How To

How parents can keep children safe online

In terms of tech, the most common areas of concern for parents (and other adults acting as guardians) are: PC use, smartphone use, popular social media and messaging platforms, plus online gaming. Parental Controls are the best way to tackle any concerns and keep children safe online, as they are settings parents can apply to digital devices, and they are essential in the fight to protect from harmful or inappropriate content and cyberbullying.

PCs

The home PC (or laptop) is usually a device the whole family uses. It’s possible to set up individual profiles for each family member, with levels of functionality set appropriately and the facility to track / monitor a child’s account. Each profile is accessed by a password so, for instance, your seven year old son won’t be able to access your eighteen year old son’s profile.

How do you do it? These are the steps to take in Windows 10.

  1. Create a Microsoft account for each adult and child in the family.
  2. Go to account.microsoft.com/family and sign in using your Microsoft account details.
  3. Add a child by clicking the button which allows you to do so, and input your child’s email address on the following page.
  4. Click the ‘Send Invitation’ button.
  5. Your child will need to log into their email account and accept your invitation.
  6. Once completed, you will be able to implement website and app restrictions (time, access, age limits etc) and manage / track your child’s activity from the Microsoft family account. The tracking only works with Internet Explorer or Edge – so block other browsers in the Apps, Media & Games section of your Microsoft account.
  7. The limits or restrictions placed on the child’s account will work across any Windows device the child signs in to.
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The steps you need to take to set up in Microsoft’s new operating system Windows 11 are very similar. If it is not possible or desirable to set up through this method, you can also block access to particular websites by implementing control at a router level – probably through a browser, as most home routers feature a set-up and configuration page accessible via a web browser. The exact instructions for this method will differ slightly from router to router, but you should be guided through at the browser stage and they will be easy enough to implement.

If you go for this method and block access to a website inappropriate for your child, remember that the website you block is blocked on all of the devices in your home – so, in effect, it’s a blanket block rather than a parental control block, as it will apply to the parents too.

Smartphones and tablets

Pre-installed parental controls should be available as a part of the operating system when you buy a smartphone (or a tablet). You can usually set up a bespoke suite of control options to protect your child, which may include:

  • Restricting access to particular apps
  • Restricting access to the internet
  • Restricting access to messaging
  • Removing the option for online purchasing
  • Setting ‘time windows’ and time limits for usability of the device
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You may also be able to download additional parental control apps and software to supplement the controls you put in place.

In general, working through the device controls and setting them appropriately may not filter out specific types of content. This is where you will need to set controls individually for, say, the entertainment sites or apps your child may use (eg. YouTube, Netflix or BBC iPlayer). Each of these apps and websites – and many more – have individual parental control options, so it’s a good idea to work through them and set everything to the level you require.

Setting YouTube restrictions

YouTube, in particular, is worth highlighting as a good general example of the type of process you will have to follow to put in restrictions for apps and websites. YouTube is a very popular and easily accessible site for people of all ages – including children. There is a massive amount of positive content there for kids to access, but there are also many things it would be inappropriate for a child to view. So, a method of ensuring that they don’t have access is to set Restrictions. How do you do this?

  1. Go to YouTube website and sign into it with your Google account.
  2. Click your profile in the right-hand top corner.
  3. At the bottom of the pop-up, click Restricted Mode. By default this will be switched off, so you have to activate it by switching on.
  4. Once enabled, it can be locked to prevent anyone else from turning it off. Simply click Lock Restricted Mode On This Browser in the Restricted Mode pop-up window. Log out of your account so that the next person who uses YouTube won’t be able to switch out of Restricted Mode.
  5. YouTube’s Restricted Mode setting only applies to the browser you’re using. So if you turn it on in Google Chrome, for example, you will also need to do the same process in Edge and any other browsers.

You can go further and make sure your child has an even safer experience on YouTube, by downloading the YouTube Kids app (on iPhone, iPad, or Android). This app displays ‘family-friendly’ videos only. It’s also possible to limit screen time through this app, so that your kids don’t sit watching it all day!

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Social Media and Messaging

It’s almost certainly not possible to completely restrict access to social media and messaging – both are increasingly essential aspects of how our children interact with their peers. Once your child reaches a certain age, something like Facebook may actually be a good tool for them to use to develop their social life – and it should be reassuring to parents to know that it has a Child Safety Hub full of useful policy information and advice, which is worth looking into.

However, it is possible to put messaging restrictions in place on some of the apps and programs your child uses which have messaging services built in.

Take Roblox, for example. In theory just a game, Roblox transcends that and has become an extremely popular platform for children under 12 . It’s available on PC, mobile devices and Xbox. It’s possible to restrict in-game contacts and messages, by using the following process:

  1. Go to www.roblox.com
  2. Select the ‘cog’ in the top right-hand corner of the homepage
  3. Select My Settings
  4. Select Privacy Settings, then Contact Settings
  5. Enter parental PIN (you must have activated it before this)
  6. Select Custom
  7. Adjust appropriately (Who can message me? / Who can chat with me in the app? / Who can chat with me?) by using the settings Friends, Everyone and No-One.

Gaming consoles and online games

If your child enjoys gaming online, there are things you need to consider, and steps to take to keep control while keeping them safe on their console or gaming PC. In-game messaging, for example, is a function that is open to abuse (for a start, is the person communicating with your child who they say they are?) and it should be thought about carefully. Various games and platforms have slightly different set-ups and processes for safeguarding, and for reporting any abuse, so our tip is to investigate each one your child uses and set things appropriately. As a start the main things you should consider are:

  • Age appropriateness of the game they want to play
  • In-game messaging and contact functions on the games
  • Access to in-game purchasing

Parental Controls for Xbox

The Xbox is an incredibly popular gaming console, and a good example to use of the kind of process you’ll go through to set up parental controls. Obviously the specifics will vary slightly from brand to brand, but as a general idea of what is involved, this is useful information for owners of non-Xbox consoles.

You create a family group – either online or directly on the console – and through this you can set appropriate individual limits (including time, spending, communications, web browsing) for the different users within that group. You can monitor all data using the Xbox Family Settings app. Go through System > Settings > Account > Family on your Xbox to manage permissions for children in your family. It’s that simple!

Other valuable steps

Parental controls are just one of the tools in your toolbox for keeping your child safe when interacting with tech and the internet. You must also consider the following:

  • Communication. Keep an open dialogue with your child. Talk to them and explain why you are setting parental controls.
  • Set strong passwords. On some parental controls you can set a password which prevents settings and features from being changed.
  • Change of age. As your child gets older, some of the restrictions and controls you’ve put in place can be altered to be more age-appropriate.
  • Content filters are good but never 100%. At some point your child is going to come across something inappropriate or upsetting, and be ready to talk to them supportively if this is the case.

A new Online Safety Bill is due before the UK’s parliament in the coming months, and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has affirmed that it will contain a duty of care on platforms and providers to protect children from harmful content, including in the burgeoning ‘metaverse’. Watch this space!

How WardWiz can help with everything we’ve discussed

One particularly useful way to handle everything we’ve discussed in this article is WardWiz. It’s an all-in-one security solution for your laptop, tablet and smartphone, which offers built in parental control features to keep your children safe online. Amongst others, these features include screen-time management, appstore locks and geo-fencing. Next level protection for the next generation!

To download a sample of the WardWiz ebook on parental controls (or the full thing) go here. For more information about WardWiz, visit our Solutions Team page here, or contact Ebuyer by telephone on 01430 433671 or email: solutions@ebuyer.com. They will be able to offer any advice and assistance you may require.

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