Parental controls

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 children access only age-appropriate content; to set usage times; and to monitor activity. Helping to empower parents with the skills and knowledge needed to protect their children at home, is very beneficial. 

There are four main places you can find parental controls, and it can help if families 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.

What resources can I share with parents?

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

Where are the limitations of parental controls?

  • 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 children from the outset about why the settings are there, and the importance of respecting them, is key.
  • 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 online experiences but, because they cannot offer a 'complete' solution, it is essential to talk with children about what to do if they encounter inappropriate content. Giving 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. 
  • Parental controls from your internet provider on your home WiFi will not cover the use of 3G or 4G at home. Similarly, if a 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 children about the potential risks online. Honest and open conversations are key, so working together to create a 'safe' envorinment at home, or school, where children know they can be listened to without fear of judgement or reprisals, will be incredibly beneficial - especially if they have seen anything inappropriate online and need to talk about it.