What is the best way to use parental controls to protect my child online?

Parental controls can be used as a safety net to protect your child from content they are not ready to see but it’s best to make sure they know ‘why’ these are being used. Our experts give insights on ways you can make the most of them by getting children bought in.

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, Esq

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, Esq

Law professor and Digital Parenting Expert

Expert Website

What is the best way for parents to use parental controls and privacy settings to keep kids safe online? 

If parents are having regular conversations with their children about their use of the internet, technology and social media, it is much easier to demonstrate the benefits of parental controls and privacy settings.  Parents can explain that they want their children to be able to explore and learn online, but that there must be balance and boundaries.

Parental controls may be useful in helping parents – and their children – find that balance.

Parental control software and apps are a technical support with functionalities ranging from time, activity and content restrictions to monitoring and tracking tools.  Depending on the age and maturity of a child, certain parental controls may be more appropriate than others.

Parental controls can be very useful for some parents, but they should be considered as just one measure of prevention and protection. Children still need to be able to explore the internet, technology and social media in order to take advantage of online opportunities, encounter risks and build resilience.

Parental control tips

Parents can introduce parental controls into their everyday family life by involving children in their application and use.

Parents can show what the control will limit and block and explain why it is important.

Consider first, how you can be the ‘parental control’ with regular involvement in your child’s digital life.

Ask “how was your day today,” followed by “how was your online day” today, or some similar variation.

Remember that many technical parental controls can be circumvented by a simple online search for “how to disable parental controls”.

Parental controls can be appropriate at different times of a child’s development – and especially as parents’ guide their children in the development of executive functioning and self-regulation skills.

Remember that parental controls are only good on your child’s device and will not restrict content viewed from a classmates’ device.

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Andy Robertson

Andy Robertson

Freelance games expert

Expert Website

What is the best way to use parental controls with the children’s cooperation?

The best parent controls, like those on the Switch or the Circle with Disney device, give parents easy visibility of their children’s online activity and not just ways to lock it down. This means that a healthier perspective on parental controls is not as a tool to restrict dangers but as the first step towards a deeper conversation with children about what limits are appropriate and helpful.

To apply any parental controls effectively you need to understand how games are played by your children, and where they may be vulnerable. Playing games together as a family not only lets you get to grips with this but also mitigates some of the risks.

As you engage with different gaming content, a little research goes a long way. Use sites like the Video Standards Council or the newsletters I offer on Patreon to gain a broader understanding of the dangers and opportunities that gaming content presents.

From here you are in a position to agree an intelligent and layered approach to the parental settings. This means you can apply parental controls for specific users that relate to the different ages of users in your family. You can also apply limits based on time of day as well as who else might be in the room with the current player.

Whatever approach you take, play games together with your children, research the parental settings available on your devices and agree limits with the whole family. This is sure to establish safe and sensible gaming habits in your children.

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Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, Esq

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, Esq

Law professor and Digital Parenting Expert

Expert Website

How can parents encourage children to see privacy settings as a positive thing, rather than a restrictive method to block content they may be curious to see?

Parents can and should encourage their children to see that privacy settings are a positive thing that will protect the child’s digital identity and reputation.  One way to help children understand privacy is to have them imagine that post, image, text or tweet placed on a billboard and set in the middle of the schoolyard for everyone to see.  Privacy settings can also provide an additional layer of protection and prevent children from receiving inappropriate content.

Privacy settings tips

Never give more information that the site needs to create an account

Just because you can post to the public, doesn’t mean that you should

Social media refine privacy settings so check in regularly

Your child’s school should have appropriate privacy settings in school software and resources as well

Perform regular privacy check-ups by reviewing all devices, including your own

Get into the habit of checking the safety centres on social media platforms and websites

Remind your children that even if they use privacy settings and restrict to their friends only, that their friends can still share that information in other ways. A better rule of thumb is to not post inappropriate content and images in the first place.

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What can parents do if their children are rebelling against the use of parental controls and privacy settings on their devices? 

Setting boundaries is an important part of parenting, and while being supportive and nurturing comes easy to most parents, the setting of boundaries often feels a bit more difficult.

From bedtimes and curfews to the more modern issues of tech use, privacy settings and parental controls, ensuring that you strike the right balance of support and guidance is key to helping your kids develop the skills they need to navigate the world around them.

Indeed, rules and routines that are set and monitored by parents create predictability in a child’s life. Predictability reduces uncertainty, and that reduces anxiety- and in this tech fuelled world this is key.   So if your child is rebelling against rules that you’ve set on their device then following these steps might help:

Explain why boundaries are important:

Talk to your child about the fact you are not doing this to make their lives more difficult but rather because like any new behaviour that they engage in you need to ensure that they are safe and protected while doing it.

Discuss why you have decided on this particular set of rules: 

Your child is much more likely to follow a set of rules if they understand them.  Talk through the reasons why you are using privacy settings and parental controls, give real-world examples that they can relate to and invite them to ask questions- the more involved and listened to they feel the more likely they’ll be to respect the rules you are setting out.

Clarify that as they grow things will change: 

In the same way that when they first rode a bike they rode a tricycle and then they had training wheels and only then did they ride a 2 wheeler on their own- explain that as they get older and show you that they are responsible and capable online that you will revisit and adapt these rules- knowing that their freedom on devices is contingent on how responsible they are in the way they use them will motivate them to engage with boundaries around use.

And finally, maintain empathy for them: 

Try and remember how it was for you to be a kid, make a point of expressing empathy and talking about your struggles and mistakes. You may not have had the internet growing up but no doubt your parents  would have put restrictions on phones or outings that you didn’t agree with – so acknowledge your child’s feelings saying things like  “I remember feeling that way,“ or “I made similar choices.”  Ultimately, kids want to know that someone understands where they are coming from and if you do – even if they might disagree with you, they are more likely to acknowledge your point of view too.

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