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Parental controls

By Claire Nottage | Thursday, October 1st 2020

Kids are growing up with the internet and it now forms a huge part of their lives from a very early age. Parents are wise to look at keeping their child safe from the word go, whether they’re watching endless reruns of Peppa Pig on Netflix or spending hours perfecting the latest TikTok dance.

Parental controls are available with every broadband package and also with almost every device, app and game, meaning you can breathe easy when it comes to wondering what your child is up to online, since watching them 24 hours a day is simply not possible.

What are parental controls?

Parental controls allow you to control both what your child has access to online and for how long they have access to it. They can filter out inappropriate content, such as violence and pornography, limit what can be shared in terms of images or online conversations, and set screen time limits. Parental controls can be set at three different levels:

  • At network level – With your broadband provider
  • At device level – On your phone, tablet, games console or computer
  • At application level – Within browsers, apps, games and streaming services

Parental controls on your home broadband

These are the safety systems in place at the point at which the internet enters your home. These offer the broadest level of security and control since these settings will apply to all devices connected to your home wifi. They provide high-level filtering but are not able to provide detailed controls with specific limitations. Most popular broadband providers offer decent parental controls with their packages.

Parental controls on Virgin Media

Virgin Media uses its own custom security package called Web Safe, part of which is Child Safe – the parental controls aspect. When switched on, it automatically blocks a range of nasties, from pornography and violence to self-harm and depictions of drug use. It also offers further filters which can block sites relating to social media, gambling and weapons. You can create exceptions within these categories and block specific websites outside of these categories.

Parental controls on Sky Broadband

Sky offers a set of online safety tools called Sky Broadband Shield. It provides detailed controls on what comes into your home via the internet. You can block up to nine categories, including violence, pornography and self-harm as well as online dating, social networks and file-sharing. You can also create blanket restrictions by age, choosing from PG, 13 or 18. Within these restrictions you can also allow or block individual websites.

Parental controls on BT

'BT Parental Controls' has three predefined filter levels that you can choose from (strict, moderate and light) that will apply to any device connected. In addition to these blanket restrictions you can choose to allow or block individual sites. There is a timer facility that enables you to set the time of day that you want the filters to be active, as well as a homework function, so you can ensure the kids aren’t doing a few sneaky TikToks when they should be doing their maths.

Parental controls on TalkTalk

KidsSafe is the name of TalkTalk’s parental control software. Like Sky Broadband Shield, it offers nine categories you can choose to block, including gambling and alcohol, along with the ability to block or permit individual websites. Homework Time enables you to temporarily block sites that may stop your kids doing their school work, such as gaming sites and social media. This is preset to 4.30-6pm but you can change it to a time of your choice.

Parental controls on Plusnet

Plusnet’s parental control system, Safeguard, automatically blocks three categories: Pornography, Hate and Intolerance, and Tasteless. Beyond these, you can choose to block other groups of sites or up to 30 individual websites. Equally you can permit access to up to 30 websites that would otherwise be automatically blocked. The timer function means you can set Safeguard to only be active at certain times of the day.

Parental controls on Post Office Broadband

Post Office also uses Safeguard, and has a sub-section called KidsGuard which will automatically filter out the inappropriate stuff, plus any extra sites that you want to stop your kids from viewing. Homework Guard enables you to block access to social media and gaming sites at certain times of day to stop your kids being distracted from doing their homework.

Parental controls on your devices

While parental controls on your home broadband will offer a broad sweep of protection against inappropriate content being viewed on anything connected to your wifi, it is a good idea to also tighten up what can be seen at device level.

Parental controls on Apple products

Apple offers extensive controls across all its devices, from Macs to iPhones. On iMacs and MacBooks, parents can set limitations via Parental Controls located within System Preferences. As well as blocking inappropriate sites, parents can make use of the 'Screen Time' function to limit both what their children access and when – even down to specifying when they can access certain apps.

If your child has an iPhone, iPod or iPad, the parental controls are equally good. Within Settings, parents will need to set up a password unknown to their child so they can control what they wish their child to access on that device. You can choose to disable access to Safari, Facetime or Siri along with a range of other options simply by ticking the boxes shown.

You can also choose to either limit by age or block access to iTunes, the App Store and Apple Music. When it comes to downloading apps, the 'Send Request' function is ideal, requiring the parent to approve (or not) the app before the child can download it. You can also restrict multiplayer gaming, volume levels and data usage – a truly comprehensive range of controls.

Parental controls for Samsung phones and tablets

For younger children, Samsung offers Kids Mode as its online safety feature. By setting a PIN on your child’s Galaxy tablet or phone, you can enable Kids Mode and relax in the knowledge that they will only be able to access completely safe content ideal for youngsters. You can also control which apps they can use as well as setting time limits for screen time.

