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What to look for in a Parental Controls App

What to look for in a Parental Controls App
Mike is not just the Helpdesk Team Manager, he is also a dad. He offers up advice on the best parental controls to keep kids safe online.

 

When I was a child, ensuring I stayed safe in the world meant looking left and right before crossing the road and not talking to strangers. These days though our children are often in more danger sat in their bedrooms than I was defying my parents and playing on a river bank or building site. Unfortunately, the naivety and sense of invulnerability that has always been a gift to the young, hasn’t altered with the changing world. So, as parents we need to help keep our children safe whilst they learn to navigate the modern digital world.

Helping to keep them safe at first means restricting what they can do and what they can see. Younger children are not able to understand the dangers in the same way that a teenager or adult might and so we need to be very strict with our control. Our emphasis needs to be on blocking and controlling what they can do and these two concepts are at the heart of all Parental Control apps.

Firstly, the Internet should be locked down to only allow what you would like them to see. The majority of Parental Control apps use a category system for filtering the internet. This classifies sites as Violence, Adult, Guns, Alcohol, Social, Gambling, etc. and allows you to block or allow individual categories. One thing to be aware of is that a lot of apps use a database to identify sites in each category, then block them globally. This is inflexible and doesn’t allow for say a casino advert on a site classified in your safe list. The better apps such as Net Nanny, Qustodio, Kaspersky Safe Kids and Norton Family Premier filter more flexibly by using heuristics to check each site as its accessed, blocking if it seems inappropriate. For example, a site about glass making would open OK. But if you had alcohol blocked and there was a page about beer bottles you wouldn’t be able to see that page.

When choosing a Parental Control app make sure the internet filter has the ability to block or allow individual sites as well as the categories. This will allow you to block everything and just let the Disney Frozen pages through! You should also make sure it can filter HTTPS sites. More and more websites are using HTTPS for increased security.

The second thing you want to be able to do is control their use of a device. This falls into two areas, the ability to control time and the ability to control applications. With younger children, you may want to restrict the amount of time they can use a device to a few hours a day. Those hours should also be restricted within certain time periods preventing them from say playing their favourite game at 2:00 in the morning!

Many of the Parental Control apps also allow you to restrict which apps on a device are available to your child. Often this can be done globally using an age based rating systems; but you should be able to manually restrict individual applications as well. Qustodio, Kaspersky and Norton will also let you apply daily time limits to applications.

Although it can be difficult at times, with younger children the best prevention is often the word “no”. Games are age rated appropriately on their content and despite their protestations we know that allowing a 10-year-old to play a game designed for an 18-year-old is going to expose them to content they are not old enough to understand or deal with. Similarly, social media sites place an age restriction on joining to help keep children less able to understand the dangers safe.

As our children get older though, they have more understanding, are more able to reason and will be able to make more informed decisions. As such parental controls for older children will become more about monitoring their activity in order to guide and teach.

The web filtering and time controls are still at the heart of your safety measures. However, applications such as Kaspersky, Net Nanny, Qustodio and Norton allow you to set warnings as well as block and allow. With web filtering, a category set to warn will show a page suggesting the site shouldn’t be opened, but will allow it at the click of a button. This means you are still able to block categories such as adult orientated material, but let your child make up their own mind about others. Of course, by using the monitoring features and setting alerts, you will know when they have overridden the warning and be able to discuss it with them.

As a child gets older they accumulate more devices and start to communicate with friends in different ways. This is where the additional features of Parental control apps start to come into their own. To start with you will need to have an app that is able to work across all your child’s devices. It should provide the same level of safety on all of them and be controlled from one location. It is also useful to be able to apply time limits across all devices rather than individually. Apps such as Net Nanny and Qustodio allow you to set usage limits shared by all devices; preventing your child from just switching between them when time runs out on one.

More and more in the news we hear about children being groomed and bullied through social media and text. For me one of the most important things for keeping my son safe is the ability to monitor his social media accounts, texts and calls. Even though he is very sensible, he hasn’t had chance to gain the life experience we have to spot when something isn’t right. To help and guide him, the monitoring will be done openly and with his full knowledge and understanding. He needs to trust that we aren’t spying on him, but helping to keep him safe. Not an easy task with any teenager! As well as allowing you to monitor calls and texts, apps such as Qustodio will let you block numbers too.

There are unfortunately a limited number of apps that include social media controls. The ones that do all cover Facebook, but with ever changing trends in social media I would look for one that covers more options such as Net Nanny Social. This app also has the most comprehensive set of features for monitoring and identifying threats to your child. The majority of other apps such as Kaspersky and Qustodio require an app to be installed on a device and will then provide monitoring information on posts, friends, photos, videos etc.

Finally knowing where your child’s phone is can reassure you that they are where they should be. Kaspersky provides device location and a geofencing feature that allows you to set areas and times your child should be there. You receive an alert if the phone moves outside those areas. Qustodio allows you to locate your child’s phone and also provides them with a panic button to get hold of you quickly in an emergency.

As you can see there is a lot to think about when considering how to keep your child safe. I have decided not to recommend one specific app because each child is different and so the features important to you will be different. However, all the apps I have mentioned will do an excellent job at keeping your child safe. In addition to the features above don’t forget to consider the monitoring and alerts, making sure the app you chose gives you the information you need and alerts you in the way you want.

The apps I have mentioned can be downloaded from these links.

Qustodio Free and Premium plans for up to five, and up to 10 users and devices
https://www.qustodio.com/en/

Kaspersky Safe Kids Free and Premium plan:
https://www.kaspersky.co.uk/safe-kids

Net Nanny 1 Device, Family Pass five Devices, and Family Pass 10 Devices
https://www.netnanny.com/

Net Nanny Social
https://www.netnanny.com/products/net-nanny-social/

Norton Family Premier 30 day free trial and subscription
https://family.norton.com/web/

 

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