Internet Safety is Like Gardening

Beautiful gardens full of summer-long bloom. Carefully designed landscapes that beckon to be explored. Strategically placed fences that disguise unattractive views. Even those who are not passionate gardeners can appreciate the work that goes into a yard where hardscape and landscape work together to provide lovely views, protection from the elements, and outdoor comfort.

Protecting your children online bears a strong similarity to garden design. Children are like plants, and the Internet is like the soil that surrounds them. Young people today have a daily feed of online activity. Without a good plan for protecting these valuable “plants,” they will fall prey to the dangers in the soil.

Step 1: Plan before you buy

Digging in the ground and planting trees and shrubs without a plan leads to poor plant quality and incohesive design. As a result, the plant material will usually be ripped out.

The same is true of parents who purchase Internet-accessible devices for their children with no plan for protecting their children from dangers online. Children are naturally curious and may explore the Internet on a device before you may even know it can get online.

Instead, plan for Internet integrity first, and buy later. “Parents should be proactive and fold the Internet into engaged parental activity,” says Anne Collier, executive director of Net Family News Inc.

Step 2: Get advice

Some gardeners choose to plan their own garden design, while others hire a professional.  Either method works well, as long as a good plan is developed.

Much like good garden design, effective Internet protection comes from research.  What Internet-accessible devices does your family own?  Inventory them and know where they are. Do you plan to buy other devices that can get online? Can you protect the devices you already own or plan to buy with Accountability or Filtering software? Can you disable the browser if it is not possible to install protection software on the device? If you can’t answer these questions or are unsure of the answers, it is time to call a professional.

Step 3: Buy the right tools

There is nothing that will make the maintenance of a garden more satisfying than a good spade or shovel. Choose one that fits your hand and is well balanced for your body.

The same is true of Internet integrity software. Excellent Internet protection for your children is only provided by excellent software. The protection software interface should be easy to understand and use. Do not choose software that is difficult to configure or change for each of your children.  Ideally, all the tools will be in one website location. If you use a Filter, it should be easy to add sites to block and allow lists. Configuring Accountability Reports for your children should be easy, too.

Step 4: Plan for growth

Even after planning your garden well, it is important to evaluate the requirements of each plant.  What kind of sun, water, and soil do these plants need? If you plan well, but place plants in an inappropriate location, they will not flourish.

The same goes for your children. Some young people may need Filtering and Accountability. Others may only need Accountability. You must choose carefully what kind of software will best serve your children. If you have young children, a combination of filtering and accountability works well. Older children may respond better to accountability only. As long as you are receiving a report of their online activity, you can be sure your children are held responsible for where they go online.

Remember—plants expand, so be sure to leave room for growth. Your Internet Accountability and Filtering software should be customizable with the growth of your family, too. One size does not fit all.

Step 5: Prepare the soil

You have planned the garden, purchased quality nursery stock, and evaluated the unique needs of each plant. Your well-chosen tools are ready to use. Now the soil must be prepared. It is not wise to simply dig a hole and stick in a plant or tree. Even the most carefully planned garden will fail without good soil preparation. Soil must be cultivated, amended, and softened with water. Just like digging, adding compost or fertilizer, and water before placing the plant in the hole, you must prepare the devices your children use to get online.

Buying protection is not enough. You must install it.

Sometimes planting a complicated garden plan requires helpers.  As a parent, you must choose your Internet integrity partners well. Does the software you are installing come with free customer support? Are they available by phone, chat, and e-mail? Does the website offer support articles to help you configure it properly?

A successful garden requires a lot of pre-planning but will result in a beautiful landscape to be enjoyed for years to come. Just like a garden, effective Accountability and Filtering software will protect your family and provide a means to maintain integrity for a lifetime.

by Diane Bowen