Using Parental Controls to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

“Don’t talk to strangers on the internet, they’ll try to kidnap you!” 

As kids who grew up at the same time that the internet was coming into its own, we heard things like this constantly from our parents. Don’t  put your real name on the internet, never give out personal information, and don’t respond to requests from people you don’t know in real life. 

child uses tablet, parental controls online

A lot of us ignored that advice and spent a lot of time in chat rooms telling complete strangers our A/S/L (age/sex/location), or at least pretending to. There were no parental controls, no ‘safe search’ settings, and pop-ups were a constant annoyance. We chatted with strangers on AIM and made internet friends on myspace, thinking we were old enough to stay out of trouble. 

Kids these days are often given an iPad before they take their first steps. They grow up taking technology for granted as a part of everyday life. So how do you teach them about internet safety and making good choices online? Parents turn to parental controls to keep their kids away from potential internet threats. 

Types of Parental Controls

So where do you start? There’s a couple of different types of parental controls to look at when setting restrictions for your kids – 

  • Filtering and blocking restrictions limit access to specific websites,  and filter out certain words or images. Kids search for some crazy things, and can easily stray into the less kid-friendly parts of the internet. Options like Safe Search keep potentially unsafe content from showing up in the first place.
  • Blocking outgoing content helps keep your kids from putting sensitive or personal information out online. Once it’s online, you can’t get it back, and being able to keep them from sharing it can save you a lot of headaches.  
  • Time Limits let you determine how long your kids should be online for, and at what times of the day. Even adults have a hard time limiting our screen time, how can we expect our kids to? Setting and discussing time limits helps avoid the “five more minutes” fight and gives kids a chance to decide when and how they want to spend their screen time. 
  • Monitoring tools allow your kids to explore online, but keep you informed on where they’re going and what they’re looking at.We want to be able to trust our kids, but it never hurts to keep an eye on them, especially online. MOnitoring tools can send you alerts when your kids venture out of the kind-friendly realm, or help you keep track of what they’re posting on social media. 

These settings can be made directly on phones or tablets, through your mobile provider, or in our case, your wireless provider! You can apply them to TV’s, laptops, or any device that connects to the internet. You can go directly through sites like Google Chrome or Youtube, or use a parental control software app like Bark or Family Time. 

young boy sits at table using tablet, parental controls

Talk to Your Kids About Internet Safety

In addition to restricting content, it’s important to teach children how to navigate the internet to help stop problems before they happen. 

  • Careful What You Share: Information that gets put out online stays online, so it’s important to show kids how ‘oversharing’ can happen and why it can be bad. Setting family guidelines about what information is ok to share helps set rules for kids to follow.

As an example, try googling yourself and looking at the results together. Maybe your high school honor roll comes up, or maybe your resume, but whatever it is, be sure to point out how it got there, and how easy it was to find. 

  • Phishing for Information: Children and older adults are the top targets for phishing attempts, but children don’t know how to look for sketchy email addresses or grammatical mistakes. By teaching them to recognize common scams, like someone asking for credit card information, you can prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands.
  • Password Creation: Silly passwords are fun and easy to make, but they aren’t usually secure. A password like ‘ihateschool’ is easy for hackers to break, and even hidden or private information can be revealed. 

Having a base password like A@ronS! (Aaron’s) with a specific detail to determine which account it belongs to, like A@ronS!T@b (Aaron’s Tablet) help’s keep passwords strong but easy to remember. And don’t forget to log out of devices and accounts when you’re done! This will keep friends and siblings from posting embarrassing statuses or releasing information. 

  • Questions? Talk about it!: If your kids find anything online that they aren’t sure about or that makes them uncomfortable, they can come to you. Walk them through what they found, and it’s not appropriate, figure out how to stay away from it in the future. 

The internet is a fun, educational place for kids to explore and learn, but it can quickly turn dangerous. Parental controls help limit the content your kids can access and keep them from sharing personal information online. 

Once you’ve decided what kind of limits you want to set, don’t forget to talk to your kids about why you put the controls in place! Teaching them safe internet practices build a strong foundation of internet-savvy to build onto as they get older and restrictions change. 

Whatever route you choose to take with parental controls, keeping your kids safe online is always the top priority!