This is a big topic. And one that a lot of parents have trouble comprehending.
So let’s break it down to make the concept easier to grasp and provide a plan forward. Let’s begin with some questions.
What are parental controls?
It is software that allows parents to control internet use, preventing children from accessing unsuitable online content. Many internet providers include some parental controls for free, and there are both free and paid versions of parental control software available from a variety of sources.
Are parental controls complicated?
Most of the software is made for people who use computers infrequently and it is designed with simple checklists and plain language.
What do Parental Controls do?
These controls allow you to filter content that you deem unsuitable by category i.e. violence, pornography, dating, etc., set time limits for when and how long the internet can be accessed, create profiles that have different levels of access for different people, and restrict what information can be shared.
What types of controls are there?
They are three types of control of which parents should be aware
- Application: specific controls applied to the websites or programs being used, such as Google, YouTube, and Fortnight
- Device Level: controls that are placed on specific devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, or computers
- Network Level: general controls that are applied to any devices connected to your home internet
Why Parental Controls are Important
As the school year draws near, we are seeing more Learn from Home options. In some places, it’s not going to be optional. The thing is, at most schools, the internet is being monitored and access to a great number of websites is blocked. That is not the case from most home networks…but it should be.
Here are 3 reasons why you should be using parental controls:
- The Online World is Full of Predators. From hackers to pedophiles to bullies, the number of cybercrimes is increasing year over year at an alarming rate.
- Sharing Pictures and Locations. Children enjoy taking selfies and posting them online, except that often pictures are geotagged or taken in places that can be easily identified, putting them at risk in the physical world.
- ID Theft. As far as hackers are concerned, there are few things better than a clean identity with which they can signup for credit cards and services, and you don’t get cleaner than a child’s social security number.
No one is safe in the cyberworld, especially children. Even if you’ve talked to them about responsible online behavior or limiting their screen-time, their activity can be extremely difficult to manage when you are not there. And let’s face it, managing accessible content and screen-time isn’t easy when you are there.
Talking About Parental Controls
Research shows that there is a tendency among parents to act in their child’s best interests without necessarily talking to them about it. When it comes to parental controls, all the studies security experts have done show that this the wrong approach. When you’re ready to start putting controls in place, we recommend starting with an open and frank conversation where parents can discuss the control options they feel are necessary with their children.
Trust. There are not many parents who are more computer savvy than their kids. If children suddenly find themselves locked out of certain websites, losing access to the internet at a specific time, or unable to play a certain game, they are going to try to start troubleshooting. When they discover that parental controls are responsible, the first thing they will do is try to work around them. And then the battle begins.
This is a fight you will most likely lose.
If you talk to them about the controls, explaining your reasoning, and establishing some mutual trust, they will be less likely to rebel against your controls. And to give you a hand, here are some talking points to help.
Time Management. Children today have a lot of screens, and now we’re adding a screen for learning. Regulating how much time they spend in front of screens is important for their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Putting limits on when and how long children can use devices will seem terribly unfair, that’s why it’s important to talk to them about managing their time in front of screens and not just using it as a way to enforce a compulsory bedtime.
Device Monitoring. When children learn how to ride a bike, parents provide training wheels, helmets, and elbow pads. These things are there to protect them when parents aren’t there to hold the handlebars. Using the parental controls to set triggers for certain words will send alerts when any such messages are received, is much the same thing. Explaining to them that monitoring is a way for you to watch out for them, not to read every line of text will help to diffuse the “invasion of privacy” arguments later. This will also require you to have and maintain their account information and credentials, which is information that parents should have anyhow.
Location Tracking. We started with the three monitoring topics that get the most blowback. Not only is it vital that children understand the importance of not revealing their location on social media or anywhere else online, but they also need to know why it’s so important for parents to know their whereabouts, especially in cases of emergency. Having their location available at any time is one of the best ways to know that they’re safe.
Policing Games. Did you know that most games have chat systems, internet surfing capabilities, and in-game purchases? If you put your credit card in to pay the monthly fee and you’re not paying attention, they can go on in-game spending sprees. Beyond this, inappropriate content is often shared in these game chats and predators troll them, looking for vulnerable kids. Compared to some of the others, the discussion about the need to monitor game activity is a pretty easy one.
Manage Cyberbullying. Let’s face it, bullying of any kind is ugly. The goal of cyberbullies is to make people feel bad about themselves through mean comments and other content. We’ve seen the detrimental effect this has with a rise in the suicide numbers of children. In 2019 around 34% of kids in the United States experienced cyberbullying, and 62% of them did not tell their parents about it – those numbers are expected to increase year over year. Many children don’t recognize cyberbullying for what it is, but parental controls will provide insights that can go a long way in parents helping their children cope with it.
Virus Protection. Talking about internet safety with children is important, but they don’t always pay attention. Chances are high that a child will inadvertently invite malware into a home computer network. Explaining to them that the parental controls will help to prevent this by filtering out dangerous websites is a quick win, as it is difficult to argue.
Putting Parental Controls in Place
From reading through this, you’ve probably already figured out that there is no single solution with Parental Controls. Setting boundaries, talking them through, and encouraging responsible behavior in children is a critical first step, but it’s not enough. You can’t just talk about it, you have to also put the proper controls in place. Here are five steps we recommend that you take to make your home internet safer for your children:
- Use Controls on Every Device – phones, tablets, computers, game consoles, handheld games, if it has access to the internet and your child uses it, it should have parental controls. At this point, the vast majority of devices have built-in controls.
- Configure Home Network Controls – as mentioned, your internet service provider probably has parental controls available for free. I always recommend checking with the free controls first, and these most often allow you to manage when the internet is active and block certain categories of content. If you’re not sure, contact your internet service provider, they will be able to help you find them.
- Block Pop-Ups – this setting is available in every web browser, pop-ups are renowned for showing inappropriate content on accidental clicks, get rid of the risk by turning them off.
- Search Engine Controls – also available in every web browser, you can turn on the safe search settings and lock them to make searches more child friendly.
- Use the Privacy Settings – you have the ability to determine the type of advertising displayed to you on social media sites, on websites, and in media applications. Go into the privacy settings and select those that are family-friendly.
There are a ton of guides online about activating parental controls, one of the best is provided by Internet Matters. I recommend taking a look at their Safe Checklist and checking out the section devoted to setting parental controls on hundreds of devices that is pretty easy to use.
As always, if you’re not sure where to start or just want some help, give us a call.
I’ve always had a love of working with technology, being fortunate enough to have grown up with a grandfather who taught me how to fix things for myself and not be afraid to jump in and get my hands dirty. Over the last three decades, I’ve worked as a technician, trainer, technical writer, and manager in small business, enterprise organizations, and government. In addition, I’m an author, having published multiple works available online and in print. You can find my creative work at https://WritingDistracted.com