Parental controls can be useful to limit the risks your children run into online, but you should know up front that they cannot eliminate every risk out there.
Parents and adults everywhere are understandably having a hard time keeping up with the favored social networks of children and adolescents, and that's because the more “grown-ups” who sign up for these platforms, the less attractive they become for kids. So, even though you may be fully versed in Facebook, tough luck, because your children may have moved on without you knowing about it. Also, never underestimate the online skills of young ones—they almost certainly know a lot more about all things “cyber” than you did at that age.
Feeling the loss of control of your children's digital lives can be hard to accept, which is why so many parents turn to parental controls to better understand what their kids are doing and how they can keep them safe.
Here's what you can expect to accomplish with parental controls.
Blocking bad sites
The Internet is a place where misinformation, fake news, and scams are spread like nowhere else, and, as most of us know, not every site on the Internet is a safe, or even pleasant, place to visit. This is something that your child needs to understand.
Your first line of defense is some kind of blocklist that will prevent visits to known, unwanted sites. When you are looking for an anti-malware solution you will see that many of them will include some flavor of web protection. But for children-oriented web protection you will need a more extensive solution. After all, there is content that we consider suitable for adults, but not for children, and if we can block those as well, that is a step up.
Almost all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) give customers the option to use parental controls that filter the Internet right at the source. These controls can come free with your service, or may cost a little extra, but they can be a great resource to test and figure out. You will have to set up accounts for different users in your household, so you can create settings for each person so that the kids are protected, but you have full access.
There are ways around block lists which I will not discuss in detail here, but you should assume that your teens are familiar with proxy servers, VPNs, and probably even know how to access your account.
Communicate with your kids before implementing parental controls, especially online tracking. Your children deserve that you take their privacy seriously. Catching them red-handed is not a pleasant experience for either party, so it is better to prevent that from happening.
Access scheduling is another very common part of parental controls. Some services let parents set a daily or weekly schedule for device usage. Others specifically restrict the amount of time your kid spends on the internet. Be aware that some of their homework needs to be done online. You do not want them to skip homework, so they have more online time for their game, right?
Social media monitoring
Social media monitoring is not a strong point of any parental control software that we have seen. One reason is that, as we said, it’s hard to keep up with what is popular right now and what is "old news" next month. Further, some of these platforms use some private messaging and are end-to-end encrypted—a boon to users everywhere seeking privacy and security in their communications in light of government oppression and censorship, but obviously a bit of a headache for parents who want to see if their child is engaging in risky or dangerous conversations.
As with many risks online, there is always more than one response to it in keeping your children safe. Lean off of technology and help your child avoid dangerous situations by teaching them to recognize the warning signs of unsafe conversations from strangers.
Education trumps all
You can expect the best result in the end from education rather than micro-management. Understanding why something is off limits tends to work better than blocking. Allow your children to use their own judgement, you may end up pleasantly surprised. Micro-management can be exhausting to both the child and the parent or guardian and sometimes it simply defeats the purpose. A site can be fully suited for children, but that doesn’t mean that predators may not also be lurking on those websites—particularly if they offer chat functionality. Worse, those predators may be looking to convince children into moving their conversations onto other platforms or, most dangerously, offline.
More than you staring over their shoulder, a child needs skills like critical thinking and resilience, so they know what do if they encounter risk. You want them to recognize and steer away from the danger.
For a more extensive guide on how to protect your children, and their devices, online, please read: Internet safety tips for kids and teens: A comprehensive guide for the modern parent.