Resources for navigating a digital world
At Lancaster Mennonite, we take online safety very seriously, and our IT staff devote a considerable amount of time maintaining systems like web filters, “safe search” rules, and warning systems.
In a similar way, parents seek to cultivate online safety at home. Here are a few suggested ideas and resources for your household, as you care for one another and engage in a digital world.
Unfortunately, web filters cannot filter out everything bad. Moreover, a motivated person can usually find ways around a web filter. A robust filtering solution usually involves a good deal of “cat and mouse.”
The best filter: defining when and where devices may be used in your household, and when and where they may not. Can we encourage uses that are “public” (in the living room where everyone sees) and collaborative (research something together)? Especially at a young age, might you consider limiting devices to public spaces, rather than the bedroom and/or bathroom?
Some filter suggestions:
- OpenDNS FamilyShield is free and set-it-and-forget-it, and can protect all the devices on your home Wi-Fi.
- OpenDNS also has other solutions that offer more flexibility but require more configuration and maintenance.
- Many other web filters exist, such as Norton Family and NetNanny.
- Circle is a new and comprehensive set of tools (which do cost money). It may be too early to tell how well this works; if your family uses it, we are interested in hearing about your experience!
An accountability service regularly sends someone else a list of suspicious sites you have visited. Instead of blocking content, as a web filter does, this kind of service seeks to give others a window into your behavior. Some examples:
Many parents seek to limit “screen time,” which includes any activity in front of a device, monitor, or TV. This is an important practice, for both children and adults. We can also be attentive to the quality of screen activities. Passively consuming videos, for instance, affects an individual in different ways than does creating a work of digital art, or writing a computer program.
- Younger than 18 months: no screen time
- 18-24 months: introduce devices cautiously, and watch with your children, explaining what they are seeing
- 2-5 years: 1 hour or less per day
- 6 years and up: set consistent limits on both time and types of media, being attentive to sleep needs, exercise, and other healthy living habits
A Common Sense article about “How much screen time?” provides an excellent introduction to the concept of managing screen time, and the importance of choosing quality activities online and offline. You might wish to browse the entire Common Sense “screen time” category.
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides media guidance. They advocate for creating a family media use plan, and even encourage talking to teenagers. You will likely find other articles there that are relevant to you and the age of your children.
Recent versions of both Android and iOS offer functionality for parents to monitor and even manage the amount of time their kids are spending on devices.
- Introduction for Android (Samsung, Motorola, Kindle, and many other devices)
- Introduction for iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod)
Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media provides media reviews, tips for parents and teachers, and general advice about digital content.
Reviews and reflective resources by Christians
- CPYU (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding) fosters understanding of contemporary youth culture, from a Christian perspective. Folks from all over find their resources helpful, but CPYU just happens to be conveniently located in our backyard, in Elizabethtown, PA.
- Plugged In is an up-to-date media review site from a Christian perspective.