As a parent, your number one life priority is to keep your child safe. This has never been an easy task. But as the world gets more digital, open, and complicated, your kids are exposed to even more dangers. Keeping them safe is as hard as ever.
This isn't meant to scare. Just inform. We need to be serious about the real threat kids face and come up with solutions to prevent them.
Although it's true you will not be able to completely protect your child from danger, there are still plenty of things you can do, one of which is to make smart use of parental controls.
These allow you to responsibly monitor your kids' online behavior and also add a level of protection between them and the bad guys of the internet.
To help you keep your kids safe online, here is everything you need to know about parental controls.
Why Use Parental Controls: Key Stats Related to Kids Online
The phrase "parental controls" is cringeworthy to some. It conjures up images of obsessive helicopter parents spying on their children and making everything worse. But this is an unfair association.
Parental controls are a useful tool that makes it easier to keep kids safe from a variety of threats.
And there are a lot of threats:
While it's true parental controls won't eliminate online threats entirely, they will remove some of the more common threats and put your kids in a generally safer online environment.
What Are Parental Controls?
The name basically gives away the answer, but it's common to still be confused about what "parental controls" actually means. As in, what do they let you do?
The answer: quite a bit.
Here is a summary of the things you can do with the various parental control options out there:
· Filter content. You can block access to certain sites or you can filter content based on its substance, i.e. you can block things such as pornography, gambling, chat rooms, social media, etc. You can typically either do this on a network-wide basis or on a specific device.
· Restrict what is shared. You can take away access to the many share buttons that come embedded in most online content. In some cases, you can password protect sharing features, which means you can still do it but only after verifying your access.
· Set time limits. It's good for kids to be able to use the internet and explore some of their interests and talk to friends, but kids get into trouble when they spend hours and hours online, diving deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, where who knows what is waiting. Parental controls allow you to restrict how long your kids can spend online.
· Control the time of day for internet access. Similarly, you can decide which times of the day your kids will have internet access. You could turn it off during the day to ensure they get some physical activity and/or turn it off at night so they're not prowling the internet with the other weirdos out there at 2 am.
· Protect search results. Search engines have no filter...unless you establish one. This is easy to do (details below) and it will keep any inappropriate or potentially harmful content appearing on search results pages when your kid uses Google...or Bing...but probably Google.
· Block pop-ups. Pop-ups have been around since the birth of the internet, and they're still just as annoying as ever. Sometimes they can come from less-than-savory parts of the internet, and an inadvertent click from your child could be trouble. Pop-up blockers take care of most of this and keep your kid safe and you sane.
· Maintain privacy. Privacy is the big topic in the internet world these days, and for good reason. But while we grapple with the fact that so much of our data is owned and used by others, we need to do our best to keep our kids safe. All sites where you give your data have personal privacy settings that you can control and will add an extra layer of protection from cybercrime.
Combining these various controls and using them the right way will do wonders in keeping your kid safe online. Perhaps the only thing they don't protect from is cyberbullying, as this often occurs on platforms we consider to be safe and completely harmless.
But that's why it's important to accompany the use of any parental controls with a thoughtful and meaningful conversation with your child about how to stay out of trouble while using the internet.
How Parental Controls Keep Your Kids Safe
Parental controls allow you to do lots of things to monitor your kids' internet use in an attempt to keep them safe but how do these controls actually do that? What's the connection between what these controls do and the threats children face.
The way parental controls help you keep your kids safe is that they:
1. Limit your child's access to keep them away from inappropriate or risky content. Let's say your kid is reading an article on a legitimate sports website and he leaves a comment at the end to contribute to the discussion. He then gets involved in a longer, more in-depth conversation with another reader about his point and they both agree to move the chat to a better platform. The one talking to your kid posts a link to a chatroom. Your kid clicks on it...Access Denied. You've blocked chatrooms from your network, keeping your kid away from a conversation with a complete stranger in a dark corner of the internet. These controls also keep your kids away from any other type of site you wish to block.
2. Establish a healthy rapport with your child about the controls. Your child knows about the blocks, but he is frustrated he didn't get to continue his conversation. He comes and complains to you, and you explain to him the threat of speaking to someone like that without knowing them. From this conversation, your kid gains a better understanding of what's out there when he/she is out there exploring the cyber world.
3. Control what is shared. Your 14-year-old daughter is sitting up in her room on a Saturday afternoon. She's bored. Most of her friends aren't around, and there's not much to do around the house. To try and make something of the afternoon, she posts on Facebook saying, "Anyone around?" Next to it, she's left her phone number, and in the post, she's also tagged her location. Privacy setting: Public. This information is now out there. Parental controls can password protect share settings so that your kids don't unknowingly, or irresponsibly, give out compromising information.
4. Easily maintain them to ensure everyone is safe. Sometimes filters get things wrong and your kid needs to access a blocked site for a school project. You can enter your control panel, remove the filter and provide access to that site, and then put it right back. Or, you can simply grant access to that one website and leave the filter as it is.
5. Adjust for different profiles. You do not need to subject everyone in the house to the same controls.
A Few Things to Consider
While these parental controls are super useful and can help you keep your kids safe, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you use them.