Parental controls for devices running Microsoft Windows

Microsoft offers Microsoft Family Safety that features comprehensive protection for the whole family. You can block inappropriate content, set screen time limits, locate your kids when they are out and also receive activity reports on a weekly basis so you can see exactly which apps and games your children have been looking at – and for how long. To use Microsoft Family Safety you will need to have a Microsoft account and use Microsoft Edge as your web browser.

Parental controls on Games consoles

Xbox consoles

For households with an Xbox One, parents will need to download the Xbox Family Settings app. The app enables parents to set time limits on gaming and also control which games your child is playing. It can also be used to review incoming friend requests on your child’s console and require parental permission – so you can keep close tabs on who your child is interacting with online.

Sony PlayStation consoles

Parents of PlayStation gamers have access to comprehensive parental controls in the Family Management settings. You can set age restrictions for both downloadable games and Blu-Ray discs and DVDs, set time limits, disable online chat and block browser access so your child cannot use the PlayStation for surfing. Crucially, you can also set up monthly expenditure limits, so you won’t be presented with any shock bills for Fortnite skins.

Nintendo Switch consoles

The Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app helps parents keep a very close watch on their children gaming time via their phone or other smart device. The app enables parents to set time limits on gaming and sends an alert when the allowed time is up. You can also set it to automatically interrupt the game if necessary. The app also offers the option to limit in-game chat, restrict game downloads by age-rating and control expenditure in the Nintendo e-shop.

Controls on browsers, apps and streaming services

This offers the tightest level of control over precisely what your child can have access to, whether they spend their time on social media such as TikTok and Instagram, watch endless videos on YouTube, or spend hours gaming. It can also prevent automatic payments, ensuring you are not suddenly faced with a huge bill for movies, music or games. Within the settings of each application you will find a selection of options that controls what can be seen.

Parental controls for Google

Google offers a whole swathe of parental controls and protection to its users. Chief among these is the Google Family Link app. By downloading it onto your phone and also onto your child’s device, you can control what your child has access to, from websites to apps, check their location (if they have a device with a SIM card) and set time limits.

If your child uses Chrome, you can set further limitations within the browser itself by turning on Safesearch to filter out any explicit results. You can also block certain sites but will need a browser extension called BlockSite.

Google Play has its own parental controls where you can select the content you are happy for your child to download, from music to movies. The selections you make are locked by a PIN so there is no way for your son or daughter to get around them.

Social media

Every parent’s nightmare and every child’s delight, the various social media apps absorb older children for hours and it can be worrying not knowing exactly what they are looking at or how to control it. Short of blocking the apps at a higher level, there are certain restrictions that you can install.

Tiktok now offers Digital Wellbeing, where parents can set screen time and activate restricted mode on their child’s handset, and also Family Pairing, which enables parents to pair their account with their child's and thereby disable direct messaging, turn on restricted mode and set screen time, all without their child being able to change it.

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat do not offer specific parental controls but there are several options to limit the content that can be seen. By setting the accounts to ‘private’, you can ensure that your child’s posts cannot be seen by everyone and they can choose to accept or deny follow requests. Unfortunately none of these settings come with passcode protection so your child can easily just change them back.

Video streaming services

Netflix enables parents to create a separate account for their son or daughter and limit it to only show content with PG and Kids ratings. However, if you also have an adult account set to include all maturity levels, your child can easily switch account and be unprotected.

NOW TV offers the option of creating a Parental PIN, which automatically restricts younger viewers by age rating from watching anything inappropriate. Any shows or movies they select that are beyond that age restriction will require the parental PIN before they will play.

Amazon Prime has a section dedicated to kids, and its parental controls offer the ability to limit what your child watches both by age rating and by device, and also lock these choices with a PIN, offering greater security than some streaming services.

Along with all the gamer videos and the funny pet stuff, YouTube unfortunately also contains an awful lot of inappropriate and weird videos you would not want your child to watch. As a starter, parents are advised to switch on Restricted Mode, but be aware that certain imagery may still appear in search results even though the video itself will be blocked.

Frequently asked questions

Do parental controls work?

Parental controls work best alongside regular chats about internet safety, especially for those in their teens who may be pushing back against parental limitations in general. Younger children who are happy to watch Paw Patrol for hours are more easily protected. It’s also worth remembering that older children may well be able to access content on friends’ devices that are beyond your control, so the importance of open conversation is paramount.

Which streaming service offers the best parental controls?

Amazon Prime offers lockable parent controls which affords parents greater peace of mind when it comes to what your child is watching than other services whose settings do not have a passcode and can easily be switched back.

Are third-party parental controls any good?

Net Nanny, Qustodio, Screen Time and Norton Family all offer third-party parental controls that can be applied to any device you wish. Note that some of them are free, and some are not. Also be aware that it may not always be possible to run them in addition to your home broadband security, which will most likely offer comparable protection.

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