Internet safety and parental controls
Information and advice on internet safety for children
Parental controls are a key tool for parents to keep their children’s internet use safe – within the home at least – but technology is only part of the solution.
You have got an important part to play in your child’s online safety. By learning about the internet and talking to your children about its benefits and risks before they have ventured too far into the online world you can make it easier for them to come to you if something goes wrong. If you wait until it does, then conversations can become tinged with shame and worry and open communication becomes harder.
Part of a parent’s responsibility is knowing where your children go, who they meet and what they do. Today this applies online as much as off. The internet should be seen as a place that children go to. A child might be in their bedroom, but if they’re online they’re also out in the big wide world.
Many people who contact Parentline worry about the internet, particularly when their child seems to know more than they do! This can be a great opportunity to strengthen relationships. Children love being asked to share expertise, and learning from them can be fun. You’ll show that you’re interested in their world, and not just expecting them to conform to yours.
Whether the issue is behaviour, or screen time, or online safety – communication, really talking and listening to children, and agreeing ground rules and boundaries – is the key to helping your child be happy, healthy and safe as they grow up.
All internet providers have tools which filter out obscene, disturbing or restricted content. These will not be perfect as they often rely on technology and not people to determine what is blocked, but are a good starting point.
- Parental controls are usually offered on an opt-in basis so you might need to visit your account or contact your internet provider directly for help to set them up properly. The Safer Internet Centre has a guide which covers the free parental controls offered by the four biggest providers in the UK: BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.
- Older children might try to get round the filters. You can help prevent this by (a) protecting your password and keeping it secret, and/or (b) ensuring that you receive an alert to your email or phone every time the account settings are changed.
- Individual website browsers (the software used to launch the internet, like Internet Explorer, Safari, Google Chrome etc) as well as search engines have their own settings for safe searching. The Safer Internet Centre provides a full guide to how to use these safety tools.
- Some functions may be helpful in controlling screen time as well as content – such as turning off auto-play on a video site to prevent a child sitting and watching an endless stream of videos that have not been vetted by you. There’s no substitute for parents’ supervision and setting rules around screen time.
- The Safer Internet Centre has a guide to parental control settings for online TV and streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix.
There are other tools being released all the time which can help you to manage your child’s use of digital media. Some tools can automatically block access to the internet after a set amount of time. Others help by creating a safe-search environment – for example the child’s version of the YouTube app.