Mel Knibb, a busy Mum of four, shares her experience of using parental controls and highlights the importance of having a conversation about what kids are doing online to ensure they stay safe.
With four children aged 3, 5, 7 and 9, the Internet is a constant in the Knibb family. “At the moment all the children have their own Nintendo devices, and they share an iPad for games and Minecraft,” says Mel. “They also all tend to use my phone sometimes for games, and to watch video on Netflix or YouTube.”
Struggles with parental controls
At the moment, Mel has made the decision not to use any parental controls software, although she has previously tried a couple of products from Kaspersky and Kidslox. “I think parental controls are useful in theory, but they only work when children are using just their own device,” she says. “Because the children share, and use my devices, we haven’t found them practical.”
Mel also feels that these products can be complex to set up, or glitchy to use. “When we did try using parental controls, they tended to do things like block me from using my own phone for ages, or set up so that I’d find I couldn’t make phone calls,” she explains. “Another time, we set it up to allow the kids to have 30 minutes of screen time but we couldn’t work out how to increase it when they asked!”
Using conversations to keep kids safe online
Rather than relying on tools, Mel and her husband prefer to focus on talking to the kids. “They understand that screen time should be limited and what they see needs to be monitored, for their own safety,” says Mel.
Software companies could help by having more simple instructions and guides on how to set up tools on shared devices or for different children, says Mel. “We didn’t grow up with these tools or issues, so it’s something we need guidance on,” she says. “In just the same way that the NHS is giving parents advice on snacking, I think parents need support to help their children be protected online.”
For now, Mel relies on regular chats with her children about important rules for using the Internet. This is often part of a broader conversation about what’s appropriate as a whole, whether that’s online or offline. “It’s also about trusting children to chat to us should they stumble on anything inappropriate.”
At the moment the children are not allowed to download anything, and Mel herself says that she doesn’t have anything downloaded to her devices that wouldn’t be appropriate for the children to see. This means there isn’t any need to set up parental control on the specific devices. But as the children grow older and have their own devices, it’s likely to be more of an issue. “I’d love to find parental controls that work well on my phone and iPad,” she says.
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