How to . . . keep your children safe online
How to . . . keep your children safe online
There was a time when the advice for parents letting their children go online was to make sure they kept the family computer in a common area so you could keep a close eye on what they were doing.
But these days it’s more complicated. Children and teenagers have smartphones and tablets that give them internet access from anywhere they can get a wifi or mobile data connection. You can insist that they use their smartphones only at certain times, but it can be hard to enforce. When you consider that social networking and on-demand internet access are something that is considered normal by younger users, it can be hard to impress on your children the risks and privacy implications of living your life online.
Although a good realistic chat with your child about the dangers of sharing too much online, or why certain things are inappropriate for their age group, curiosity may get the better of them.
However, there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of your children accessing inappropriate content through their mobile devices.
iPhone and iPad:
On devices running iOS - Apple’s mobile software - you can use Restrictions to control what your child can do on the device.
To access the restrictions menu, go to Settings>General>Restrictions and select Enable restrictions. You’ll need to set a restrictions passcode that will stop anyone else from disabling the blocks you have put in place. It’s important that you choose a code you’ll remember; if you forget the code, you’ll have to wipe the device and set the whole thing up again from scratch.
Once you have the code chosen and confirmed, you will then be permitted to block everything from access to Safari and the camera, to the ability to install and delete apps.
There are also individual controls that allow you to block certain ratings of films, from 18-rated movies down to 12 and PG titles. The same goes for TV programmes, books, apps and websites, and you can choose to block specific sites, or allow a list of approved sites.
You can also lock out content rated as explicit in musics, podcasts, news and iTunes U, although that depends on the content being categorised correctly.
Siri can also be blocked from explicit language - which, let’s face it, takes half the fun out of using the digital assistant as it is.
Look a bit further down and you’ll see that you can stop people making changes to mobile data settings, or even the volume limit on the device.
Unlike iOS, Android is a slightly more complex beast to work with when it comes to parental controls.
Android tablets with newer versions of the software have the ability to set up user profiles that will disable many of the features that you would rather your child didn’t access.
To set up a new profile for your child, open Settings>Device>Users>Add new user or profile. That will give the option of setting up a restricted profile. To name it, tap New profile, put in the name and select OK. You will see a list of apps with switches next to their names; simply choose the ones you want to allow access to.
Only the device owner can set up new profiles, and it’s important they you set some sort of lock on the master profile, or else your child will quickly figure out how to switch back to your unrestricted profile.
If you are on an Android smartphone, however, the choices aren’t quite as simple. It makes little sense that Google has’t introduced something built into smartphones the way Apple has for the iPhone, considering so many children will start off on Android smartphones due to the low cost of some of the budget options.
Some manufacturers offer their own restrictions - Samsung has a Kids Mode app for its tablets and smartphones, for example, that will lock out important functions if you want to hand over your phone to your child, for example.
For true parental controls, your main options for Android are to install third party apps such as those offered by Norton or Kaspersky. Some require a subscription, but there are others that are free of charge that will allow you to impose basic controls over phones and tablets.
Restrict in-app purchases on Google Play:
Unlike Apple’s App Store, you don’t have to give Google’s Play Store a method of payment when you first set up your account and want to download an app - free or paid for. Every time it asks you to add a card or review your payment information for the Play Store, you can choose to skip it, an option that is located in the bottom right of the popup window.
That will stop your child from using your card to pay for apps or in app purchases, but it won’t stop them from using someone else’s card or from downloading free apps you’d rather they didn’t that are free of charge.
To enable parental controls in the Play Store, open up the store and select the menu option in the top left corner - the three horizontal lines. Scroll down to Settings>Parental controls, and switch the slider to On.
You’ll then be prompted to set a PIN to access these controls. Once you’ve confirmed your PIN, you will be given the option to restrict access to apps and games, films and music, which will allow you filter out content by its PEGI rating or, in the case of music, if it’s marked as explicit content.
One thing to note: unlike iOS, the Android system allows uers to install software from outside the Play Store using Android application packages (APKs). It’s disabled by default, and trying to install such software will trigger a security warning, but it’s easy enough to bypass.
Google Safe Search filters
Google is a great resource for learning about all sorts of subjects. But it’s also full of adult content you might prefer your child didn’t see.
If you want to restrict Google searches, for example, you can enable safe search filters that will filter out certain adult-themed content, blocking explicit images, videos and website from search results.
It’s not 100 per cent effective, and it may also filter out genuine results that wouldn’t be considered adult themed. But if you want to try to protect your child from some of the more obvious things out there, SafeSearch is an easy place to start.
A few caveats. SafeSearch only applies to Google search results, so it won’t stop your child from turning up explicit content through another search engine. It also has to be turned on for different web browsers, so if your child has the technical knowhow to download another browser, it won’t apply until you enable it. If your child has that much technical knowhow though, they may also be able to disable SafeSearch.
If you delete cookies, your SafeSearch settings may also be reset. And as we already mentioned, it’s not 100 per cent effective, although it will block most explicit content.
On Android devices:
If you are using the Google app, open it and in the top left corner, click the menu icon and choose Settings >Accounts & privacy. Scroll down to SafeSearch filter, and turn on the filter by checking the box.
If you are using the browser, go to search settings at Google.com/preferences, scroll down to SafeSearch filters and tap Filter explicit results. Tap Save.
If you are using the Google app, open it and tap the Settings cog>Search settings and scroll to SafeSearch filters. Turn it on by tapping Filter explicit results. Tap Save.
On Safari, go to google.com/preferences. Under SafeSearch Filters, check Filter explicit results.
Open google.com/preferences, and under SafeSearch filters, check the box next to Turn on SafeSearch. Click Save.
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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