Parental controls can help you stay connected to your children


The time of giving is fast approaching, and you may be thinking of getting your child a phone or tablet. Now you are wondering how much do you know about setting up devices to protect and monitor your kids?

Parental controls can include built-in parental control software, add-on monitoring software, web content filtering software, and internet blockers. They are used to filter and manage your kids' devices, and are more important now than ever before, in today's connected world where anything goes (and stays) online.

Teaching rather than spying

Teaching your kids how to use their devices safely is like teaching them how to drive. It is a process that involves giving them the knowledge, skills and confidence to go from a fledging learner driver to an independent solo commuter, able to navigate busy roads and highways.

Common Sense Media says "Parental controls can support you in your efforts to keep your kids' internet experiences safe, fun, and productive. They work best when used openly and honestly in partnership with your kids, not as a stealth spying method."

Trust, responsibility and making smart choices are the building blocks of good digital citizenship, something we all want our kids to attain. But the truth is that every kid today is handed a device at a time in their life when their brain is not yet fully developed (a process that takes until age 23). During this time, their hormones are raging (literally), and they are physiologically and psychologically not yet able to cope with the number of choices and consequences that come with using the internet. Many adults still struggle with their device use and management at times!

Parental controls can and should be used as conversation starters, to boost rather than undermine the trust in your relationship with your children. If used correctly, they can help you with your important job of teaching and guiding your children. You can help them make smart choices online, understand the consequences of bad choices, and take responsibility for their actions.

Privacy versus safety and sanity

If you have any doubts, your child's safety and mental health always outweighs any argument they might raise about their privacy being violated by you, their parent! Firstly, there is no privacy online. Secondly, it is your primary job as a parent to keep them safe until they are old enough to do that for themselves.

We often use this example for parents who are hesitant about getting involved with their kids' online lives: if you suspected your child was taking drugs, would you respect their privacy or would you search their room and then sit down with the evidence for a serious talk about the way forward and how you can help them through it?

The online world has brought a whole new complexity to our parenting role. Besides making sure that our kids eat, sleep, play, learn and generally grow up to be fully functioning adults in the offline world, we have to manage their interwoven online world too. It is a complex job for any parent!

Which parental controls are best for your family?

There are various free options available to help control, filter and monitor devices. However, a full featured third-party parental control option will give you a lot of control over all of your kids' devices. This includes the ones they use at home as well as their phones or tablets on the go. The cost involved in these options gives you:

  • More sophisticated device monitoring
  • Better visibility as to how your kids are using their devices
  • Greater peace of mind or, where necessary, the opportunity to talk, guide and mentor your child as they learn to navigate their online world through trial and error.

The choice of parental controls, which may be an over-layering of a few options, depends on the age of your kids and what you are looking for as a parent for your family. For example, your choice might be influenced by whether you have time to do regular checks of your kids' devices. Alternatively, you might prefer to get alerts on key topics or words.

Block websites To limit what your kids can search for on the internet, you'll need to reset your browser. Kiddle
Google SafeSearch
Block websites and filter content To prevent access to specific websites and limit your kids' exposure to inappropriate content, you'll need to activate controls built in to your devices and give each user their own login profile. IoS - Screentime
Android - Google Family Link
Computer specific settings
Block websites, filter content, impose time limits, see what my kids are doing on their devices To keep tabs on your tween or teen's tablet or phone, you'll need a third-party parental control app. Bark
Track my kids' location To check your child's whereabouts, you can download GPS app trackers. Find My Friends FamiSafe
Manage all devices on your Wi-Fi network as well as on the go - limit screen time, filter content, monitor app use and content, pause devices, track location You'll need a third- party hardware and software solution combo, to control your home network as well as devices on the go. Bark Home
Circle Home Plus
Manage all devices on your Wi-Fi network as well as on the go - limit screen time, filter content, monitor app use and content, pause devices, track location, anti virus, malware and ransomware protection You'll need a third-party hardware and software solution combo, to protect and control devices connected to your home network as well as devices on the go. Bitdefender Box

Need some help with figuring out the settings and controls for the devices that your family uses? Get your personalised Family Digital Assessment. You can get clear tips for managing all your devices (phones, tablets, computers, TVs and gaming consoles) as well as your Wi-Fi, including:

  • Privacy and security settings - changing default settings
  • Parental controls, filters and limits - choosing the best options for your family
  • Social media apps and games - insights into "real age" ratings, safety and privacy settings
  • Family digital habits - tips on managing "how much" and ''what".

Take ownership of your "license to parent". It is more important now than ever before, and is quite possibly one of the best gifts you can give your kids for their future!

How parental controls keep you connected to your children

Today's teens, tweens, and school-age children are getting more and more technologically sophisticated, very often outpacing what their parents know about these high-tech gadgets.

For some kids, that means that they are learning computer languages, creating websites, and even building robots. However, some are simply using today's technology to watch videos on YouTube, play games, or send text messages.

Unfortunately, many of the things your kids can do online with their phones can lead to a lot of trouble if they aren't monitored. From watching porn and other inappropriate videos and websites to sexting (sending inappropriate text messages or photographs) and chatting with predators, new technology can lead to new problems.

Cell phones and the internet have even led to new ways for kids to be bullied: cyberbullying. That doesn't have to mean that your kids can't have a computer or cell phone, but you should learn about parental controls that can help protect them as they use the latest high-tech gadgets.

Parental controls

Parental controls can include built-in parental control software, add-on monitoring software, web content filtering software, and internet blockers. These can usually be set up to block access to a computer or specific websites.

One big problem with parental controls is that many parents only think about setting them up on their home computers, where they know their kids will have access to the internet. They forget about all the other gadgets in and around their home that also offer internet access.

