Keeping Kids Safe Online: Parental Controls

Parental Controls - keeping kids safe online

Kids of all ages delight in smart phones, tablets, game systems, computers and probably other items we’re not even aware exist. Sure, screens can be fun and educational, but as a parent of any age child knows, they can also cause problems. What do parents need to do to keep kids safe online?

First of all, we know that electronic devices are addictive – both to adults and children. Limiting screen use is important, so that “play” doesn’t get in the way of school (or work), exercise, chores, family time and experiential play out in the real world. Then there’s the problem of unsuitable content. If we’re not careful, we might find just about anything on a screen in front of kids in our own living rooms!

Some people argue that the only way to really have control over children’s screen use is to buy a safe and lock the offending devices inside. But if you’re just not quite ready to go to that extreme, Common Sense Media has published a guide to finding what you need to keep your kids safe online.

It’s wonderful to think that there’s a magical piece of software out there to supervise screen usage. However, in reality, a great deal of parental device management is training kids to self-regulate. Yes, it can take a long time and mistakes will be made – but remember, failure is an opportunity to learn. Even more important than training kids is modeling good behavior ourselves. Breaking away from our own devices to spend quality time with our children can be incredibly valuable – even if it’s for a group game of Minecraft.

Here are three ideas from Common Sense Media that give us hope that developing a happy relationship between electronic devices and children isn’t an impossible task:

  1. Kids learn in all different ways – even when online or playing electronic games. What we’re trying to do is to support kids’ learning, not shut it down. With that in mind, finding the fine line between too much control and too little is no simple matter.
  2. Just like all areas of parenting, it’s crucially important to set clear expectations, be consistent, and talk about what our kids are doing and why we’re doing what we’re doing to keep them safe.
  3. Lastly, buying a parental control system isn’t enough. There’s also learning about it, setting it up, testing it out, making sure it isn’t hacked (from inside or outside a home network) and following through to see that it continues to function correctly.

Here’s how to jumpstart that happy relationship: there are lots of free and easy controls available for devices that many of us already own. Combine mastery of one of those with talking to kids about why it’s important not to get stuck to a screen for too long and consider that progress. It’s also a good idea to set limits on device usage and provide engaging, age-appropriate alternatives for when it’s not screen time. Like Common Sense Media says, it’s all about finding a balance.

Both Google and Apple have recently built apps into their smart phone and tablet operating systems that allow monitoring, restrictions and time limits. Common Sense Media has a step by step guide to setting up a kid’s iPhone, complete with videos. There’s also info on Apple’s Screen Time here and Android’s Family Link and Digital-Wellbeing here.

Many software apps also come with restriction settings already built in. There’s something in each of the web browsers most of us use, for YouTube and even parental controls for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. You can read about all of those on Common Sense media by following these links.

What about when the screens are off? Keep pushing board games, puzzles, science experiments, crafts and chores. One thing we know for sure: it’s not just money that talks, but screen time incentives can speak louder than words. Laundry, dishwashing, ironing, even homework or keeping a journal can be currency when it comes to Minecraft, YouTube and Fortnite. Now wield that power while you can and trade like a villager! Remember, even this is teaching your kids to be safe online.