How to Use Parental Controls on Your Kids’ Devices
Take advantage of technology to limit screen time and block inappropriate content
Your son gets a new Xbox and spends countless hours playing Call of Duty online with his buddies. Your daughter’s new iPhone becomes the center of her universe and an open gateway to reach friends. Your 8-year-old browsing the Internet could be exposed to pornographic photos and other adult material.
While cybersecurity and hacking threats seem to dominate headlines, there’s another war that’s fought each day in many homes: a war against screen time and inappropriate content. Smart phones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and streaming TV and movie devices may have started out as well-intentioned gifts or to keep children accessible to parents —but they’ve evolved into disruptive forces in households.
Unfortunately with so many screens, it’s seemingly a full-time job monitoring what gizmo your child is on at any given moment and what they’re watching. A look at message boards and forums on the Internet reveals angst among parents, many of whom clearly believe they have lost the war.
But research shows the battle must go on. Consider this: Nearly three out of four teens are using their cell phones at night when they should be sleeping, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that some children between ages 8 and 18 consume almost 8 hours of media on computers, TVs, tablets, phones, video consoles, and more each day. Another research study by Iowa State University and the National institute on Media and the Family reveals one in 10 children and teens show signs of addictive behavior when it comes to video games.
So what can parents do to fight back? Within certain devices are a slew of little-known parental controls that can limit screen time and block content by ratings. There are also ways to limit cell phone apps, texting and data. Here’s how to fight technology with technology:
Internet routers: Your WiFi router, often supplied by your Internet provider, is typically the lifeline to the Internet in most households. Contact your provider to access your router’s administrative functions and restrict online access on each device to certain hours of the day (including disabling Internet access at night so your kids are sleeping, not surfing).
Cell and smart phones: Even without WiFi, most phones remain connected to the Internet through 3G or 4G networks. However, most cellular providers offer parental controls that can shut down data access, halt texting (or only allow texting to certain numbers, like a parent’s phone) and even shut down the phone’s calling functionality. Most smart phones also feature parental controls to limit apps by age rating, block explicit music, restrict Web browsing and shut off streaming capabilities.
Game consoles: Gaming devices like the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox feature controls that allow parents to block games by rating, restrict streaming and Web browsing, lock down some of the live game-sharing features and more. On some game stations, parents can control gaming profile accounts that have different access levels so your younger child is more restricted than an older one. If you still own an Xbox 360, savor it, as it allows you to put a timer on the device to limit your child’s game play. To the chagrin of many parents, Microsoft excluded this parental control option from its latest console, the Xbox One.
Netflix, Amazon Prime and other services: Many streaming services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime, can prevent access to adult content by rating. You can typically access this through your account settings (either online or on the television) so that your children can’t view inappropriate material. If you use Hulu, there are limitations on its customized parental control options. Remember, you can adjust the administrative settings on your router to disable the device these services stream video through as well.
Parental safeguards on your computer: There are many software programs available to prevent your children from visiting inappropriate websites. You may already have this software within your computer’s anti-virus program that allows you to block access to pornographic sites, gaming services, chat portals and more. The software actively monitors your browser for illicit sites and adds them to a block list, which can be added to or overridden. Services such as Google and YouTube also offer safe browsing modes to reduce inappropriate content. You most likely need an account to administer these settings.
Though technology may be the cause of too much screen time and inappropriate content, it's also the solution as parents fight the good fight.