Get in control of your kids online

A friend recently told me of an amusing experience she had with her son in the quest to satisfy his love of trucks. It turned out that that her innocuous Google search for “delivery” not only returned matches for delivery vehicles, but also showed graphic pictures of child-birth. Stumbling to close the browser in a mild panic (before swiftly resorting to pulling the plug), it was decided that Google’s ‘Safe Search’ feature was to become a permanent parental control in her household.

According to a recent survey of US parents, the biggest concern about their children’s Internet usage was for their personal safety – the viewing of explicit pictures online topping the list. Tied for second was communication with strangers, visiting websites with inappropriate content, or receiving unsolicited emails. Parents were only mildly less concerned about kids revealing personal information, spending too much time online, downloading content that cost money, or being bullied.

Who’s the boss?

According to the study, while nearly all parents had spoken to their kids about acceptable behaviour online, only half of these had used the parental controls offered by software and videogame companies, search engines, and phone manufacturers to safeguard their child’s digital experience.

Online tools and safeguards

Parental controls can be broadly broken down into three categories: content filters, usage controls and monitoring.

  • Content Filters
    Many users would rather have adult content excluded from their search results, especially if kids are accessing the same computer. Google’s “safe search” option uses algorithms to identify objectionable content and prevent this from appearing within search results. While no filter will ever be 100 per cent accurate, user feedback means that the probability that you’ll avoid offensive material continuously improves.
  • Usage Controls
    Both Windows and Mac operating systems allow you to choose which hours your kids can use the computer (and if they’re already logged on – log them off.) Nifty features include activity reports (to see how much each person uses the computer), and the ability to set different time limits for each day of the week. For those with zombie kids wildly smashing the keyboard, you can control game access (including blocking specific or unrated games) or restrict entire programs that you don’t want accessed. Additional controls allow you to limit the websites that kids visit, decide whether file downloads are accepted, or block specific sites such as Facebook (which is pretty handy during exam time, although likely to make you wildly unpopular!
  • Monitoring
    Feel a bit sneaky spying on your kids? Don’t be. Eighty-five per cent of parents admit to monitoring their child’s Internet usage in one way or another. Popular options include “friending” your kid on Facebook (or viewing their page), reviewing browser history (the pages that they visit online), reading text messages on their phone or using GPS to check on the child’s whereabouts at curfew. While there are programs that will capture almost everything that your kids do online, the favoured option remains to position the computer in a common area of the house.

As a parent, try to understand the technology that your kids use to prevent much eye rolling and snorts of laughter at your foray into all things Internet. While you might feel like a resident of dorksville you’ll find that parental controls are made for parents and are easier than you think.

And if all else fails, you can always pull the plug out of the wall.

Check out our latest Online Safety Series fact sheet.

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