Why you need parental control software – and 5 features to look for
Strike a balance between making the internet a safer place for your children and giving them the freedom to explore, learn and socialize
In the past, parents did not have to worry too much about their children’s digital activities. One centralized computer in the home is the only gateway to the internet, and can be monitored relatively easily. Then came mobile devices. Now the challenge is much bigger. Not only are there more opportunities for our children to surf the web away from our prying eyes, there are even more dangers lurking in the digital world.
This makes parental control software an increasingly attractive and much needed prospect for parents and guardians. And while even OS developers now provide some of the functionality in this area, the most comprehensive feature set will come from third-party solutions designed by security experts. The right tools have to strike a balance between increasing your kids’ safety and giving them the freedom to explore, learn, and socialize.
Why use parental control software?
Kids spend more time on their devices. Screen time for US children before the pandemic it was estimated to be almost four hours per day. According to the same report, it’s doubled thanks to the COVID-era lockdowns. But technology has also been a lifesaver for young people during the pandemic, when many are using it to take classes, stay connected with friends and spend time on their favorite sites and apps. Like it or not, it remains an important part of their life.
As with all things, the key for parents is to understand where there is danger, and to try to minimize risk exposure to their children. At first glance, there are many things to worry about. This includes:
- Inappropriate content. This can be sexually explicit material, sexist or discriminatory content, disturbing or violent images/videos, gambling websites, and even swearing. What you consider inappropriate will depend on the child’s age and maturity level.
- Unfortunately, bullying is a fact of life for many children. But the online world arguably extends threats well beyond their immediate network of friends. One EU study claim half of all children have experienced some form of online bullying in their lifetime.
- Self care. Kids can seem tech-savvy. But they often also tend to take people they meet online for granted. Unfortunately, some adults are ready to take advantage. They will usually try to build trust with their victims by impersonating someone their age on social media, messaging, games, and other apps.
- Accidental data leak. We are all probably guilty of sharing too much online. But our children often have much larger digital circle of friends than we do, meaning there may be bad actors looking for information they can use. Even something as innocuous as a pet’s name, their home address, or the fact that they are going on vacation can be used in both digital and real-world attacks.
- Identity theft and phishing scams. As soon as your kids start registering social media, messaging apps, and email accounts, they’ll be bombarded with fake messages designed to trick them into handing over sensitive personal and financial information, or installing malware. Many look convincing. Some may be designed to entice with free giveaway claims.
- Excessive screen time. This been associated with eye problems, depression, overeating, and other physical problems in children. Perhaps most obviously, being glued to screens means your children are not interacting in the physical world, which can interfere with their emotional and social development.
What to look for in parental control software
There are many solutions on the market that can help with some or all of the above challenges. It pays to invest in a trusted brand with a proven track record in this space, and the broader cybersecurity market. Consider the following as a good starting point:
- Application control which lets you block apps that aren’t age-appropriate or control which apps they can access, and for how long. Daily time limits are a great idea for minimizing excessive screen time.
- Application and web usage reports will help you better understand where your child is spending time online and can help highlight sites/apps that may need to be blocked in the future. It should also mark recently installed apps.
- Safe browsing will help your child navigate the web while blocking access to pre-categorized age-inappropriate sites. It would be useful here for them to be able to request access to certain sites, which you can then work on on a case-by-case basis.
- Location and zoning alerts will pinpoint your child’s device location to help reduce anxiety about their whereabouts if they forget to message or call you. Another useful feature is the ability to create physical “zones,” with notifications sent to your device when your child enters or leaves.
- Easy to use portal is the last piece of the puzzle, enabling you to easily setup, manage, and continuously configure your product.
Nice to talk
While it can protect them from the darkest corners of the internet, parental control software is not a silver bullet that will magically make your child a responsible internet user. Nothing can replace the value derived from honest two-way communication with your children. Don’t just tell them you are installing software. Tell them why. Have an open debate about the dangers you see and set some ground rules together. Make sure they feel heard.
Better yet, take the occasional tech break. There are also beautiful worlds for your kids to explore that aren’t online.