VPN at School - Tips for Parents and TeenagersUpdated: November 02, 2019
We are here to discuss the reasons why schools are blocking access to various websites and how can your child outsmart this. Obviously, they should do this with a sense of responsibility, and after carefully reading the agreement with the school.
Children and teenagers nowadays have been born in an era that's fully (or almost) technologized. They don't really know what is like to no have the Internet at your disposal, to not have a smartphone to communicate instantly with their friends and family through apps. Regarding children, some parents are trying to limit their access to the Internet, but some are letting even their toddlers to enjoy the tablets and the smartphones how much they want; which is not quite the best decision, at least in my opinion.
As the future doesn't seem to be returning to a place without technology and Internet, you shouldn't restrict access to technology and Internet to your child; what you should do is to enforce a behaviour that doesn't make them rely on tech and information they find online. There are books, there is nature, there is a whole world around. In addition, if you let your children be absorbed hours and hours by some YouTube shows, they will not be aware of their time, and they will not be aware that the lack of time comes with a cost.
Limitations to the Internet should (mainly) be done because children should learn this: 4 hours spent on watching random YouTube shows means 4 hours lost, time in which they could've accomplished more: meet with friends, do some homework, go out in the park and so on.
It's an amazing time they live in - they have access to tremendous amounts of information, they can communicate with everyone instantly, hence they have the possibility to be so much more smarter and open-minded than us (who embraced the Internet later in life, and maybe slower). I, personally, believe that we can't and should't stop kids from accessing the Internet and being able to embrace technology; our world will be more and more technologized, and they should know as many things as they can.
I also believe that parents should teach their children that the Internet should be used mostly for learning, and also that they should be able to not depend on watching videos and scrolling for hours and hours, because time is the most important resource. Children should learn that by going out in the world, experiencing things, talking with their friends, playing and sleeping correctly they will settle whatever they learn from the Internet and they will be able to come with arguments. They should definitely learn how to use the technology in their favour, and how to never let tech control them or make them become dependant.
Letting this whole pleading aside, we are here to discuss the reasons why schools are blocking access to various websites and how can your child outsmart this. Obviously, they should do this with a sense of responsibility, and after carefully reading the agreement with the school.
As I said above, we live in a time where even 7 year-olds have smartphones. It isn't necessarily a bad choice, but some parents don't know how to enforce the smartphone usage; therefore, there are even small children who take everything for granted and who think that they can do whatever they want just because they have "more power" = they have a smartphone and their parents didn't set some rules.
These children lead to teenagers with maybe the same behaviour, maybe even worse: they start disrespecting the teachers. The most common example is when they are watching TV shows on their smartphone, while they are at class. Sure, as a person who didn't have a smartphone until the last year of college (and even then, there was only a few things to do with it, plus the schools didn't have wi-fi), I have to admit that there were other ways to keep yourself distracted from the class: text messages with your colleagues, or playing games. Still, these activities weren't as time consuming as watching an entire show.
Moreover, teenagers can find the answers to their tests immediately - if they have a friend in another class that already took the test and knows the answers, by the time they will have to take the test, they will have received a whole photo on WhatsApp or on Facebook Messenger.
Another situation is that schools Wi-Fi aren't that powerful; they have a limited bandwidth. Imagine if all the children would download things or watch movies or simply check their Insta, at the same time - the connection would be super slow, or it could drop. This will not affect only the students, but also the teachers that are researching something, or the IT department who tries to keep everything under control.
For all the situations above, and possibly even more, schools have decided to limit the access on certain websites: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and more other channels of communication and entertainment. They can block apps, too. Schools are trying to keep their students' minds right there, present at learning.
They are trying to make children and teenagers learn to respect their teachers, and to understand that their own time is precious - they should use it accordingly. If they were to keep their heads in the phone at all times, they are basically virtually skipping class; it will be harder for them to accumulate the knowledge they need for future tests and for life, in general. It will also be harder for them to focus at future jobs, where their boss might not be so understanding when it comes to skipping work. Children will also learn to respect somebody's time: if someone talks to them or teaches/explains them something, they should be respectful and listen to what they have to say.
To start right from zero: VPN is actually an acronym for Virtual Private Network. Back in the days it was mostly used by companies, allowing their employees to access the company's network from home (or from where they traveled); this ensured a secured connection, way for companies to keep their data onto their servers.
For quite some time, VPNs are being used to access websites that are blocked (because of location), to be private, and to be secure.
When you're navigating online, every thing that you're doing (for example, simply searching on Google) means that you're requesting some information. That request has to have a ID, a name; that ID is your IP address. This is because once the request reaches the destination, it has to return the information you requested, hence it has to know where it should return it.
It's like sending a letter to someone, and that someone is sending it back. This also means that your data is visible, and can be tracked and traced. Your Internet Service Provider, if it wants, can check the websites you're visiting, hackers can access your data and so on.
The VPN acts like a shield; in the letter case, it's almost like you're sending your letter to a private company, and that company sends it further for your; the receiver then sends it back to the company, and the company to you. In the online world, you can't be traced back, as your connection is secure and private.
Your IP receives a new "name", which means the destination server actually receives another IP, not actually yours. When the request is sent back to you, the VPN receives it, encrypts it and sends it back to you. Here's how it can be illustrated:
This is how a VPN works, but you can always check our full article - How Does a VPN work - for more details.
Now of course, children will be able to use a VPN only with help from their parents, and only with guidance, maybe even restrictions. For these reasons, maybe children should not use a VPN, because if explained incorrectly (or if they understand wrong) they can think this "solution" give them "power"; this can lead to much worse situations like laughing in front of other kids saying they can't do what they can, and disrespecting teachers (which can snowball in their social life).
