The Internet has been a godsend for parents and kids – homework projects have never been easier to research, you can track your child’s progress at school through various ClassDojo-style apps, and thanks to iPlayer and YouTube there’s always something for kids to watch when they’re bored. But along with all the good stuff, there are risks, especially as they get older. Not only is too much screen-time clearly bad for children, but a connected device is a bit like an open doorway in your home, and there are people out there you don’t want anywhere near your kids. Not to mention the cases of cyberbullying that have sprung up recently.
You need to strike a workable balance between how much freedom you’re giving your child and how safe you want them to be.
So, how do you keep your kids safe but still able to enjoy the best the Internet has to offer? It’s a tricky subject because like life itself, the Internet is a balancing act. You need to strike a workable balance between how much freedom you’re giving your child and how safe you want them to be. Teenagers probably know more about their home PC than you do, so what you definitely don’t want to do is set a few filters then let your kids loose on the Internet without ever checking on them again because they will find someway to circumvent whatever barriers you set up. At the same time you don’t want young children accidentally seeing or hearing something they shouldn’t.
Most PCs, smartphones and tablets come with parental controls, so that should be where you start. It’s worth investigating what settings your device comes with, because most parents are guilty of never even looking at them! Depending on your device you can do things like limit the number of hours kids can access the Internet, which apps they can use, block inappropriate websites and set what time bedtime is.
When it comes to PCs you can install 3rd party software that goes even further than the built-in parental controls. These set up filters to catch any inappropriate words that are being used, regardless of the app being used and block access to dodgy websites. Some names to look out for are Net Nanny (paid for), McAffee Internet Security (again, paid for) and Qustodio (which is free).
One thing we’d suggest you watch out for on all platforms however is YouTube; it’s loved by kids, but it’s riddled with bad language. If you look in the Settings on YouTube you can find a filter setting. Set this to ‘Strict’ and it will remove any video that has bad language or violent content. On tablets you could remove the YouTube app entirely and install the YouTube Kids app instead, which has its filter permanently set to ‘Strict’, but isn’t as fully-featured as the full app. Check out our list of the best mobile apps for parents here.
Another hidden danger you need to be aware of is the chat feature in online games. There have been a few scandals involving some of them, like the popular Roblox, where kids have been sent creepy messages. But there are things you can do to prevent this happening, like turning on safe chat and filtering. Find out how here. They also publish a parents guide.
But when it comes to Internet safety, filters and parental controls aren’t always the answer. They won’t stop your child becoming involved in online bullying, for example. The real Internet safety is found in simple things like having a conversation with your kids about their Internet use. Talk to them. Find out if they ever feel victimised online, and ask them if they’ve ever found themselves in situations that made them feel uncomfortable. As with so much in life, it’s good communication that is the key to success and rather than applying a one size fits all solution. Finding a way that works for you and your family is the way forward.
Graham is Editor-in-Chief of MacFormat magazine, the UK’s best-selling Apple magazine. He lives in Bristol with his wife, two children, four iPads, one Apple TV, four iPhones and five Macs. He’s no longer sure what the order of priority he should list those things in is any more.
Follow Graham on Twitter @gbarl