While we might not live in an age where everyone's refrigerator has internet access (although some already do), many other gadgets can get your child connected to the internet, such as their:

  • iPad (via Wi-Fi)
  • iPhone and other smartphones
  • Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS (via Wi-Fi)
  • Nintendo Wii, Wii U, and Switch
  • Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (PS5)
  • Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP, via Wi-Fi)
  • Xbox

These gadgets can be fun to use, offering kids access to online games and multiplayer online gaming, but it also allows them to chat with people. Many of these gadgets also include a web browser. Although parental controls are available for most of these devices, the average parent who doesn't use the device themselves isn't likely to think about turning those controls on.

Internet parental controls

Parental control software is built into the latest version of macOS and Windows, but they can also be purchased as separate programs. These often offer more features and more flexibility.

These include programs such as bSafe Online, Net Nanny, and Safe Eyes. In addition to this kind of parental control software, other things you can do to keep your kids safe online include:

  • Putting password protection on the computer, so that you have to log in for your kids when they want to use the internet
  • Using parental control software to restrict access to the computer and the internet to times when a parent is home and around to supervise what your kids are doing
  • Restricting access to times when a parent is at home to supervise. You can use your router to set up specific internet application and gaming access to different computers or internet-ready gaming systems
  • Setting strong privacy settings if your child uses a social networking site, like Facebook, and limiting their friends list to people they know
  • Putting the computer and other devices in a common area of the house so that you can directly supervise what your kids are doing
  • Asking your internet service provider (ISP) about filtering software that may be available to you
  • Reviewing what kind of access to the internet your kids will have when visiting friends and family members.

Be aware that without parental controls, kids can hide their tracks by clearing private data from the internet browser they are using, including the browser history, cache and cookies.

In addition to general warnings about protecting kids from "the internet," parents should be aware of some specific things that can cause trouble, including:

  • Illegal file-sharing programs. Through specific programs and sites, such as Gnutella, Bit Torrent, Kazaa, etc., kids can illegally download music, movies, and other content.
  • Social network sites. Many kids use these social network sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, to post personal information and photos, which predators can use to contact your child.
  • Instant messaging (IM) and chat. In addition to texting on their cell phones, many kids use instant messaging (including Kik and other apps) and chat rooms (such as iChat and Yahoo! Messenger) to talk with their friends, and unfortunately, sometimes predators who pose as kids. Inappropriate chats can be an especially big problem in online games, where many players are in their 20s and 30s.
  • Video chat. Kids have also started using video chat rooms, including the popular Chatroulette, which matches users with strangers to chat with. This platform is reported to include a lot of people engaged in inappropriate behaviours while on their webcams.
  • Web videos. Kids on the internet usually quickly find YouTube. Unfortunately, there are plenty of videos on YouTube and other video sites that are not appropriate for kids.

Cell phone parental controls

Although much of the focus concerning internet dangers has been on computers, few parents seem to realise that many of today's cell phones are basically mini computers when it comes to the kind of access they provide to the internet. Take, for example, the iPhone, which includes an e-mail application, web browser, and an application to watch videos on YouTube.

Kids can also use it to send text messages, take and send each other photos, and of course, talk. So how do you supervise and protect your kids when they are using a smartphone, especially when it has access to the internet? The first thing you should do is learn how to turn on and use whatever parental controls are included with the cell phone, however limited they may be.

This might include parental control software that is actually part of the cell phone and others that can be added as features of your cell phone carrier. Many cell phone carriers also have services to let you locate your child at any time if they have a supported phone.

Did you know that you can monitor your teen's text messages too? There is mobile spy software that you can secretly install on your child's iPhone, Windows or Android smartphones that monitor text messages and phone calls. However, cell phone carriers don't provide this service themselves, no matter what some parents may report.

Spying on your kids is very rarely a good idea, and if you use this type of software, you should let your teen know that you might be reading some of their texts or emails as a condition of having the phone.

If you don't trust your child to use their phone, then they either shouldn't have a phone, you should turn off the cell phone's internet access or ability to send text messages, or get them a basic phone that doesn't have these types of features until they earn your trust.

Best parental controls

Unfortunately, no matter how secure you think your computer, cell phones, and other gadgets, you might not always know what your kids have access to when they aren't at home.

The best parental controls are an active parent who teaches their kids healthy electronic use, talks about the dangers of new technologies, and is aware of what they are doing. Before getting your kids a smartphone that allows them to send and receive email, text, or gives them access to the internet, you should take the following steps:

  • Talk to them in an age-appropriate manner about things that can get them in trouble. Include a discussion about sexting consequences, viewing inappropriate websites, photos and videos, and the possibility that people they chat with online may not be who they seem. Continue to have conversations about these topics and ask your kids questions about what they are doing online from time to time.
  • Set up your parental controls, but continue to supervise your kids, especially younger kids, as they use their cell phone and computer.
  • Remind your kids not to believe everything they see or read. Many things they see on the internet aren't true.
  • Urge them to talk to you if they view something confusing or that just doesn't seem right.
  • Teach your kids to not post too much personal information about themselves or their activities online, including on platforms like Instagram since this information will rarely stay private.
  • Have them use screen names that don't include their real name, email address, age, or other identifying information.
  • Warn them about cyberbullying, harassing others online, spreading rumours, or impersonating other kids to send hurtful text messages or emails.
  • Allow your kids to only use age-appropriate websites and games. For example, Facebook requires kids to be at least 13 years old to register. Many of the popular games that young kids like to play that allow internet access are rated "T" for "Teen" or "M" for "Mature" and should only be played by adults.
  • Encourage real life (RL) activities and limit screen time to no more than one or two hours a day, as internet activities can be quite addictive. This includes time spent watching TV, using a computer, playing video games, or using an iPod, cell phone, or other media device.
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