I would advise to be a reasonable parent and to accept school's rules regarding blocking websites.
In case of a teenagers, the reasoning above can be applied, too. Still, they can be more capable of understanding what the real use for a VPN at school: to communicate through Messenger and WhatsApp when it's 100% necessary, or to search for educational videos on YouTube. All of these should actually be done in their break, not in class (in class only if there is an emergency).
Still, there can be a quite good reason why a teenager, and even a child, should use a VPN and this is related to the school's network. I hardly imagine that the IT department (if it even exists on the school's premises) has enough budget and tools to properly secure the school's network. Most of the time, the school's Wi-Fi either doesn't have a password, either it has a weak one. With all this information online, teenagers can actually learn how to crack a Wi-Fi network.
These young hackers will then be able to even cyberbully their colleagues, by accessing their computers, using a Man-In-The-Middle attack, or accessing files and demanding for a ransom. Teenagers can use a VPN at school solely to keep their connections secure.
One other benefit of using a VPN at school is related to privacy. I doubt that the admin spends his time by looking at what each student does online, but it can happen. It's not like your teenager is browsing dubious websites, it's simply the idea that one should have privacy.
Exchange students could also benefit from a VPN at school. They might want to search for information that's only available in their own country, thus they would need a VPN. As I explained above, with a VPN you'll be able to access websites that have blocked content (location related). The VPN changes your IP by using a server in another country, country that may be able to access the website from the teenager's home country.
This section is directed more towards the teenagers reading this article. You should be a respectful student, one that doesn't disrespects rules with callousness. If in the Acceptable Use Policy (or whatever the name of the school's rules is) there is specified that the use of a VPN is forbidden, then you shouldn't use a VPN. Disobeying this rule can be considered hacking, and it can lead to some legal actions against you. This is the worse case scenario. The better scenario is that you'll be either sent to detention, or you'll be suspended for a few days. Nonetheless, not one of the consequences is in your favour.
Some schools can even detect VPN traffic and block it. There are ways to go around this, to go undetected, but again, if it's forbidden, you should respect the rules.
In case the school doesn't specify that the VPN is forbidden, you should still be careful. You can use a VPN at school, but only for common tasks like communicating with your friends, browsing social media in the break, searching for videos etc. Downloading movies (using torrents) is illegal - it's basic knowledge. If you're torrenting while at home, then it's on you. But if you're doing this while at school, you can put the school and yourself in a serious situation. Usually schools have an agreement related to torrents and copyright infringement, thus no one should do this while in schools. It's the same principle in companies, too.
Another thing why you should be careful is that even if the VPN is legal, there are websites that are illegal to teenagers. Schools can block them, but if you use a VPN you will be able to access them. This websites include gambling, nudity, and other websites strictly related to adults. You should be a responsible student and keep away from these websites, at least at school.
First of all, as we are talking about VPN for school, there's one important thing that teenagers should be aware of: underage individuals shouldn't buy things online. That means that if you, the teenager, are thinking about wanting a VPN to use at school, you should talk to your parents. Explain them exactly why, help them understand if your future decision is right, and even present them this article.
Either way, there are a couple of things that you should take into consideration if you're choosing a VPN for school.
Of course, there is the price that may come to your mind. Even if you're asking your parents to do the buying process for you, they might ask you about the cost. Here is where I am mentioning that free VPN are necessarily free - they come with a cost. Most of the time, they aren't actually making your connection neither secure, neither private; they just change the IP, but your original IP could be traced back.
Almost every single VPN offers monthly subscription and yearly ones. Most of them either offer a trial, either a money-back solution. There are many option that you can choose from, and there are many websites that compare all of them.
You should look for some of the following things:
- Desktop and mobile - You won't be using your laptop at school every single day. Instead, you'll have your smartphone. For this particular reason, you should make sure that the VPN you're buying has a mobile app. And be careful to have the app designed for your mobile software - iOS or Android. The best is for the VPN to have a desktop/browser version (for Windows or for Mac - pay attention to this, too) and a smartphone app. The smartphone app is also important because some schools have blocked VPN websites; you won't be able to navigate on that website from your smartphone, on Wi-Fi - you'd have to use your data plan.
- Multiple devices - it will be useful as you at least have a smartphone and a laptop, and you should be able to use that VPN not only in school, but everywhere you take your laptop, too. Also, this feature can used in relation to the costs: if you have more friends that want to use a VPN, you can all create a shared account (one account to which every friend has access to). This will reduce the costs, and you'll even be able to buy one of the most expensive VPNs (even though most of them are in between the same range).
- Easy to use - as we are talking about teenagers, a service of all kinds should be easy to use, kind of minimalist, and easy to setup. They don't want to waste time with setting up the VPN, or with connecting.
All in all, as a teenager having restricted access to Internet might make you feel uncomfortable, and even censored, in some way. Still, you have to believe that schools are doing this in order to establish an order, to keep things under control, and to help you learn faster and more efficient, while respecting your teachers.
In case you need a solution to this, do read the agreement between you and your school (or ask your parent to do it with you), and only then use a VPN at school. You don't want to disobey the written rules of the school, as it may lead to even legal consequences.
If the school is OK with you using a VPN, then you should be responsible and don't use it excessively, or to download torrents (this is illegal).
Also, you should ask your parents to buy the subscription for you, as most ecommerce websites (or simply those where you can buy something from) require the legal age.
For parents, I hope this article was useful for you. Here are some others that you can read and understand more about how can you protect your child. Of course, you should know all of these in order to be able to teach your children about online security form a young age.