[Updated September 2014 to reflect family plan pricing]
Kids are using computers and tablets at younger ages – 38% of kids under the age of 2 have used a mobile device! And it’s common to stumble upon objectionable content when you are not looking for it, even for older kids, teens and adults. So what’s a family to do? One of the most important tools in a digital parent’s toolkit is internet filtering or monitoring software. There are many to choose from, and recently I tested Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is internet accountability and filtering software for computers, tablets and mobile devices. Accountability and Web Filtering There are two services available – accountability and filtering. With accountability, you are not blocking any content. Instead, internet activity is monitored, rated, and sent in a report to any person you choose. So for parents, you can set up accountability for your child or teen and receive reports on their web activity. You can also choose to add filtering, in order to block inappropriate content using age-based ratings. For school-age, you can choose the Youth setting which would only allow general interest and kid-friendly sites. As they get older you might change that to teen, to add social media. You can adjust the settings all the way up to blocking only highly mature websites. The filtering service also allows you to restrict time spent online.
Installing Covenant Eyes
For my test run, I set up both accountability and filtering on my home laptop that my daughter and I use. Sign-up and installation are a breeze. First you create an account, and then you install the software.
Pricing starts at $9.99/month and there is a family plan for $13.99 where you can cover the entire family on unlimited devices. There is a 30-day money back guarantee. Full price breakdown is on their website: http://www.covenanteyes.com/services/pricing/ ** I used a special discount code for the first month free – and so can you! Just enter the word SECURE during signup. ** With your account created, your next step is to sign in and download the software. Covenant Eyes will recognize whether you are on Windows or Mac, and offer the appropriate links for downloading. Step-by-step instructions and video tutorials are provided and are very helpful in explaining each step. If you run into any problems, they have customer service support hours – yes actual people you can contact by e-mail or phone. You can install on multiple devices at no additional cost – iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad support filtering and accountability, and Android devices and Kindle Fire support accountability. This is really important because these days, an average teen’s web activity may be mostly on mobile devices. More on that below.
Using Covenant Eyes
After installation, you sign into your account and choose the accountability partner. For parents, you will choose to receive the reports. You can choose which level of content you want know about and how often to receive reports. You can also log on at any time to view a detailed browsing history for specific dates. Accountability reports are detailed, well-organized, and will point out very clearly any questionable activity. Even the subject line of the e-mail is customized, such as “Report Looks Good” or “Review Suggested”, to let you know right away that you might want to take a detailed look. Covenant Eyes is also a popular product for adults who are trying to reduce their online temptations. Unfortunately, porn addiction is a real problem in our society. Not all who install the service are parents looking to protect their kids. Many are trying to protect themselves! You will see this reflected on the web site which, does communicate Christian values. So there are many who are setting this up on their own computers and sending the accountability reports to a trusted friend. There is also a “Panic Button”, for those who may be struggling with temptations online; they can click the panic button to temporarily halt their access to the Internet.
The filtering portion worked well, as shown in my screenshots.
Notice that the “filter guardian” (the parent/administrator of the account) can unblock pages on a case-by-case basis. You can also allow filter “override” which is like a warning. The site will initially be blocked, but the user can decide if they want to continue. This feature is “primarily valuable for adults who choose to use the Filter as a precautionary measure—simply to keep from inadvertently viewing objectionable sites.” You might not want to allow this for a young child, but might be a good transition for an older teen. Time Limitscan be set if you use Filtering. You can restrict hours per day as well as total time per week.
The Covenant Eyes Mobile App
Your child may be accessing the internet on their phone or tablet more often than on the family computer. The Covenant Eyes app works in conjunction with an existing account. Download the app (free) onto your kids’ devices, restrict Safari or other browsers, and have them sign into the app with the Covenant Eyes account. Their mobile web viewing will be included on the accountability reports. I was surprised that the app was rated 17+ in the Apple app store, and asked about that. Unfortunately it is a decision by Apple because with accountability only, a person could still view adult content (with filtering, it is blocked, but some use the app with accountability only). Unfortunately, Covenant Eyes has been unsuccessful in having them change the rating. They have an explanation about this along with complete instructions for using Covenant Eyes on an iOS7 device here – again, top-rate instructional videos and support every step of the way. There are many parental control options available to families, and Covenant Eyes is an excellent choice. While you can find free software with similar features, you will probably not find the support, customer service, and ease-of-use with a paid option like Covenant Eyes. I always suggest letting kids know you are filtering or reporting on their web activity – it isn’t “Spying”, it is checking in to make sure things are okay. The reports can help guide your conversations on online safety and privacy topics. You might see some inappropriate searches and you can talk about what your child encountered. With filtering, you can let your child know that you have their safety in mind and want to make sure they don’t encounter anything online that they might not be ready for.