Undoubtedly, one of the biggest concerns parents have about the internet is the kind of websites their children are browsing and the content they may be viewing. In fact, according to an ESET survey, nine out of 10 parents are worried about what their kids can access. While we might expect all parents to be worried, it’s still a pretty high percentage, which seems fitting in view of the risks that children may face on the internet in the absence of suitable precautions.
Naturally, the first measure of control parents should take with their children is dialogue. Rather than preventing children from interacting with technology, it is important to show them the correct way of using it. This open, honest conversation should start at home and continue at school, and it should also be accompanied by certain rules, such as where the computer is located, connection time limits and devices that may be used. It’s about promoting a healthy experience.
All of these measures should be supplemented with appropriate technological measures. This is where parental control tools come in, which allow parents to manage and restrict the content that their children can see on the computer via the websites they visit.
While there are tools developed exclusively for this purpose, it is important to remember that parental controls are set up via the same settings menus on the devices your children are using.
Therefore, regardless of whether you use Windows, Mac OS X or any distribution of Linux, each person who uses the computer should have his or her own username with the appropriate security settings. For younger children, you can restrict certain activities, ranging from installing apps downloaded from the internet to configuring the use of certain types of programs.
These settings can be supplemented by applying default features in web browsers. For example, in the case of user profiles for younger children, the default page can be set to Bunis.org, a safe search engine in Spain that applies filters to searches performed, only displaying content that is appropriate for minors.
What are parental control tools used for?
All the above measures can be supplemented by the use of a parental control tool, which would allow the following controls to be implemented:
- User roles
Parents can control and monitor internet access by setting a role for each user of the computer. You can thereby customize various internet access permissions, privileges on important files and even the installation of new software, such as video games.
- Restricting access by category
One of the main features is that parents can restrict access to websites by adding or removing items from a list of web categories for each role. Hence we can limit traffic by taking into account various sites with different content.
An obvious example is to apply filters that modify access to online gaming sites, but in turn allow children free access to the permitted search engines to do their homework.
- Blocking websites
This is the ability to restrict access to inappropriate content by blocking certain websites. Depending on the role you are setting up, you can restrict or allow access. In this section, you can block sites which have violent or sexual content, and even sites that have a poor reputation.
It is also important to mention that, in many cases, this functionality will enable pop-up blocking for pornographic sites, which children often reach by mistake.
- Activity log
With the tool, parents can view an activity log, e.g. blocked pages or the account the site has been blocked for and why. By monitoring the sites that have been viewed, we can generate a pattern of behavior for the child, to assist with educating them about the information logged that we believe they should be protected from online.
- Control of apps and time
With these tools, you can decide which apps can be used and when they can be used, as well as setting a time limit. You can therefore ensure that your children are not connected for too long or using video games online for excessive periods. For example, this solution protects children from excessive video game use, which can be addictive, by setting a maximum amount of time they can be used.
This is where it becomes very important to use a secure password to ensure that the safety settings you have implemented cannot be altered by any other user apart from the parents. While for many parents, parental controls are simply used to block access to the internet, the best solution remains to educate your children.
Parental control apps must be used bearing in mind the purpose for which they are used. The age of the child using the device to access the internet will have a big influence on this. There is clearly a difference between having these controls on a computer used by young children, whose internet use consists of playing or viewing visually attractive content, and having them installed on devices used by teenagers, who exchange personal information and meet new people every day, and so on.
Trust between parents and children is crucial to establish a link that can really help them enjoy the internet safely. Using these tools to spy on children’s activities or radically restrict their activities can lead to some uncomfortable situations, so it’s always best to start by teaching them the correct way to use computers and the internet.
The focus, then, should be to make them aware of the risks and dangers that can result from misuse, making it clear that parental control tools are installed for their own safety.
by Camilo Gutiérrez Amaya, ESET We Live Security