Being able to use the internet daily is something that we cannot imagine our lives today without. While we are taking it and its help for granted, we still have to remind ourselves that the internet can be a dangerous place – especially for children and young teens. Generation Z was born into this digital world, they might be able to use a smart device before they start walking, but they cannot filter and evaluate the contents properly. Many webpages and apps contain even unintentionally – as an ad – violent, obscene, or adult content.
Parental control softwares can be a solution to parents who are worrying about that issue. Using these softwares, they will be able to limit the use of their child’s internet and smartphone use in many ways. Hereunder we introduce the main functions of these softwares. However, it is essential that not every software has all the listed functionalities. Also worthy of note is that although these softwares can set up rules for a child’s internet usage and act as a digital defence line, they cannot replace sharing our own digital experiences and open communication lines about online threats with the family.
We can find several free parental control software in the market, but the ones with broader functionality usually have a monthly or yearly fee (a free trial is available most of the time). Pricing tiers tend to align with functions and device limits, though some offer free versions for basic protection on a limited number of devices. Average prices can vary between HUF 5.000-30.000/year. When we set up parental control software as one of the first steps, we have to specify the child’s age. Based on that, most of the software automatically set up many rules, which can be changed and personalized. The app installed on the child’s device always can be configured from the parent’s device. Regarding the functions, here is what we can expect generally:
Web filtering: You can define which webpages your child can have access to (white list) and which webpages are prohibited for him/her (blacklist). With this, you can easily block adult websites and inappropriate content. In case you would like to control all your children’s online activity, you can create their own personalized whitelist and blacklist.
Set up time control: You can control your child’s screen time, meaning how much time and when he/she is allowed to use his/her device or the apps. You can set up the same time control rules for every day, but you can also allow more screen time on some days, e.g., the weekends.
App supervision: You can control what applications your child can download and use. You can create a list of the allowed applications, or the software can ask for permission every time your child is about to download an app.
Weekly/monthly reports: You can get weekly or monthly reports and statistics via e-mail about your child’s online activity. Geofencing: You can trace your child using his/her device’s location. You can set up safe areas for your children to roam on their own and get alerts if they leave the boundaries.
Social media monitoring: You can track your child’s social media activities and texting on various platforms (depending on the software), e.g., Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Kik, WhatsApp etc.
Search supervision: You can have a look at your child’s browsing history, including the words or phrases he/she searched for. There are some products that are designed for covert observation of your kid’s search habits, texting, etc. (e.g. Webeatcher). This spyware lets you see what is going on without your children knowing.
Access request: Your children can text you via app or e-mail if they disagree with the rules or limits you set up, and they can request access to one of the permitted websites or apps.
Instant lock: You can lock your child’s device in case you detect inappropriate content or if you want to decrease your child’s internet usage. Parents and children can communicate with each other even if the device is locked.
E-mail alerts: The software automatically alerts you every time the program’s algorithm identifies a potential threat, such as cyberbullying, online bullying, thoughts of suicide, or if your child wants to open inappropriate websites or apps, or when they leave their security zone etc.
Safe search: You can block your child’s inappropriate searches. Monitor and block calls: You can see who your child is calling the most often, block unwanted numbers or the ones without caller ID, or determine who can call your child.
Text monitoring: You can monitor your child’s SMSs and e-mails. Turn off the Internet: You can pause or totally block access to the internet, e.g. for study time.
Control downloads: You can control what contents your child is allowed to download.
Monitor battery level: You get notifications if your children’s battery is low and they need to charge their phones.
We can see that there are many functions and possibilities available, everyone should consider choosing one according to their own personal needs and goals. It would help if you also considered that the operating system running on your devices must be compatible with the software you choose and that on how many devices you intend to use the software. You cannot disregard the fact that above a certain age of the child, monitoring and limiting their online activity can cause more harm than benefits – worse case, it can destroy the trust between the parents and the child. With teenagers, it is rather recommended to have an open line of communication with your child to help foster and encourage good online habits.