Your children’s safety on the internet is important, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard work. Learn how to set up parental controls so you can worry less about online safety when your kids start using the internet…
There are lots of ways to fine tune the version of the internet your children see, from the free content filters all major providers have, to sophisticated software packages that costs money.
Read on and we'll talk about some of the parental control options you have available. But remember - while there are some incredibly useful parental control tools out there, you should still make sure you watch what your kids are doing online as much as possible - there's no substitute to parental supervision.
All major broadband providers in the UK, including BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and EE, have to offer content filters as standard. These block off sites containing inappropriate material like pornography, self-harming, and other such nastiness. They also restrict access to sites known to contain viruses and other malware.
You have to choose whether you want in or out of these filters when you first set up your broadband, and you can change the settings at any time by logging into your account page.
Parental control software is freely available, and some providers offer it with broadband packages. Unlike content filters, which are 'network level' and apply to anyone using that connection, software only affects the device it's installed on. So if you put it on your PC, for example, it won't affect what your kids are doing on phones and tablets.
As well as filtering out inappropriate content, such as pornographic, violent or gambling-related sites, some of the software allows you to monitor your children's online activity and even restrict the times of day they're allowed to use certain websites.
Finally, a way to keep them off Facebook during homework hour!
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Generally speaking, any device that can access the internet will have its own set of onboard parental controls you can tinker with before the kids get their hands on it. This is especially helpful if the software provided with your broadband is the type that only applies to one computer at a time.
Apple's iPhone and iPad, for example, have a wide range of restrictions - all easily accessed from the settings menu - that can be locked in place and protected with a password. These devices, as well as many others, also let you disable paid transactions within apps and games.
No such system is flawless, so it's a good idea to use all the tools at your disposal. Putting restrictions on how devices are used as well as installing software makes it twice as unlikely that your kids will be exposed to harmful or unsuitable material online.
Sometimes your web browser, the program you use to browse the internet, will allow you to block certain types of website. These settings can be used alongside any software you've already installed on the computer, adding an extra layer of protection.
For example, if you're using the Google Chrome browser - available as a free download - there's a feature that lets you create different account profiles for 'supervised users' and 'managers', giving you complete control of how your children use the internet.
Again, this is best used in conjunction with other parental controls as the settings will only apply to one browser. Older, more tech-savvy kids will quickly find a workaround, like simply downloading a different web browser.
On certain websites and internet platforms, such as Google, YouTube and iTunes, you can switch on a family-friendly filter that should block any content unsuitable for children. Once again, there are no flawless systems so it makes sense to use this alongside other parental controls.
It's only really useful for very young children, as older kids will figure out how to turn the filter off if their curiosity gets the better of them and they want to look at things they're not supposed to.
General advice on getting safe online
We hope you'll find some of the advice below, provided by internet safety initiative Get Safe Online, to be helpful in managing your children's experience of the web.
- Set boundaries for your child before they get their first connected device - whether it's a mobile, tablet, laptop or console. Once they have it, it can be more difficult to change the way they use it or the settings.
- All major providers offer network-level parental controls. When you switch to a new broadband package, you'll have the option to turn on content filtering, to block adult material. Just remember that this doesn't mean all the bad stuff is blocked - no filter is fully effective - so you'll need to remain vigilant.
- Discuss with your child what's safe and appropriate to post and share online. All comments, photos and videos form part of their 'digital footprint' and could be seen by anyone and available on the internet forever.
- Talk to your child about the kind of content they see online, and precautions they should take when communicating with others - for example, never sharing anything personal with strangers.
- Remember that services like Facebook and YouTube have a minimum age limit of 13 for a reason. Don't bow to pressure - talk to other parents and the school to make sure everyone is in agreement.
- Explain to your child that being online doesn't give them anonymity or protection. Make it clear that they shouldn't do anything online that they wouldn't feel totally comfortable doing face-to-face.
For more information and advice, visit Get Safe Online.