Learn Your Teens Top Tricks to Get Past Your Parental Controls like OpenDNS
The following blog post may seem long and get somewhat technical at times, but guess what? The minute you bought your child a smartphone, laptop, tablet, gaming console, or any other Internet-connected device you became a technical parent! Whether your kid knows more than you about this technology, is now up to you
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You trust your kids, but you also know that with kids you need to take the proper precautions at home and away, to make sure that they stay safe and do not venture into the seedy world of internet porn and other dangerous or inappropriate social media. Now, you may be an IT guru – and even work as a software engineer knowing network routing, DNS, IP encryption, and you may have even built your own router at home so you can have full control over what happens! If you are OR you are a Parent with little technical ability, this is for you!
Netsanity, for example, makes the process much easier with point and click Apple iOS parental controls, and Android parental controls along with knowledgeable support and a cloud-based, easy to use parental dashboard, built for new “tech parents.” Sign up for a 14-day free trial here.
Is this your teen?
Do you sleep well at night knowing that your 14 or 16-year-old is on their tablets or iPhones, safely surfing ESPN and looking at cute YouTube videos of dancing monkeys and the latest teen bands? Do you worry that the safe browser you installed is actually being used to surf the Internet (it’s not!)
Are you confident that your teen will never go into chat rooms, attempt to surf pornography, or engage in very inappropriate social media apps that shield them from parents? Are you wondering how to track text messages on their devices?
You have prevented them from bypassing texts and have controls that prevent them from snapping pictures of themselves and sharing that on the internet? Well of course you did all that, right?
If that sounds like you, or someone close to you and your kids, read on!
First, let us preface the following, and state for the record – most kids are great kids, and most listen to mom and dad. They want to please us and don’t intend to get in trouble. They test our boundaries but when push comes to shove, they are a true blessing.
A good analogy we give parents is this: imagine your 16 or 17-year-old driving a car. They are perfect drivers; they follow the speed limit, don’t text and drive, and never speed. They are the model of perfection behind the wheel. So what happens when a drunk driver comes around a corner and hits them broadside? They can end up in the ER and they were completely innocent? Well online, we face that every second of every day. While your kids may use good practices and follow your rules, they can still get hurt – very hurt. So it is very important that you know as much as you can and what can happen when curiosity turns into danger. Unlike the example of the other driver who is drunk, you can take common-sense steps to remove many tactics your teens will try to get behind the wheel. Kids and teens are as viral as a cool YouTube video or a hot TikTok. Once one finds a new app or cool site, it spreads instantly – around the world. TikTok, MeetMe, and Snapchat are just a few examples. When we were young, instantly meant 6 months – LOL! Now, within seconds, kids can get access to anything before you even knew what happened.
This brings us back to the topic at hand – how to stay ahead of them, at least long enough to get through the important years until they go away and learn all those great things in college! Your teen has a lot more time to thwart your efforts and circumvent your attempts at parental controls. So while you work and do “life”, they are like beavers building a dam, one step at a time until they have won!
The first thing to note is nothing is 100% foolproof with electronic devices and the internet. If you want 100%, here is free advice: sell all of your internet devices and phones, grab your kids, and head to a quiet ranch in Montana or Wyoming – I hear it’s beautiful there! Stay there until their age of majority and you will be all set! Now, if that is not YOUR plan, let’s proceed.
Here is a very small list of tactics that your kids and teens have done, attempted to do, and will do in the future, all in order to get to the content that they don’t want you to know they saw! These are not in any particular order but over many years of observations, interviews, and learning the hard way, these are certainly ones to be aware of. Many are Apple iOS-specific since they are very popular, but many apply generically to any home.
PC Parental Controls
What: You installed Norton/Symantec/Microsoft parental controls on their Laptops. Your teen can’t go to websites that you filter and you get a nice report saying how responsible they truly are, while they Google search for football, and how to clean my room better!
They will/can: Dual boot your laptop and install whatever operating system they want. So when they use the computer they are using their version and do whatever they want. Any 14+ teen can and many have done this.
Prevent By: Be vigilant and get access to pc regularly. Don’t assume anything. Add a password to BIOS so you control what happens. Watch your reports. If the reports say they were on it for 30 minutes a day, and little Johnny was surfing all weekend, you may have an issue. Force any PC to be used in a public place like the kitchen or living room.
Home Routers and Wi-Fi
What: You go to Amazon or Best Buy and buy a shiny $200 router with fancy parental controls. You click a few green buttons and it says you are all set! Now the kids can’t get to anywhere bad because the green lights told you that! Wrong.
They will/can: Laugh at you first! Then, they will google the default password for that router. There is an 80% chance that you left it default and hence they will quickly have admin access to it. Once there, they will create a 2nd admin account so they can use that one moving forward. If you happen to realize your mistake and set the admin password, too late as they have already built a back door! To use the tennis analogy, it’s game, set, and match. Now, they will create a new hidden SSID for Wi-Fi that only they know. They will set their laptops and smartphones to connect to that Wi-Fi SSID and surf away unrestricted while you and your spouse, are filtered by your $200 router. Oh, if you are the 20%, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet 😉 Your teen can and will install a 2nd Wi-Fi router, behind your cable modem; set a hidden SSID, and do the same thing again. They can buy one on Craigslist or eBay for $10 and hide it in the closet where you will never see it!
