Children are using digital devices and accessing the internet at younger and younger ages. According to Ofcom data, half of UK 10-year-olds own a smartphone, while a quarter of three to four-year-olds have their own tablet.
While smart devices have become a valuable tool in a child’s education, they can also expose them to unsuitable content.
Parents are encouraged to not give their children unrestricted and unmonitored access to the internet. Parental controls are an easy way of controlling what content and apps your children can access and how long they can use a device.
Internet parental controls
There are a number of strategies parents can use to keep their kids safe online, depending on what you’re trying to block and what online activities your kids do.
The most basic involves blocking certain categories of websites or specific sites, either through the browser, operating system or your broadband provider.
BT parental controls
BT lets parents turn on and customise parental controls for all devices connected to their WiFi. BT offers three levels of web filtering—Light, Moderate or Strict—which you can then further customise. To turn on and adjust these controls, sign in to your BT account online and click on ‘Manage your extras.’
Sky parental controls
Sky allows you to add parental controls to your broadband through its Sky Broadband Buddy app.
TalkTalk parental controls
TalkTalk offers a HomeSafe service, which allows you to block access to sites which aren’t suitable for children (adult content, dating and gambling) and sites containing viruses for all devices using your WiFi. To turn it on, sign in to your account on TalkTalk’s website, select ‘My Services’ and click ‘View HomeSafe settings’ in the drop-down menu.
Virgin Media parental controls
Virgin Media offers Web Safe, which lets you block websites that may be inappropriate. You can block categories of specific sites, and set a timer to control when these filters are active. When you sign up for broadband from Virgin Media, you’ll be given the option to turn on Web Safe.
Smartphone parental controls
Smartphones come with native systems that allow you to block websites and apps and set time limits on certain apps and overall use of the device. Apple calls this ‘Screen Time’ and Android ‘Digital Wellbeing’. Most network providers will also have parental control options built into their plans, which can be changed via your online personal account.
If you’re not satisfied with those restrictions, you can download a range of apps which deliver more bespoke controls and supervision, including location tracking, time scheduling and text message monitoring. The best include Net Nanny (iOS and Android, £29.99/year), Qustodio (iOS and Android, £39.95/year) and Norton Family (Android, £29.99/year).
Video parental controls
Streaming sites including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video allow you to set up parental controls which restrict what your child can view. Prime also lets you lock purchases so kids don’t rack up bills renting movies and TV shows not included in your subscription.
iPlayer allows you to turn on a Parental Guidance Lock, which requires a viewer to enter a PIN before watching or listening to anything the BBC has flagged. Virgin Media also offers similar controls.
On YouTube, you can set up a YouTube Kids account for your child, which gives them access to child-oriented content, or turn on ‘restricted mode’ when they use your account.
Gaming parental controls
With online games, you have to be concerned not just about the content of the game itself but also about other players interacting with your child. Most online gaming platforms and consoles let you set up restrictions which prohibit strangers from contacting your child or limit their communications to family and friends.
Other controls can prevent your child from making potentially costly in-game transactions. All major consoles, including the PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, let you block in-game purchases through their parental control settings, as do smartphones for apps-based games. Game developers like EA and Epic Games let you block purchases through player accounts.