Application and Website Blocking for the Non-technical Parent

Has anyone got any recommendations for blocking youtube, tiktok, browsers, etc on mobile, browser and PC?

My Sister-in-law needs to better control access to various sites and apps on dekstop, laptop and mobile devices. One of her kids in particular is hooked on tiktok. Windows on the Laptop and Android on the phone. Worth mentioning that Family Link on Android is fucking woeful.

This area seems like a damn minefield, much like browsing for media players or codec, ugh.

Ideally want something that is easy to deploy and manage for a not particularly tech-savvy parent that is half a country away and also not a damn subscription service!

She has asked me if something like Cold Turkey would be any good. Lot’s of hits and recommendations on Reddit, but can’t be sure how legit they are with the general enshittification of the web…

Also seems like there are no shortage of services like Bark, but most are subscription.

If it was me, I’d deploy something at my gateway - a DNS redirect (OpenDNS), pi-hole, etc, but I am not keen on doing that and then having to manage it for them when they are 2000km away…

Though I guess even a gateway service won’t be foolproof for a mobile on a cellular network.

What’s out there? How does one do this easily for a one-time fee? Are there actually any decent and affordable gateway devices or applications in this space for parents in 2024?

I have only tried DNS or router level filtering. Are you looking for something per-endpoint device or looking for more granularity in filter categories? Just assigning something like

is way easier to setup at the router and should work for all devices, and hopefully doesn’t need any tinkering or oversight otherwise?

The kid likely will learn how to deal with this in response, so you’ll teach some good skills even if it is ineffecitve.

Ideally I need something with device awareness, so either client based control, or gateway with mac/device ID awareness.

Waiting on my SIL to let me know her router model so I can figure out if I can do a mac aware DNS based approach at the gateway.

And yes, absolutely have stressed the need to also tackle this with education.

It’s less the specific content the nephews are watching and more just the insidious fucking nature of doomscrolling that tiktok has embedded in the 10yo. I noticed when we last hosted them for the holidays - if he gets the chance on his phone, he will sit there for hours on end scrolling tiktok.

Note, I have a strict no tiktok/shorts policy in my house and for my kids, which I have not had to enforce with technology. But my kids also do not have phones, whereas hers do by necessity…

Be aware many newer mobile devices include automatic MAC address randomization, just to prevent the sort of long-term tracking you are hoping to rely on for endpoint filtering.

Also, for TikTok addicts, most other social networks offer similar infinite scrolling short videos which will capture anyone who is cutoff just from the TT service: FB reels, IG, Snapchat, etc

As a father with a kid that is worried about the same I have to ask. Do they really need their phone or would another device do the same? For example, in Germany, there are non-smartphones that still have WhatsApp for example but no other app capability. Or watches that can be used for text and phone.

I know the parental controls on iPhone (and maybe Android, not sure) allow you to limit screen time to apps (or not allow them to run at all). You can target TikTok specifically and any app he’s spending too much time with. I’m not a parent so I don’t know how effective these tools are but could be something to try if taking the phone away outright is out of the question.

We use the native parental controls on both Windows and iOS devices and they work just fine, but take a few to set up. Our router also allows us to turn off internet for specified devices on a schedule using the Google Home app.

  • Blocking on our router. We have Eeros so my wife can just use the Eero app.
  • NextDNS on each device, so we have a little control over the cell service.
  • Screen Time settings on younger kid devices.
  • Last-resort content blocking from the cell service.

That might sound draconian but each layer is pretty light and mostly just looked at. Our main concern is accidental viewing of porn and violence before they understand what they’re seeing. NextDNS was the only one I went out of my way to install that was a bit of a pain.

Parental controls on Android suuuuuucks. Google’s Family Link suuuuuucks. Management is shit, requires a child google account which is super restrictive and then can’t be changed until they turn 16, then kids find a way around it all anyway. IOS family controls are leagues ahead.

Yes, the younger child that is the problem could use a dumb phone, but he ain’t my kid, sadly.

Well if they do want to get him a dumb phone, I found the perfect website:

Honestly? All that stuff sounds like band-aids. We never put technical restrictions on any of our kids. If something looked like it was becoming a problem, we talked about it. You can shield your kids from everything, you just have to have open lanes of communication and trust.

Or that’s how my now-ex and I parented our 4 very wonderful girls. (Who do love them some TikTok, but never to the point that it became problematic.)

Sister in law has the kid’s phone under control, she can limit it effectively enough through local parental controls.

So that just left his windows laptop. Can’t DNS block via the gatewaty, since is it ISP controlled and inaccessible, so I am just going to null route tiktok with the hosts file, which should stop him for a couple of years or a windows update!

So I grabbed a current list of tiktok domains to block from:

Current list runs some 3700 domains! Fucking insidious social media tracking shit.