Keeping on top of what your kids do online
As any parent knows it can be a real challenge controlling children’s device use, if it’s not the amount of time spent on screens, it’s what they’re doing or seeing online.
And for good reason. According to a Netsafe report, 7 in 10 teens in New Zealand experienced at least one type of unwanted digital communication in 2018 with nearly 2 in 10 (19%) having a negative impact on their daily activities as a result. The most common consequences they reported were being unable to participate online as they used to, and to go to school or study.
That’s where parental controls can help. There are three main types of controls to help filter, restrict and control the content children can access:
- Network controls, set on the hub or modem from your ISP (Internet Service Provider), which apply to all devices connected in the household.
- Device controls, which can be set in the device, such as laptop, iPad or smartphones.
- Platform or application controls, which can be set directly on the application settings, such as YouTube or Google
When we talk about network controls, this refers to your internet network in your home rather than the broader network infrastructure that companies like Chorus provides to keep Kiwis connected to the internet.
Some internet service providers offer in-home network controls on the Wi Fi equipment they provide. Spark offers its customers Net Shield, a free internet filtering tool, and Vodafone has a tutorial on how to set up parental controls on their modems. It’s also included in some broadband packages. If you're not with an ISP that offers controls as part of their service, there are lots of other options out there, with software like NetNanny, SafeSurfer, Kaspersky Safe Kids, as well as hardware such as Clean Router.
Some mesh systems which boost Wi Fi coverage in your home also have parental controls included.
Parental controls on a device are mainly built in via the operating systems. The most common for mobile phones and tablets are Apple and Android – the latter being accessed via the Google Play store app.
If you’re kids are at school there’s also a free safety filter created by Network for Learning and the Ministry of Education, called Switched on Safety.
It blocks access to a range of websites known to be unsafe and inappropriate for learning (including adult websites and scam websites).
Platform/ Application controls
Messenger Kids: This platform is a version of Facebook Messenger specifically designed for young people aged 6-12. It allows kids to video chat and message friends and family, with a variety of parental controls to help parents manage the environment.
YouTube and YouTube Kids: YouTube offers a restricted mode that screens out potentially mature content. YouTube Kids is designed for people aged 3-12. It includes a variety of parental controls, including content age bands and the ability to block certain videos or channels.
Netflix: You can block certain shows, create profiles with a specific maturity rating, turn autoplay off, and see the viewing history of a profile using Netflix’s parental controls.
Social media apps – when it comes to using social media, the biggest risk relates to the fact people can steal or misuse information, pictures, videos and messages children share online. That’s why privacy settings are key. Netsafe offers great advice for the following apps Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, and Reddit on how best to make the most of the privacy settings for each.
As outlined above there’s no shortage of parental controls options available to help you monitor what your kids do online. For more support in this space, Netsafe has all sorts of resources and advice you can tap into and it’s worth taking the time to do so.
When you do, don’t forget the value of good old-fashioned rules in the household too, such as:
- No devices in the bedrooms
- Designated device-free time zones – meal times, during face-to-face discussion – or flip it and have designated device time zones.
- Limit screen time to a certain amount a day (there are apps for this as well).
- No devices 1 hour before bed (whether you have put a blue light filter on or not).
Like any rules though, they require consistency and communication to build trust with your kids and it pays to practice what you preach!