you mad.
  2. I monitor the kids whenever they're accessing the Internet with the computer. Wikipedia is a great reference resource, but it covers ALL knowledge, including many subjects children are not ready for yet.

Right now, my kids just use the Internet when they want to find out more about a subject (Wikipedia, Nineplanets), play (Hasbro, Fraboom), or learn more about geography (Google Maps). With this design, I can expand later as I need to.

It can be tricky to get some sites working 100%, as they pull content and data from multiple domains in the background (Google Maps requires around 10 domains to be whitelisted). If anyone is interested in getting the K9 filter from me, let me know in the comments, and I'll post it.

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