Internet Safety FAQs
- Do parental controls really work?
Parental controls are one important piece of an internet safety plan. These controls can be used to restrict screen time and internet access, filter age-inappropriate content, and even monitor your child’s online activity.
Parental controls can be particularly effective for young children, but as they get older, they may get better at getting around your restrictions. Even if they aren’t doing anything untoward, kids value their privacy. That’s why, when it comes to parental controls, you can’t just “set it and forget it — you should be approving which apps your child downloads and somehow keeping an eye on how they’re spending their time online.
The limits of parental controls also demonstrate why it’s important to teach them safe and responsible internet behavior from the get-go. It’s also crucial to keep communication open and honest about the controls you are using to build and demonstrate trust with your child.
- How do you choose parental controls?
There are many parental control options out there. Your internet provider likely provides services that filter the internet in your house, and can allow you to control the internet access on different devices so you can enforce screen time limits. Your internet router also has filtering capabilities. And most devices you buy — whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet or laptop — also have parental control options. Unless those controls are password-protected, however, it could be easy for your child to disable them.
Start by exploring all the parental control options already at your disposal on the devices and apps you already have. Turning on available safe search options on your browser can be especially important when you have younger children. Some apps will allow you to turn on parental controls that are then password protected — making it far less likely your child will be able to disable those restrictions.
There are also apps you can install on your child’s smartphone that will monitor their digital world, especially once they start using social media. Some experts and parents insist parents need to be monitoring their child’s social media for serious red flags. Of course, not all parents are comfortable with this, and kids don’t like feeling watched. Still, random spot checks of your child’s social media accounts are a good idea just to keep a finger on the pulse of their online life.
Another low-tech parental control is to enforce screen time limits. If your child isn’t on their phone or tablet for endless hours out of the day, they are far less likely to be accidentally exposed to inappropriate content.
- What are some things to look for that might indicate my kid is hiding what they are doing online?
If you’re using monitoring control apps and suddenly you aren’t seeing any activity or data reported, your child has probably found a way around the app. These monitoring apps collect a lot of data, so if your kid’s data usage suddenly drops, that can indicate they’ve turned these controls off as well.
The kids who are the most vulnerable online are also the most vulnerable “in real life,” says Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media. It might not be apparent that your child is struggling from the outside. That’s why Knorr recommends regularly checking in with your child about what’s happening in all aspects of their lives and trying to identify if they are struggling, and why. If they are, the internet could be a place of both solace or risky behavior, and parents should be tuned into that.
- Are web browsers inherently unsafe for kids?
In short, no, they don’t have to be. But Web browsers can be gateways to age-inappropriate content, particularly for unsuspecting kids who are excited to search for a new fact. Fortunately, most browsers have parental control and filter options. Also, you can preemptively filter out inappropriate searches if you are filtering your internet at large via your router or provider. Some browsers allow you to set parental controls and password protect those settings, this can make it harder for kids to either purposefully or accidentally get around them.
- Which apps or platforms should I avoid at all costs?
Be suspicious of apps and platforms that include random video chats, large games with private chat rooms, and anything that publicly shares your child’s location. There are also lots of apps that allow the user to video chat with random strangers. These are often filled with the types of people doing the types of things you would not want your child exposed to.
In big multiplayer games and other platforms, even really mainstream and popular ones, predators can lurk in private chatrooms. If your child plays one of these games, tell them to be careful who they talk to. If anyone asks them to move their conversation from the game onto a different platform, advise your child to stop the conversation and come tell you. That’s a big red flag, as it indicates that person doesn’t want to be monitored by the humans and algorithms policing the game.
And any app that shares your child’s location is potentially problematic. Kids use dating apps to meet new friends — but if those apps use location to suggest matches, steer clear.
- Does my internet use influence that of my kids?
Absolutely. You set the standard that your children see as normal. If you want them to limit their screen time and engage with the real world, be sure to do the same thing yourself. When your child is younger and spending time online, you can sit with them and navigate the internet together, learning new things and watching fun videos, to have shared experiences and start instilling those best practices at an early age.
- How can I keep up with the constantly changing online world?
The digital world changes fast and you’ll never be an expert on every app, update, or software. But there are resources out there for parents trying to navigate the digital side of parenting or wanting to learn more about the new app their child is begging them for. A few websites that can help guide parents include: Common Sense Media, Cyber Safety Cop, Connect Safely, and Family Online Safety Institute’s Good Digital Parenting Guide.