Parental Controls: A Guide to Monitoring Your Child Online

Parental controls: Why it may be time to use them.

Kids are accessing the internet at an alarming rate. How do you keep them safe on the web? Over the summer, my oldest daughter came racing down my kitchen stairs in a panic. “Mom, we were only watching a James Charles makeup tutorial like you said we could and now we are watching something very not okay.” And she burst into tears. I raced upstairs to see what my oldest and her friend had on on her iPad in her room… And it was raunchy. A guy, wearing makeup and literally nothing else, with private parts blurred, dancing around to a song I hadn’t heard.

And that was how our screen time overhaul began.

You see, websites such as YouTube are fun. There are lots of great, informational videos. The internet, in general, is full of great content to help you learn all sorts of things, discover tons of interesting (and sometimes crazy) information and just generally explore and enjoy. But it doesn’t take much to go from a kid-friendly website or video to something not intended for young eyes. And this is what happened with my daughter.

She spent last year obsessed with makeup artist James Charles. She would beg me for YouTube time and sit next to me at the table while I worked with her headphones in and a pile of makeup and mirror, trying to emulate his fabulous makeup. She’d spend ages trying to perfect her smoky eye under his tutelage.

I finally started letting her practice her makeup with her YouTube videos in her bathroom because my workspace wasn’t big enough for my stuff and hers. I had seen enough- she wasn’t trying to watch illicit videos or do anything inappropriate. She was genuinely trying to learn how to do interesting things with her makeup.

But all it took was one innocent click and her informational James Charles videos paved the way to something inappropriate. She and her friend watched a few videos to learn a few tricks when they saw another video that piqued their interest on YouTube’s side bar of videos. One click lead to another, which lead to another. And all of the sudden, their innocent makeup videos were no more.

A few clicks on a website I mostly trusted was all it took.

Luckily, she knew everything was not okay right away and alerted me. Her friend also left the room, after pausing the video, and we told her mom what had happened. But it reinforced what I had already known: kids can get exposed to bad things on the internet. Even good kids. Even smart kids. Even kids who know better.

It is up to us as parents to prevent this from happening.

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Parental controls: where to find them and how to use them

Luckily, most major companies these days have equipped their products with parental controls that enable you to help safeguard your kids from exposure to unwanted websites, videos and chats. Many companies provide parental controls within their settings that are free of charge and can be set and changed as often as you need.

Apple allows you to set time restrictions, app restrictions and more with their parental controls. We use Apple products at my house, and all products go on lockdown from 8pm to 8am. The girls can’t download any apps without requesting permission, and they earn time on their devices in 15 minute increments directly from us. It is a little trickier with my daughter’s iPhone, but we make it work.

Google Play has similar parental controls that can be helpful for Android users. Limit time spent on apps, require kids to ask permission before they download an app and so on.

Microsoft also allows you to set parental control on their devices that limits the amount to time kids can engage in certain activities as well as limits content they can see.

Even some social media sites, such as TikTok, offer parental controls that enable you, to some degree, to filter and manage the content your child is exposed to.

YouTube has YouTube Kids, the only site I let my younger two daughters access. Unfortunately, James Charles videos aren’t allowed on YouTube Kids, which is the reason I let my 12 year old use the regular site against my better judgement.

If your child needs to search the internet, for school or any other reason, you can have them search through Google SafeSearch, which will filter inappropriate content for you. This article from Common Sense Media has lots more tips and tricks for using free parental controls provided within major search engines and companies to limit the amount of unwanted content your child is exposed to online.

Parental controls: additional resources

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what other tools you can use to monitor your child’s online activity.

If you’re worried about the words your child is using to text friends, try the Bark app, which will alert you if bad language is detected.

If you’re concerned about the people your child is talking to while playing popular online video games such as Fortnite, try Kidas, which monitors cyberbullying, hate speech, privacy violations and more for you.

It takes a village to keep kids safe online!
What resources do you use to keep your child safe online?