Web filters might form part of your family media plan, but don’t put too much trust in them. It’s important to be aware of the shortcomings of any internet filtering software.
What are web filters? These are tools that allow parents to selectively filter what content an app, a device, or even an entire home network can access online. Parents can restrict whole categories of sites (like those related to gambling or dating) as well as specific sites. Web filters can also allow access only to a list of approved sites and block everything else.
So, what are the shortcomings of web filters? Here are the top three.
Web filters can block a lot of objectionable material, but no filter can perfectly block all objectionable content. The web constantly changes and creators of objectionable material continue to innovate ways to bypass filters to distribute their content.
Filters can also inadvertently block legitimate content.
Filters can also inadvertently block legitimate content. Locking down one aspect of internet access can detrimentally affect the proper use of other sites and services. This could cause unknown and hard-to-diagnose issues on your device or home network.
To be sure, web filters can block some unintentional exposure to objectionable content. But do not assume that just because you have a filter on a device nothing bad will get through.
As with anything, there are ways to get around filtering. One easy way to bypass web filtering is to avoid it altogether by using a device or network that is not being filtered. The blocking tools prevent negative behavior as long as the filters are in place. But what happens when the protective box is removed, like at a friends’ house or on public wi-fi?
Filters can even stimulate you or your child to look for ways to bypass or otherwise beat the system. The mere fact that something is off limits can raise up innocent curiosity along with all sorts of improper desires in our hearts.
The Apostle Paul illustrated this when he said, “I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Romans 7:7–8).
By restricting web access, parents can falsely conclude they have solved the problem. While filtering might be viewed by a parent as protection, your child might regard it as a prison. Recognize that the problem is not ultimately the technology—it is the heart of your child.
Deal with the desires that motivate behavior more than the behavior by itself.
What happens when your child views objectionable material outside of your filters? Merely installing web filters leaves your child alone to handle their struggles rather than bringing the desires of the heart to light with you in an open, transparent relationship.
Instead of making your child’s online behavior go underground in order to be undetected by you, help them identify and implement their own personal filters of what they will and will not do online. Deal with the desires that motivate behavior more than the behavior by itself.
While web filters might be part of your family media strategy, they cannot bear the weight of too much trust. A philosophy of “set it and forget it” is bound to disappoint you and your child. As a parent, you must remain informed and engaged with the heart of your child.
A philosophy of “set it and forget it” is bound to disappoint you and your child.
Teach and model responsible habits that will serve them into adulthood. One aspect of maturity is self-control, being able to manage yourself rightly without external constraints. Help them recognize and establish the truth that you are the best filter for you.
Identify your concerns as a parent. What do you want your child to avoid? Whom do you want your child to avoid communicating with? Set clear expectations and enforce consequences consistently.
Accountability software lets you monitor their device activity for the purpose of having a conversation, not to spy on them or judge them. As parents, you are there to help guide your child to maturity. If your child has violated your trust, monitoring and talking about their device usage can be a means to rebuild trust.
Talking with your child about technology does not have to be a battle. Lead your child to understand that you want to help them use technology in an excellent way.