Your ultimate guide to parental controls

The internet can be a big, scary place and the ways we’re able to access it are endless. From smartphones to smart TVs, parents are finding it more and more difficult to limit and monitor their child’s internet usage and activities. The good news is that many of today’s popular internet-connected devices feature parental controls you can trust to do the job in your absence. All you’ll need to know is where the settings are located and how to use them. 

Take a look at some mainstream devices your child may be using and how you can set up a variety of controls, including content blocks and screen time limits.

Setting up parental controls for operating systems

Apple (iPhone, iPad, iPod) parental controls

iOS

Now that iOS 13 is here, it’s easier than ever for parents to set and edit parental locks and restrictions. Here’s the quickest way to find your menu:

To access the new Screen Time settings:

  1. Go to your phone’s general Settings and select Screen Time
  2. Choose Content & Privacy Restrictions

In the Content & Privacy Restrictions view, block content of a certain maturity rating or from a certain region and limit the usage of certain apps, music, podcasts or news. Apple’s newest update even allows you to censor explicit language from the Siri virtual assistant if you choose. See more details on the latest update and how you can set up your parental controls on iPhone or iPad.

macOS

Putting parental controls onto your personal or desktop computer is made easy when you create individual user accounts. Set restrictions on a system-wide level or just on the youngest users of your macOS device.

To turn on and edit parental controls for an existing user account:

  1. Choose the Apple menu and select System Preferences
  2. Click Parental Controls and unlock the lock icon by clicking on it. You may be prompted to enter your admin name and password or Touch ID

Choose a user to edit previous parental locks, disable internet and app access, or set time limits before bedtime. You’ll also have the option to block apps and services from accessing and collecting data from your child.

Android parental controls

The Android operating system is run across multiple devices. However, you can still set parental restrictions on almost any device by following a few universal steps. 

To set up parental controls on an Android smartphone:

  1. Open Settings and select Users. There should already be a user account for the owner of the phone and one for a Guest 
  2. Click on Add user to create a profile for a child
  3. Click through the Set up new user disclaimer and connect to a Wi-Fi network
  4. Name the profile something adult members of the household can remember

From here, install age-appropriate apps on the new Android home screen and switch back and forth between user profiles.

To edit the parental controls on Play Store:

  1. Open the app and select the main menu
  2. Click Settings and go to Parental Controls

Once the Parental Controls switch is active, you’ll be able to set content restrictions on everything from apps to music. Block overall content by age rating or simply filter out music marked “explicit” by content providers. Set a personal PIN for your new settings that only you know to keep your changes in place.

Preparing parental controls for streaming

Netflix parental controls

You can restrict content on Netflix on the account level, so adults and children can enjoy separate content. Select your child’s account and set a four-digit PIN to lock in TV shows and movies at an appropriate maturity level (hard controls). You may also set a unique PIN for certain restricted content (soft controls). 

To set up a Parental Control PIN :

  1. Sign in to your Netflix account via a web browser and access the Account page
  2. Choose Settings and select Parental controls
  3. When prompted, enter your Netflix account password and click Continue
  4. Enter a four-digit PIN code that will serve as your password to these settings

If you have already identified the content you’re looking to restrict, you can easily set up soft control restrictions in order to block a specific TV show or movie. Hard controls will set restrictions across the entire user profile based on Netflix’s assigned maturity ratings.

To set the maturity level on an individual profile:

  1. Sign in to your Netflix account via a web browser and access the Account page
  2. Choose Manage Profiles and select the profile on which you’d like to set restrictions

Choose Allowed TV shows and movies and pick the maturity levels you’d like to restrict from the user account. The primary account holder on file is the only user that can be set to All Maturity Levels or For Teens and below, so be sure to create an account separate from your child’s. 

Hulu parental controls

The simplest way to restrict content as a Hulu subscriber is to create a Kids profile specifically for the youngest viewers in your home. This profile will only be able to view content from the Kids hub category of Hulu.