Prevent By: If going the router way, make sure you use strong passwords and get daily/weekly reporting on activity – some will email you if there are changes. Get rid of or change the main cable company Wi-Fi so all internet flows through the new router and not the one Time Warner, AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon dropped off! Also, for the little hackers in your life, make sure that nothing is plugged into the Ethernet port on your hub or cable modem that you did not put in there yourself.
What: OpenDNS is a great and free service that allows you to point your DNS to their DNS for the entire home so regardless of the internet-connected devices in the home, all is safe. DNS stands for Domain Name Service and if you are not technical, think of it as the old white pages. Simply, when you request to go to Google.com or Yahoo.com, DNS will lookup that domain and give your computer the corresponding IP address for that website so your computer or iPhone can find it. When you use OpenDNS, your home will use their DNS to find sites and since you as a parent can edit which websites belong to which categories and you can filter your home based on that. Using OpenDNS is a good first step, but not a panacea. Read on.
Your teen will/can bypass OpenDNS: Simply use other public DNS servers on their iPhone, iPad, iTouch, XBOX 360, Nintendo DS, PC, Mac, etc., and bypass OpenDNS. Also, as mentioned before, they can install their router unbeknown to you, and bypass it that way.
Prevent by: Secure their physical devices by making sure devices that can be secured from network changes are secured via a strong password. Watch the reports closely to make sure that traffic patterns for your house make sense and if your teens are on Instagram 24/7 and there are no TikTok, Snapchat, or Instagram domains in your reports, which would indicate that your DNS is being bypassed. For Apple mobile devices, you can install a service like Netsanity which will force all traffic through their service and prevent configuration changes from being changed.
Bypassing Wi-Fi altogether
What: Teens completely bypass Wi-Fi and access the internet via their iPhones or smartphones with a carrier data plan
Your teen will/can: Who needs Wi-Fi anyway! If your teen has a smartphone with an unlimited data plan, all of your fancy footwork above, trying to secure your internet Wi-Fi is irrelevant. They will just turn off Wi-Fi and surf the web and use apps that you disallow by going over the carrier’s 4G/LTE/5G network. They won’t do it all the time so you don’t catch them, but they will be able to use apps that you pretend to block or websites and chat rooms that you filter.
Prevent by: Your options are severely limited at this point. First, know if they have a data plan and watch the usage via your carrier’s site. You may want to opt into a limited data plan via Verizon, AT&T, and others, so you can cut off excessive use. You can also monitor the data amount via your provider’s website. If the kids are at home and they are eating data while they should be using free Wi-Fi, you now know why. Again, installing a parental control profile from Netsanity will protect the device regardless if it’s on Wi-Fi or the carrier’s network. Lastly, physically grab the device and educate your teen that the use of internet-enabled devices is a privilege and not a right so abuse will lead to them potentially losing their iPhone!
Texting even though you don’t have a texting plan
What: Teens don’t use the traditional SMS/Texting that has been around for 20 years. There are hundreds of free texting apps, many are crafty and are designed to be hidden from parents. With Apple, most kids and teens use iMessage or Snapchat, or Instagram.
Your teen will/can: Download a free internet-based texting app. That app will assign a random telephone number and they will give that out to their friends. Then, the teen can text without ever using the carrier’s SMS. As mentioned, with Apple iPhone or iPad, they can use iMessage which is built-in and free and does not come from your carrier. Their texting targets also need to be on an iOS platform, but it’s fairly standard.
Prevent by: If using a home router or OpenDNS, make sure you block as many of those domains as you can. Make sure you have access to your child’s device(s) 24/7 and know their passcodes. Occasionally checking their phones will give you some indication of what they are doing for texting alternatives. On an Apple iOS device, have them use your iCloud account. Read this blog to learn how you can mirror their iMessage to your iPhone that comes in and out from their devices.
Game consoles and other internet devices
What: Lately everything is being connected to the net. So one must be even more vigilant to make sure your most precious ones are protected. Nowhere is this truest than game consoles and portable game players.
Your teen will/can: Bypass your parental controls. Almost all have browsers and ways to access the net. If you lock down the PC but forget to do the same with the XBOX or Nintendo Playstation, you have not secured anything. We have seen many teens pretend they are playing Animal Crossing, but really they are on the web in a chat room.
Prevent By: Making sure that the parental controls are enabled and you restrict any changes via the console. Make sure notifications are enabled as well so you know when changes are attempted.
To summarize, the above is a tiny fraction of what kids routinely do to bypass parental controls. There are many more that are much more technical. Certainly, to avoid giving them any more ideas, we will not write about them here. However, do not be laissez-faire about their safety and be proactive. Allowing unfiltered internet in your home and on your kid’s smartphone and other mobile devices can be dangerous and it’s their job to test the limits and be curious. Our job is to make sure they stay safe and don’t make bad choices that can harm them for years to come.