Parental controls are a collection of options that allow you to adjust what your child sees and interacts with online – think violent or adult content, gambling sites, and other unsavory stuff. You can set up these controls on pretty much any device, whether it's a PC, phone, or tablet, and plenty of parents use parental controls to protect their children from content they'd otherwise feel helpless to combat.
I'll explain how to get parental controls set up on your device in this guide, and take a closer look at some of the benefits, and issues, of enabling these options.
👩👧👦Why are parental controls important?
Essentially, parental controls give you more insight into your child's internet activity. You'll be able to filter sites you'd rather they not visit, or block them outright, and even prevent in-app purchases or access to adult-rated games or videos.
Parental controls can also:
- Set a limit on how long your child can spend online per day
- Determine what time of the day your child can access the internet
- Prevent the sharing of information
- Specify particular sites, or types of sites, to block
- Create individual filters for different children or family members with varying levels of access
As you can see, parental controls can be quite basic or complex, depending on how you implement them for your family's specific needs. And a survey conducted by Ofcom revealed that nine out of ten parents of children aged 5-15 agreed that parental controls were useful.
Parental controls can still be helpful if you have an older teen, too, seeing as teens quickly begin to crave their own personal spaces and privacy. And whilst it's great to see them flourish and begin taking more responsibility, it can be totally nerve-wracking trying to figure out what they're doing online for hours at a time, who they're talking to, or the content they're consuming.
Even if you're not totally tech savvy yourself, you'll no doubt be aware that you can access any kind of content in the blink of an eye. Adult sites, graphic movies or videos, dodgy chat rooms; all it takes is punching in a URL or following a link from elsewhere online. Teens (and even younger children!) have unfettered access to this wealth of content when they use an internet-enabled device.
It's not a massively comforting thought. But, parental controls can be used to help parents set boundaries and explain the dangers of the web, and rest assured that their kids aren't seeing anything better left unseen.
⚙️Setting up parental controls
No matter which device you or your child uses, there's usually a quick and straightforward way to establish some parental controls and customize your child's access levels. I'll take a look at some of the more popular devices below!
If you're looking for a way to secure all internet devices connected to your network, like all the phones, games consoles, and laptops in the house, then setting up parental controls on your router is the way to go. Whilst some routers do come with parental controls built-in, others will require a little prep work to get the controls up and running.
- Firstly, make sure your computer or laptop is connected to the correct router.
- Open up a web browser and type 192.168.8.1 into the address bar.
- Punch in your password and you'll have access to your router's management page.
- Then, you'll simply need to click on Tools, then Parental Control, and select the + icon.
- You should now be able to determine when your child can access the internet and the device to set the controls for.
- Confirm your choices by clicking OK.
Alternatively, your internet service provider may include parental controls with your package that can be set up in a similar fashion! It's also possible to download software online (like Norton Family or Net Nanny) to filter and block certain websites.
📱iPhone and iPad
You're in luck if you have an iPhone or iPad – parental controls are a cinch to implement and even easier to customize!
- Navigate to the Settings menu and select Screen Time.
- You'll then need to choose either 'This is My Device' or 'This is My Child's Device'.
- If the device is yours, you can prevent another family member from adjusting your settings by inputting a passcode via Use Screen Time Passcode.
- If the device belongs to your child, you'll need to enter a Parent Passcode – so make sure it's something memorable before you hit confirm!
- Then, select Content & Privacy Restrictions.
- Enter your passcode if prompted and toggle on Content & Privacy.
- You'll now be asked to input a new passcode, and it'll need to be different to the one you created earlier!
- Once you're ready, return to Content & Privacy Restrictions to customize which parental controls you'd like to use.
iPhone and iPad users can block music with explicit content as well as movies and TV shows, depending on their rating. It's also possible to add sites to the Safari block list and only grant access to sites that you have approved, beforehand. You'll also be able to prevent access to adult content entirely, including via the Safari browser and in-apps.
Unlike the iPhone and iPad, Android devices don't actually have their own set of built-in parental controls… but the Google Play Store app does! You'll need to access the app on the device you intend to enable the parental controls on.
- Once you're in the app, tap either the Menu icon or your profile picture at the top of the screen and navigate to Settings.
- Click Family.
