The Quick Guide to Internet Parental Controls

Control gaming, the internet, music and movie streaming, and more

Parents know the difficulties in keeping kids safe while using the internet: Parental controls are either difficult to access and use or completely non-existent for some sites, games, and media content.

The good news is that many online activities and apps provide options to help parents get a better grasp on restricting content unsuitable for different ages. You can also use hardware to control a child's activities.

Setting Limits Is a Family Matter

There is no specific rule to help parents know how to set internet and gaming limits for kids. Families often include a mix of children's ages, making it tough to set one type of limit for every child.

To help parents set different limits for different children, many software and streaming providers allow parents to set restrictions for different profiles. Others, however, give parents very few options.

Netflix, for example, offers four basic maturity levels that allow parents to decide who is a 'little kid' vs. an 'older kid,' etc. On the other hand, iPhones offer a far more comprehensive set of parental control restrictions that give parents many more options. You can set screen time limits, determine which apps can launch on a child's phone, or set movie and music rating limits on an iPhone but you can't do most of that with Netflix.

Because of the broad range of devices in any given home at any given time, you might need to set separate controls on multiple devices and apps to reach the specific goals you have for each child or your family in general.

A Word About Online Security

Father watching son playing on tablet.

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As you work with parental controls, keep in mind that they can only go so far. Taking other actions in conjunction with those controls can set up an even stronger safety net for your child.

For example, passwords are still critical from a security perspective. Set a strong password that your child can't break to help you maintain the controls you've established.

Take precautions to protect your overall home network, too. To prevent others from hacking into your wireless network while your child plays games or does other things online, secure your wireless network properly.

Many routers have controls that parents can use, by the way, so internet access limits, the ability to block certain sites, and other activities can be handled from a central location instead of by individual device. You can purchase a parental control router for less than $200; a few are even available for under $75. Your ISP might also have options for you.

Finally, pay attention to the messages coming at your kids while they play internet games or use social media. Sometimes a simple message can include code words that predators don't expect parents to understand; you can circumvent the issue by closely monitoring who your child friends on Roblox, for example, and by knowing what various acronyms, phrases, and idioms mean.

Don't Forget to Secure Movie and TV Streaming Activities

If you're a movie and tv streamer, Roku and Amazon have options to help you keep your kids from watching inappropriate content, adding unwanted subscriptions, and more.

Even those, however, can be thwarted by individual apps like YouTube or Hulu, which also require that specific controls be set up within the app to manage a child's access.

It's time-consuming but not difficult to manage all of this; once you have it set up, you can pretty confidently sit back and relax unless you have a particularly tech-savvy child who can make an end-run around your choices.

In that case, make it part of your weekly or monthly routine to confirm controls are still in place.

Focus on Your Child

It's a crazy world out there for all parents these days. We get it. We're parents, too. There are plenty of actions you can take to help your children stay as safe as possible when you're not around. Always report any suspicious internet activities to authorities when you feel uncomfortable.

Our Family Tech section has dozens of articles to help you set parental controls on various devices and games. Just run a quick site search for the specific item you need help with, such as 'Roblox parental controls' or 'Apple Music parental controls' to find what you need.

Using the internet safely and responsibly during childhood teaches kids to stay safe and confident as they grow into adults. Don't be afraid to mix up controls and apply the restrictions you feel are most appropriate. After all, you know what's best for your child.

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