First, you must talk to your kid about the controls at some point. You don't want your children to feel as though they're being punished, and you certainly don't want them to think they're missing out on something. And you want to avoid this becoming a trust thing.
Explain to them what the controls do and why they're on. If possible, mention how you have some of them yourself because you also want to stay safe. Use this as an opportunity to discuss good online habits so that your kid won't even be in a position where the parental controls were needed to keep them safe.
How To Set Up Parental Controls
If you're ready to start using parental controls, it's really simple. The first thing you need to remember is that there are a few different places where you need to go to establish parental controls. These are:
· Devices: phones, tablets, computers, videogame consoles, anything else with an internet connection.
· Networks: This is most likely your home internet connection. You can place controls there to cover the devices in your home and then use device controls for those that get connected elsewhere.
· Programs and applications: Many web-based programs, whether Google, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, etc, all have their own parental control settings that allow you to choose what content your kids see when they use the site.
The actual procedure for establishing all these parental controls is slightly different for each platform. Generally speaking, for programs and applications, you can find these settings inside your account profile page. That's usually at the top of the page, either in the right or left corner.
When setting controls for your home, you will need to access your router settings. Here's a resource that will help you do this and set the controls you want.
For devices, perform a search within the phone or tablet for parental controls. If you don't find anything, you may need to download an app onto the device. Some good ones include FamilyTime (Android and iOS), Qustodio (Android, iOS, Kindle, Nook), ESET Parental Control (Android), and Web Watcher (Android and iOS).
How to Use Parental Controls
The truth is parental controls give you quite a bit of power, and kids, especially teenagers and those about to enter the teenage years, don't like feeling as though they don't have any power. As a result, it's important you follow a sound process when implementing parental controls so that there are as few issues as possible.
Of course, the best thing to do is to have these controls be a part of life as your kid grows up. That way they're always safe and you can explain to them why they're there. But if you find yourself needing to establish them after not having done so, follow these steps:
Step 1: Figure out which ones you're going to use and why
Before you jump into a conversation about this with your kids, have a plan. If you go in without one, they might be able to talk you out of things of which you were previously convinced. Choose the controls you're going to use and have reasons why you're going to use them. This shows you have a plan and are acting not out of ill will but out of the child's best interest. This still might fall on deaf ears, but at least have a plan.
Step 2: Talk to your kids about it
Again, it's important to start this off with a helpful conversation. Get your kids involved and find out from them what they consider safe habits to be. This will give you an idea as to how digital street smart your kid is, which will inform how you use parental controls moving forward.
Step 3: Implement on your home, devices, and programs
We mentioned above the three different ways you can introduce parental controls. When it's time to put them into action, make sure you're doing so on all the relevant platforms. Set up SafeSearch on Google, update privacy settings on Facebook, change your router's settings, and so on.
Step 4: Monitor and keep an open dialogue with your kids
Stay in touch with your kids and keep the dialogue going. If your kids are repeatedly trying to access blocked sites, it will either show up on your router settings, or you kids will speak to you. This is a great opportunity to talk.
It may also happen that your kids find some controls too strict. For example, maybe you turn the internet off at a time when they genuinely need it for school. If this is the case, make an adjustment. This helps maintain trust and keeps the controls helping your kids instead of getting in the way.
Other Ways to Keep Kids Safe Online
Parental controls can go a long way towards helping you keep your kids safe online. But they won't stop every threat.
In the end, nothing really can. There are too many and new threats emerge every day. But there is more you can do to help your kids and to make the internet a safe place from them to study, work, and communicate with other people.
Here are some top tips for helping you keep your kids safe online:
Browsing in Public Spaces
If you have a family computer or tablet you use, make it a rule to only use it in public spaces. This is not to say you need to then spy on your children but if they are surrounded by other members of the family, they will be less likely to entertain risky interactions on the internet, whether sought out by them or brought upon by someone up to no good.
Of course, with phones, this gets a bit more difficult. You could establish a policy where phones get left in a common spot at night. But to get kids to buy into this you would need to follow this rule yourself, and this can be tough for some people. Yet if you really think it will make your kids safer, isn't that worth it?
We've mentioned this a few times already, but it's worth returning to it as there's no better thing you can do to promote your kids' safety than to help them become a safer individual. This means teaching them how to identify risks, what to do in the event they find themselves in a bad situation and ensuring they know who to talk to if there's an issue.
Make sure to ask your kids what they use the internet for. Who do they talk to? What sites do they visit? Kids might not be 100 percent honest right away, but you will be able to gauge from their reaction how well prepared they are for what's out there.
Try to make these types of conversations as regular as possible so that you can stay up-to-date with what your kid is doing online.
Encourage Good Habits
You also want to do your part to help your kids defend themselves. Make sure they have safe, secure passwords set up for all their accounts (and that they're not 1234), and if possible, get them to use different passwords for different accounts to make things even more secure.
If your kids are using social media, make sure their privacy settings are set to the most private setting. Explain to them why they need to do this.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to follow these practices as well. If your child sees you ignoring these guidelines, they won't take the threat seriously and they may wind up engaging in excessively risky behavior.
Hopefully, instead of feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the threats our children face online, you now feel prepared to take on these threats and give your kids the opportunity to enjoy the internet and all its meme glory.