Nobody gives you a user manual when you have a kid and now that we’re living in the midst of a global health crisis it’s abundantly clear that there’s no playbook for parenting during a pandemic.
The school year ended early, many summer programs are nixed, and kids are inevitably drawn to their screens. That means there’s an even greater chance they’ll stumble across the weird, lewd, and gross parts of the web. Meanwhile, companies are scrambling to add new parental controls to their apps as kids in “lockdown” latch on to them for entertainment.
Worse yet, parents I’ve spoken to feel like their kids are way more tech-savvy than they are, and searching for tools to keep screen time safe leaves them feeling overwhelmed and confused. It’s no wonder, with hundreds of apps and options out there. I’ve tested more of them than I care to remember, and this is what every parent needs to know.
Verizon FIOS and Xfinity customers should take advantage of the customizable router-level settings to prevent browsing to dangerous places.
Adding known bad websites to the list will block them from being accessible by devices connected to the home network, but the really powerful tool is the ability to block specific keywords. You couldn’t possibly know every sketchy website URL off the top of your head, but adding keywords to the blocked list prevents sites where those words appear from being accessed.
For Spectrum customers, the Security Suite for Windows and Mac lets you block content in a similar way, while also adding time limits and customizable schedules.
Popular operating systems like Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android have their own parental control software that is both useful and easy to use.
For smartphones and tablets, Apple’s Screen Time app and Google’s Family Link gives parents a window into what the kids are doing on their mobile devices. Parents can set time limits for apps that automatically prevent binging, or you can block apps altogether if you know they’re causing problems.
Apple’s Screen Time extends to Mac OS as well, delivering reports on app usage, internet browsing, and other activity while allowing parents to set limits on time spent staring at the computer screen.
On Windows 10, simple settings will block inappropriate websites automatically, set time limits for overall usage, and the “Ask a Parent” feature prevents kids from buying and downloading content on Microsoft’s app store without your permission. Even better, Microsoft’s easy-to-use parental controls extend to the Xbox, and you can manage it all in one place.
To keep kids from accessing mature Netflix content, the streaming service just launched a new PIN-protected profiles feature. Head to your Netflix account settings in a web browser and enable “Profile Lock” under “Profile & Parental Controls.” Set a code and then decide what level of content each profile is allowed to watch. If you want, you can also remove specific movies or TV series on a per-profile basis. You can also monitor all the past content that was watched on your child’s account in the same menu.
Locking kids out of the bad stuff is only half the battle. Redirect their attention to kid-friendly websites that will entertain them and give you peace of mind.
Kids who crave digital contact with their friends can use Messenger Kids. It’s Facebook’s Messenger app, but tweaked for kids of any age. Parents have control over who is messaging whom, what images and videos are being tossed back and forth,
Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Kik, and Snapchat are already the default methods of communication for kids and teens, but they aren’t great about built-in parental controls. Use Bark, a subscription-based parental control app, to monitor activity on all of those apps (and many more) and see the reports in a dead-simple dashboard. You can try Bark for free, but an annual membership will cost you $49 (or $5 per month). It works on Android, iOS, and Amazon Kindle devices.