Technology Tips for Parents
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Parental Controls for Home Internet
OverviewThere are many devices and software to choose from when looking for the ideal parental control solution for your home. Navigating the myriad features can be a bit confusing, so we put this guide together to help you with the selection process. This guide lists the various features available on most parental control systems and gives some specific examples on how you might use these features in real-world scenarios. Before implementing any type of parental controls at home, we recommend first having a conversation with your child to let them know about the controls and what they will do. We also recommend continuing the conversation with your child as filtering needs to change over time.
Click HERE for a similar resource on parental controls from Common Sense Media.
This is the basic feature that most families are looking for in parental controls, but capabilities can vary, so it is good to know how you want to filter before choosing a solution. At the basic level, you can block general categories such as social networking, gaming, and adult content/pornography. These general category controls make it easy to block large numbers of websites, but frequently, more control over accessing a specific website is needed, so we recommend looking for a product that has category and website-specific blocking (also called URL blocking).
Some parental controls have a particular focus on internet content filtering only. This works great if the child only has access to a Chromebook, but if you have tablets or laptops/desktops in your home, you will need a product that allows for the control of apps in addition to website browsing.
Setting time limits is a very useful feature to help define acceptable times for device usage. At the basic level, most products have some type of scheduling system where internet access can be blocked or allowed during different times or on different days. This is helpful if you want to define different limits for the weekdays vs. weekends. We also frequently see separate “bedtime” or “off times” (e.g. dinner time) schedules offered.
In addition to general internet time limits/schedules, we also recommend finding a product that allows for the category or app-specific time limits/scheduling. For example, you may want your child to spend less time looking at YouTube content and more time on educational gaming websites or apps.
Having a comprehensive view of all the websites and apps that your child is accessing is an important feature of any parental control product. Reporting tools allow you the option of monitoring instead of blocking, which is a good place to start when implementing new parental controls in your home. It is also helpful to look for reporting tools that allow you to easily block or allow access and set time limits from inside the reports.
This is probably one of the more important features of a parental control system. Having the ability to turn off the internet for all devices, for example at dinner time, is a very powerful tool. We also recommend that you look for products that allow for the internet to be turned off for just specific devices. This allows other household members to continue using their devices while blocking others as needed.
Sometimes, the time limits or filtering defined when you first set up parental controls don’t always apply in every scenario. Having the ability to override these settings in the moment, and reward more time for a particular app or website, is a very useful feature.
NotificationsBeing able to receive a notification about time limits reached, or blocked site access attempts, allow you to respond in the moment to your child. Notifications also allow you to spend less time combing through results by helping you to avoid having to access the parental control software frequently.
How do you control the device or software? All the features mentioned above are powerful, but if you don’t have an easy way to control them, they end up being useless. Look for products that can be configured using an iPhone/Android app, or from an interface that you can access using a web browser.
Integrations With Other Products
This is an emerging feature that we have seen in a few products recently and is not yet widely available in most of them. Being able to ask your Amazon echo about how much time your children have spent online, or extending time limits automatically when chores are logged in a chore tracking app, might be powerful tools for your household.
Operating System Compatibility
Make sure that the system you purchase is compatible with all devices in your home. If there is a device in your home that connects to the internet, then you should be able to control it with parental control software.
How to Purchase a Parental Control Product
Most software products will have trial periods where you can try the product before making a purchase. Look for products that allow you to trial the full product and not just a partial set of features.
If you are going to purchase a physical device to handle filtering, we recommend purchasing at stores with 100% refund policies. This will give you time to try the product in your home and return it if you don’t like it.