Make Sure your Children are Safe Online
It’s a dangerous world out there. Especially as you consider the influence the back alleys of the internet can have over unsuspecting, pliable young minds. Up until this point in history, media was able to be highly regulated and you were able to have discretion over what content and influences our children were exposed to. With the connected world, and the (felt) need to have kids have their own internet-connected devices so young, we can’t be too careful.
With my own children using devices more and more, and as I now am faced with having two middle-schoolers in the house, I admit I was feeling at a loss of where to even start to protect them. We have conversations about these sorts of things often, but this is more than just an issue of trust.
Basically, we didn’t even have to deal with this when we were young. So how do we regulate and monitor what our children are doing online? It’s a wild west in so many of the corners of the web. While the internet is very useful, there are some dark places on the web that no child needs to see. From graphic images to pornography, it’s important to keep your child safe and make sure they are using the internet properly. That being said, there are a lot of different choices for parental control software out there. Each with their own pros and cons that differ them from their competition. It can be difficult to decide which software is right for you, so I went and did some research on some of the more popular choices to help make your decision a little bit easier.
Circle with Disney
Unlike its competitors, Circle is not a software. It is a small white cube that pairs with your router and connects to all the devices that are on that network. Because of this, setting up Circle is extremely easy. It was designed with busy parents in mind so that the set up can be hassle free. Circle allows you to set custom settings for each device. That way your 16 year old has different web settings than your 8 year old. The settings come in presets for different ages, and can be customized by the parent easily. Circle with Disney is able to set time limits for each individual app, different categories of apps (games, social media, etc.) and overall device time. It is also allows you to set custom filters and block specific websites on individual devices and also is able to block advertisements. You have the ability to pause the internet, or turn it off completely at set times. This is useful if you want everyone’s phones away for family dinner, or want to have a set time for the kids to do homework. As far attacking goes, Circle does fairly well. It tracks how much time is spent on specific sites over time, and organizes this to show you how much time was spent in a certain category of apps and time spent online overall.
Cons: The biggest fallback with this parental control device is that it connects to the network, and isn’t a part of the electronic devices itself. Because of this, any time your child is on any other network you cannot control what they are looking at. Circle also won’t be able to report what was being viewed during this time either. Another problem is with shared devices. While it is easy to filter the devices owned by a specific child, it’s harder to decide what and what not to filter or a shared device like the family iPad or laptop. It’s up for the user to decide what to block on these devices, which can be difficult.
Content Watch Net Nanny 7
This web-based solution is sold for individual devices or in packages of 5 or 10. Net Nanny has a ton of features, and carries most things that any of its competitors have. Its biggest strength is in its online filtering features. Net Nanny reviews the content of the website that is being visited every time it is visited in real time to determine if it is safe, a very important feature in the constantly changing internet. It’s even able to determine the safety of the content based on the context around it (it knows the difference between “breast” being used for medical or cooking sites and “breast” for pornography). Net Nanny allows you to set custom filters on each child’s different devices where you allow, block, or warn about different categories like nudity and weapons. You are able to set limits on how much time online can be spent on each device per day, and can stop internet access at certain times for family meals or homework sessions. Net Nanny sends you a notification anytime your child tries to enter a blocked site or wants access to a site that is being blocked, and the parent then has the option to override or deny access. Net Nanny also has weekly reports that tell you how many times devices were blocked or warned, and what unsafe sites were being attempted to enter the most. Net Nanny can also monitor your child’s social media accounts, and let you know if there is any threat to your child being cyberbullied or threatened online by someone.
Cons: With the packages, you may have to buy coverage for more devices than you need to, causing you to spend money that you didn’t want to spend. Net Nanny can be delayed on the email alerts it sends by an hour or so. It also is unable to report what was being searched on the devices, only the sites that were visited.
Qustodio Parental Control
Qustodio has a free version that works on one device and comes with basic features like reporting, internet filters, and time limiters on sites and the internet. Anything other than that and you must purchase a package similar to that of Net Nanny, but these packages come with more features than the free version does. While being able to filter your child’s devices, you can also view what they are doing on social media. Qustodio let you know anytime your child posts on a social media, or comments/has someone else comment on their post. You can view messages being exchanged to keep an eye out for any cyberbullying. The program also allows you to view who your child has been texting and calling, what is being said, and even gives you the power to block certain numbers from contacting that device. Qustdio also tracks the location of your devices so that you know where your children are and what they are up to. The child also as the option to hit a panic button which will immediately alert you if they are in a dangerous situation.
Cons: The site blocker custom categories are not very good, it is more effective to manually block site from your kids. This can be time consuming and confusing for less technologically adept parents. Setting up the Facebook monitor can also be confusing, and to do it you must have your child give you their login credentials and tell them what you will be doing. This may be a problem for some parents and some children may not be particularly happy with this.
OurPact did recently add an internet filter, but it’s main focus as an app is allowing you to control your children’s screen times and knowing their location. This app allows you to schedule screen time throughout the day along with the ability to give and take internet/app access at any time. This app allows you to set a maximum screen time each day so that your kids won’t spend an unhealthy amount of hours staring at their screen. You can also block texting, internet, and certain apps (you can block games and social media but allow educational apps to be accessed) and can allow and deny access whenever you decide. OurPact also comes with a family locator, which will tell you the location of your child and their device at all times. This app has a free version, but with it you only get limited features and can only use one device. It’s recommended to just purchase the premium package that comes with all of the features mentioned above and up to 20 devices at $5.99/month.
Cons: The app only released the internet filter feature at the beginning of this month, so it’s tough to say how well the filter works at the moment. Also when apps are blocked they disappear from the phone. When they return, they come back in alphabetical order, which disorganizes the apps and is a huge hassle.
Norton Family Premier
Norton Family Premier is a parental control software with no limit on the number of devices and strong and flexible content filtering. With this you are able to block different categories of websites like mature and drugs on different devices and will send you a notification if someone tries to enter a website that is being blocked. Like most of these software’s, Norton tracks how long each person has spent online each day and allows you to set a limit to how long they can be on. You can see who your kids are texting, and prevent them from contacting a number if you feel it is unsafe. Another cool feature Norton has is it keeps track of all the YouTube videos that your child watches. It even shows you a clip from each video so you can decide if it’s appropriate or not.
Cons: Many reviews say that the app is difficult to install, and people had to call tech support. The bigger problem with this software, however, is that tech savvy kids are able to get around the firewalls put up. The software is flawed in that if an Android phone’s power is cycled during a period of time when a curfew is set, Norton Family becomes inactive and the user is allowed to use the phone without restrictions. The program then sends a message to the parent saying the child tempered with the settings. This could result in some family conflict, and smarter kids who become aware of this can use this flaw to get around the firewalls. Because of this, I would not recommend this software to anyone with kids old enough to figure this out.
There’s a lot of different choices when it comes to parental control. The best option for you depends on what you want out of the software, each has its different pros and cons. There are tons of other options out there besides the ones above as well. The choice is up to you. But regardless, please do not believe that our children will be safe without your involvement. Intentional or not, their exposure is inevitable without the proper precautions.