What are they?
Parental controls are designed to help protect children from inappropriate content online, such as pornography or other adult content. These controls can be used in a number of ways, e.g. to help ensure that your children access only age-appropriate content; to set usage times; and to monitor activity.
There are four main places you can find parental controls, and it can help to set-up a combination of these:
- Internet provider: You can set up filters to help block access to inappropriate content on any device that connects to your home WiFi.
- Mobile operator: Filters are often automatically set up on mobile contracts, especially if the user is under the age of 18, but you can double-check with your provider.
- Devices: Many devices have parental control settings, for example, to help restrict spending in apps, reduce screentime, or disable location functions.
- Online Services: Sites like BBC iPlayer and YouTube have parental control settings to help restrict access to inappropriate content.
Where do I begin?
Decide what's right for your family
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When it comes to your family's technology use, creating a family agreement is a great place to start, and allows you to have conversations about setting boundaries. It's important that you involve yourself in your child's online world, so as a simple starting point you could ask them what their favourite websites / games are, and why they like them. The filtering options that you put in place may also change over time, as your children get older and more independent, and their technology use changes too. If appropriate, these could be reviewed as a family, and form part of your agreement.
Check your settings regularly
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As children grow up, they can become accomplished users of technology and may learn how to disable or bypass the parental controls in place. Talk to your children from the outset about why the settings are there, and the importance of respecting them. Regularly checking the filtering on your family's devices could also form part of your agreement.
Give your children the skills they need
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It’s worth being aware that no parental controls or filtering options are guaranteed to be 100% effective. They are a very useful tool to improve the quality of your online experiences but, because they cannot offer a 'complete' solution, it is essential to talk with your children about their online activities - so they know what to do if they encounter inappropriate content. Giving your child age-appropriate strategies to deal with this will be very beneficial to them - e.g. from simply turning over the tablet / phone and going to get an adult, to making a report online using official reporting channels.
Understand the limitations
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If you have parental controls from your internet provider on your home WiFi, these will not cover the use of 3G, 4G or 5G at home. Similarly, if your child goes to a friend's house where there are no controls in place, they may be able to access unrestricted content. For these reasons, it’s important to educate your child about the potential risks online, and establish rules concerning the sites that are suitable, or inappropriate, to visit. Honest and open conversations are key, so working together to create a 'safe' envorinment at home where your child knows they can open up to you, will be incredibly beneficial if they have seen anything inappropriate online and need to talk about it.
Show me how:
If you have bought a new device for your child, have a look at the manual that came with it as these normally contain information on how to install parental controls. You could also type the name of the device plus the words 'parental controls' into a search engine, e.g. ‘Nintendo Switch + parental controls’. This can help you to find how-to guides and useful video tutorials. This can also be done at any time on existing devices, if you did not put anything into place during the first time set-up.
These free practical guides from Internet Matters will show you how to set up parental controls (on your home broadband, mobile networks, smartphones and other devices including games consoles, search engines, entertainment services and social media), and provide help with many filtering options - including how to: set time and age limits, block certain content, lock settings with a password or PIN and activate restricted modes where available.