Your Internet Filter Isn’t Working: 6 Tools to Actually Keep Your Kids Safe Online

A recent study from the Oxford Internet Institute shows that an internet filter is NOT an effective way to protect our children and teenagers from online pornography. In fact, if you look at their data, it almost seems that the reverse is true – that when caregivers have an internet filter, kids are slightly MORE likely to interact with various types of online pornography.

Whoa. I can hear you freaking out. I know I did. There’s hope, but first you need to confront the facts.

“A pair of studies reporting on data collected in 2005, before the rise of smartphones and tablets, provides tentative evidence that Internet filtering might reduce the relative risk of young people countering sexual material. A more recent study, analyzing data collected a decade after these papers, provided strong evidence that caregivers’ use of Internet filtering technologies did not reduce children’s exposure to a range of aversive online experiences including, but not limited to, encountering sexual content that made them feel uncomfortable. Given studies on this topic are few in number and the findings are decidedly mixed, the evidence base supporting the widespread use of Internet filtering is currently weak.”

From their findings, it looks like in 2010, an internet filter helped. But with this generation of kids that have the internet in their back pockets, that’s no longer the case.

These researchers went into the study with the hypothesis that having an internet filter would still have a high protective effect, and were surprised to find their predictions were very wrong.

“We did not find confirmatory evidence that filters were effective for seeing nudity, private parts, people having sex, or any of the four types in line with our preregistered hypotheses. In fact, contrary to our predictions we found evidence in the direction opposite to what we hypothesized in one case: households reporting using filters were more, not less, likely to have an adolescent who reported having seen violent pornography in the past 6 months.”

One of the reasons for this is that children and teens no longer limit internet access to home and school. And practically-speaking, there’s no way to filter every device they see in any given day. In fact, “results indicated that between 17 and 77 households would need to be filtered to prevent a young adolescent from encountering online sexual material.”

What does this mean?

“In other words, more than 99.5 percent of whether a young person encountered online sexual material had to do with factors beside their caregiver’s use of Internet filtering technology.”

Why do we see this negligible effect of using an internet filter?

Because an internet filter is a bandaid on a problem, not the actual solution.

Putting up an internet filter and expecting that it will take care of your child’s online filtering needs is similar to putting your child in front of a TV and expecting that they can get all their educational needs from Baby Einstein.

Internet filters don’t adapt fast enough.

They rely on algorithm to detect when a site is inappropriate, so they under filter. You’ve probably noticed yourself that some sites have inappropriate material that doesn’t get flagged as such. For example, there’s a sick person out there right now who’s dubbing inappropriate content over a kids show and posting it to YouTube. Your internet filter might not catch that.

An internet filter won’t block sexting, friend requests from strangers, or your teenager making his/her own videos.

Internet filters don’t extend to your kids’ friend’s house, or the iPad that kid down the street is using to show off all the interesting things he can Google.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to the internet, you have a big toolbox to use to help your children become responsible citizens without scarring them for life.

An internet filter is only one tool in your toolbox.

If I gave you a toolbox with multiple tools and asked you to build a house, would you only pick one tool? Which would you pick? The hammer? The saw? The duct tape? (That last one would be my choice!)

Say it with me now: An Internet filter is only one tool in my toolbox.

In the study, they wrapped up by saying that this study should prompt us to look into “other preventative methods, such as age verification tools, or educational strategies to support responsible behavior online and promote resilience.”

Did you read that?

Christie Thomas
Christie Thomas lives in Canada with her family of boys and their pet fish. She writes about faith and family at and is the author of Quinn’s Promise Rock and an interactive devotional book for preschoolers, Wise For Salvation.

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