- Toggle-on parental controls by tapping the Menu option and then the slider.
- You'll be asked to input a PIN – so make it something secure and memorable!
- Once that's done, you'll be able to customize which parental controls you'd like to use and which content filters you'd like to apply to the device.
This isn't a ton of customizability, but if you're after a more detailed set of options, it's worth checking out the Family Link app. You can download it straight from the Google Play store, in fact!
The Family Link app lets you create a household group, made up of family members, and offers a more complex set of controls. You'll be able to prevent app access to microphones and cameras, approve or deny app downloads, block selected apps, and determine how long your child can use the internet for.
To set up parental controls on your Windows desktop or laptop, you'll need to be using the administrator account.
- Then, the first thing to do is select Settings from the Start menu – it's the option that looks like a cog!
- Select Accounts.
- Select Family & other users, and click the Add a family member option.
- Via the pop-up window, you'll need to select the option to create a child's account.
- Then, input a valid email address, as well as your phone number. Once you've got the child account set up, you'll need to ensure that your child uses it whenever they're logged in.
- When you're ready to determine which parental controls you'd like to use, visit the Manage family settings online option to be taken to the web portal.
- Click Activity.
- From here, you can set customized restrictions for apps, games, and web browsing.
Via the web portal, you'll also be able to set time limits on each of your child's devices, and determine what is purchasable, or downloadable, and prevent access to specific sites as well as establish a whitelist of acceptable sites.
Getting parental controls up and running on your Mac is super simple!
- If you're using Family Sharing, log in as you usually would with your Apple ID.
- If you're not using Family Sharing, you'll need to log in to the specific account you'd like to impose controls for.
- Via the Apple Menu, click System Preferences.
- Select Screen Time.
- Family Sharing users will then be able to click the pop-up menu and pick a child or family member.
- Then, select Content & Privacy from the sidebar – and make sure the restrictions are turned on if they're not already!
From here, you'll be able to configure a ton of parental controls! You can limit access to certain websites and determine which apps can be used, and prevent your child from checking out any films or TV shows with a certain rating. It's also possible to set a downtime schedule and state how much time you'll allow your child to spend on any one activity.
🤔Are there downsides to parental controls?
Anyone who has spent any amount of time online can probably see the benefit of parental controls when it comes to keeping underage kids safe – but the measures themselves aren't totally infallible.
Children are incredibly tech-smart, and you should never assume that they won't be able to figure out how to bypass parental controls or switch them off entirely. Also, consider the fact that parental controls cannot be applied to 4G connections, and that your kids could have free rein on the net at a friend's house where these controls are not implemented.
It's argued that, in addition to parental controls, parents should enter into frank and open conversations about the dangers of the web, too. This gives children more context about why controls are being implemented at all and why they should be followed, helps them make their own choices when faced with risk, and can also reassure them that it's okay to approach you about anything they find online that's upset them.
And I think involving your children in the setup and maintenance of parental controls is a great starting point!
Parental controls have drawn criticism in recent years, however. The University of Central Florida conducted a survey wherein it was determined that the controls could have a negative impact on parent-child relationships.
It's all too easy to see how it'd happen. A parent could become obsessed with checking their child's digital whereabouts, or they could demand more and more control over the child's activity. Children can also quickly become resentful of the fact that controls have been implemented at all, and interpret it as a lack of trust.
The University of Central Florida uncovered that, after having a control app installed, two-thirds of teens claimed that their relationship with their parents worsened.
Controls can drive a wedge between parent and child and foster a mutual feeling of mistrust. So, it's important to realize that no set of parental controls is a totally foolproof method of keeping your child safe – parents need to trust that their children will make sensible choices online, and that trust only comes from frank conversations and education.
Parental controls definitely have a use in today's digital world – there's a mess of adult content and unsafe sites out there, readily available in a few clicks, and parents obviously want to do all they can to prevent their children from accessing it. It's easy to get parental controls installed on just about any device in the home, and even a tech-newbie can customize the filters and options without a headache!
I do think that it's massively important to let your child in on the decision to implement these controls, however – otherwise, it might feel to them more like a punishment than a protective measure. Keep conversations honest and open, set clear boundaries, and you'll be able to avoid any unwanted resentments.