HKQ Kids

Parental Controls: The Digital Side of Parenting

It’s more difficult now than ever to keep track of 100% of the media your children are consuming. Between television, computers, phones, tablets, and video games, kids have tons of options for entertainment; however, all of these devices can serve as an avenue to disturbing or harmful content that your kids shouldn’t be seeing. It should be noted that these devices shouldn’t serve as a babysitter or replacement parent and that screen time should be limited to a healthy amount. Of course, it’s understandable for these things to be used in moderation.

It’s important to have an awareness of the types of things your kids are watching and playing. Depending on the child’s age, you can employ a few different strategies to ensure that they’re on the right path. For older kids and teens, it’s a good idea to keep an open dialogue about the types of content they’re consuming. You should set some ground rules about what kinds of things are okay to watch or play. Any video game or movie you buy will be rated as appropriate for specific age groups, and you can always do some research online if you’re unsure whether or not your child is old enough to watch or play the movie or game in question. Of course, rules can be broken and kids might decide that they can make that choice on their own. For kids who may attempt to circumvent these rules or younger kids who aren’t capable of understanding/participating in that kind of discussion yet, the easiest and most effective strategy is to look into parental controls on the devices that they’re allowed to use.

For the uninitiated, parental controls are features included on most modern media-transmitting devices that give parents the ability to restrict or block what kind of content their children are allowed to view. You can think of it as a digital lock; just as a real lock can keep your kids from accessing something dangerous, these parental locks can prevent kids from viewing inappropriate content. This is the most common way parental controls are used, but in some cases, they can also be used to restrict the amount of time that your child can use a device per day, which can help in limiting screen time if that is an issue.

A current and incredibly useful example of both types of controls can be found on the Nintendo Switch video game console. After choosing a PIN that gives only you access to the parental control settings, you can limit what rating level of games your kids are allowed to play, and whether or not online functionalities are enabled. The Nintendo Switch also gives you the option of downloading an app on your smart device that allows you to choose how much play time you’d like to allow, changeable based on the day of the week. The app can also provide a monthly report of what games have been played on the console and for how much time each. As Nintendo’s game consoles are primarily marketed to children, their parental controls are perhaps the most customizable and easy to work with for parents, though similar options are also present on consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and even older consoles including the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

That covers video games, but what about phones, tablets, and computers? When it comes to these devices, you can choose to block specified websites or programs, as well as restrict functions on specific apps. It’s going to depend on what operating system or kind of smart phone you’re using, but the general idea and functionality is the same as described above. Whether you’re using an iPhone or an Android, or a PC or Mac, you can typically look around in your phone’s settings or search for “parental controls” on your computer to get started. If you have a wireless router, you may be able to set parental controls at that level as well. For example, most Netgear routers have a program called “Genie” where you can choose times, types of websites, and even very specific websites that can be blocked from access.

While you can use smartphone and computer parental controls to choose which websites, programs, and apps aren’t allowed, what if you want your child to have access to a particular app, but not some of its features. Thankfully, many sites and apps, and especially the most popular ones, also permit you to pick which features are permissible for your children to access. Netflix, for example, allows you to go to your profile settings and choose what level of content will be displayed as viewable for your kids, with options ranging from little kids, to older kids, to teens, to adults. Apps like Snapchat, as well, allow you to restrict certain features like chatting, and to hide the user’s profile so it doesn’t appear in searches.

At the end of the day, nearly every major device or entertainment service has its own form of parental controls; you just need to look for them. It can require a bit of legwork to go through each device, but it’s one of the most effective options available. As noted earlier, you should talk to your kids about why you’re using parental controls: for their own safety and wellbeing. Keeping that open dialogue is important; your kids will want and need to use these devices independently someday, and your overall goal should be preparing them for this and teaching them what they should look out for and avoid.

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