With an estimated 95% of American junior high and high school students accessing the Internet on a daily basis, the question of how to restrict and monitor this group’s online activity has become an especially hot topic. Parents should be aware that there are a number of ways to control what their children are exposed to online, even if the family is on a tight budget. Effective parental controls mainly require a bit of research and a fair amount of vigilance.
Parental controls can function in several ways. They may filter and block inappropriate content from underage users, or prevent underage users from sending certain content (such as photographs) via email or the Internet. They may restrict access to certain sites at certain times of the day—for example, not allowing a child on social media during time normally set aside for chores—or limit the amount of time that kids can spend on any one device or website. Other apps or services may allow parents to receive a log of their child’s incoming and outgoing text messages, photos, and related data, as well as to track their child’s location.
Perhaps the first thing parents should know about parental controls is that most major Internet service providers, device manufacturers, and gaming systems offer built-in parental controls for free. While they may not have all the features of a paid app or service, setting parental controls on your home broadband service as well as your child’s Android or Apple device, PlayStation, or Xbox can cover a lot of bases without any additional cost.
Paid monitoring services can offer parents a bit more downtime once setup is complete, as many of them automatically update information on harmful websites and compile data on kids’ usage without frequent input from parents. They also offer the added bonus of allowing parents to set very specific limits — either based on number of hours per day or certain windows of time — on when kids are allowed online. Some services may even be set to require kids to complete a pre-determined amount of educational content before they are allowed to access social media or gaming sites. Several established monitoring services, such as Qustodio or Net Nanny, offer different payment plans depending on the number of users or devices requiring protection.
Setting limits on your child’s online activity is always a good idea, and doesn’t have to be confusing or expensive. Your best bet is to start with an online search for parental controls offered by your Internet service provider, and then work from there according to your family’s needs.