Strike a balance between making the internet a safer place for your children and giving them the freedom to explore, learn and socialize
There was a time when parents didn’t have to worry much about their children’s digital activities. A single, centralized computer in the house was the only gateway to the internet, and could be monitored relatively easily. Then came mobile devices. Now the challenge is much greater. Not only are there more opportunities for our kids to surf the web away from our prying eyes, there are more dangers hidden in the digital world.
This makes parental control software an increasingly attractive and much-needed prospect for parents and guardians. And while even OS developers now provide some functionality in this area, the fullest feature sets will come from third-party solutions designed by security experts. The right tools should strike a balance between enhancing your children’s safety and giving them the freedom to explore, learn and socialize.
Why use parental control software?
Kids spend ever more time on their devices. Screen time for US children before the pandemic was estimated at nearly four hours per day. According to the same report, it doubled thanks to COVID-era lockdowns. Yet technology was also a lifeline for young people during the pandemic, when many used it to keep up to date with lessons, stay connected with friends and pass the time on their favorite sites and apps. Like it or not, it remains a key part of their lives.
As with all things, the key for parents is to understand where there are dangers, and try to minimize risk exposure for their kids. On the face of it, there’s plenty to be concerned about. This includes:
- Inappropriate content. This could be sexually explicit material, sexist or discriminatory content, disturbing or violent images/videos, gambling sites, and even swearing. What you deem inappropriate will depend on the child’s age and level of maturity.
- Unfortunately, bullying is a fact of life for many children. But the online world arguably expands the threat way beyond their immediate friendship network. One EU study claims half of all kids have suffered some kind of online bullying in their lifetime.
- Grooming. Children can seem tech savvy. But they’re often also predisposed to trust people they meet online at face value. Unfortunately, some adults are prepared to take advantage. They’ll usually try to build trust with their victims by masquerading as someone their age on social, messaging, gaming and other apps.
- Accidental data leaks. All of us have probably been guilty of oversharing online. But our children often have a much larger digital friendship circle than us, meaning there may be malicious actors looking for information they can use. Even something as innocuous as the name of a pet, the address of their house or the fact that they’re going on holiday could be used in digital and real-world attacks.
- Identity theft and phishing scams. As soon as your kids start registering social media, messaging app and email accounts they’ll be bombarded with fake messages designed to trick them into handing over sensitive personal and financial information, or install malware. Many look convincing. Some may be designed to entice with free giveaway claims.
- Excessive screen time. This has been linked to eye problems, depression, overeating, and other physical problems among children. Perhaps most obviously, being glued to a screen means your kids aren’t interacting in the physical world, which could impair their emotional and social development.
What to look for in parental control software
There are plenty of solutions on the market that can help with some or all of the above challenges. It pays to invest with a trusted brand with a proven track record in this space, and the wider cybersecurity market. Consider the following as a good starting point:
- Application controls that enable you to either block age-inappropriate apps or control which applications they can access, and for how long. Daily time limits are a good idea to minimize excessive screen time.
- App and web usage reports will help you to better understand where your child spends their time online and can help to highlight sites/apps that may need to be blocked in the future. It should also flag any newly installed apps.
- Safe browsing will help your child navigate the web while blocking access to pre-categorized age-inappropriate sites. It would be useful here for them to be able to request access to specific sites, which you can then handle on a case-by-case basis.
- Locator and zoning alerts will show the location of your child’s devices to help reduce anxiety about where they are if they forget to text or call you. Another useful feature is the ability to create physical “zones,” with notifications sent to your device when your child enters or leaves one.
- A simple to use portal is the final piece of the puzzle, enabling you to easily set up, manage and configure the product on an ongoing basis.
It’s good to talk
While it can protect them from the darkest corners of the internet, parental control software is not a silver bullet that will magically make your child a responsible internet user. Nothing can replace the value gained from honest, two-way communication with your kids. Don’t just tell them you’re installing the software. Tell them why. Have an open debate about the dangers as you see them and set some ground rules together. Make sure they feel heard.
Even better, take a tech time out once in a while. There’s also a wonderful world for your kids to explore which isn’t online.