To create a kids-only profile: 

  1. Open the app and select + New Profile under the prompt to select a profile
  2. Name your kids-only profile and toggle Kids mode to On

Be sure to create a viewing account separate from your child’s, as non-Kids hub profiles will have access to all maturity ratings.

Amazon Prime parental controls

Similar to Netflix, Amazon’s parental control requires a PIN to enable and disable content restrictions. You’ll also be able to set and edit purchase limits with your personal PIN. 

To set your Amazon restrictions:

  1. Open the app and go to Prime Video Settings
  2. Select Parental Controls

Once a PIN is in place, you can require input for any purchase or rental and place parental blocks on selected categories like horror, for example. You’ll also be able to extend those blocks to additional devices connected to your account. Once your parental blocks are in place, other users should see a lock next to anything you’ve restricted. They’ll be prompted to input your personal PIN if they attempt to watch the restricted content. 

Putting together parental controls for social media

Twitter parental controls

Twitter is one of many social media sites that allows users the option to protect their accounts at the highest level. If your child is active on Twitter, it’s a good idea to take advantage of these settings and secure their account before it’s made public. 

To set the privacy settings on your child’s Twitter account:

  1. Log in to the Twitter app or website and select the Settings and Privacy option in the main menu
  2. Choose Privacy and safety

In this menu, you can “protect” tweets from the account, which will only allow current follows and those that are approved by your child in the future. You can also restrict photo and tweet tagging as well. The Direct Messages menu features the option to enable and disable users from contacting your child directly.

Under Discoverability and contacts, make sure all options are toggled off to disable users from locating your child’s account by phone number or email. Twitter has also categorized certain media as “sensitive content.” Under Safety, deselect the option to display this content before your child has the chance to view it. 

Snapchat parental controls

It may be difficult to monitor your child’s Snapchat since the app is located on their phone, but it’s not impossible. If you’re able to keep your parental restrictions in place, the app features settings that will allow you to control who views your child’s “story” and has access to their current geo-location. 

To edit these settings:

  1. Open the Snapchat app on your child’s phone
  2. Open the profile page and select the gear icon in the upper lefthand corner

The menu features options for parents and users to restrict who can contact the account, view their story and view them in the Quick Add function associated with their mobile phone number. You can also disable Snapchat’s location updates on the profile or just pick and choose which users can view them. 

Facebook parental controls

Facebook is not as popular with the younger demographic as it used to be. However, the shift in popularity with older generations may give parents cause to lock down their child’s account. Start by switching the child’s account from public to private viewing. 

To edit privacy settings:

  1. Open your child’s Facebook profile and select the three dots next to the Activity Log in the upper-righthand corner, then choose Timeline Settings
  2. Select Privacy in the main menu on the left

Control who views your child’s posts, who can send friend requests and view their friend’s list in the Privacy Settings and Tools menu. You can also review the posts they’re currently tagged in and prevent them from being tagged in photos and posts in the future. 

If you’re having trouble with a specific account, visit the Timeline and Tagging or Blocking menus. Here you’ll be able to block users completely and restrict timeline functions that allow spam or trolling. 

YouTube parental controls

YouTube can be a Pandora’s box for your child if the popular video sharing site isn’t properly vetted before use. Luckily, there are a few precautions and tools you can utilize to help filter explicit content or even cyberbullying from peer accounts

To enable YouTube restricted mode:

  1. Log into your child’s YouTube profile and click their profile picture in the upper right corner of the home page
  2. Select Restricted Mode at the bottom of the menu and toggle to On
  3. Choose Lock Restricted Mode on this browser below the toggle to prevent your child from turning off the safety mode

In Restricted Mode, all content deemed by YouTube as inappropriate for children will be filtered from their results. If you suspect malicious activity on the platform, visit the Reporting and Enforcement Center to report an account or user if you feel your child is a victim of cyberbullying. 

Creating parental controls for gaming consoles

Xbox parental controls

The family features on any Xbox device can help you control which games your children can play and even the types of content they can view.

To access your Xbox parental controls:

  1. Press the Xbox button on the controller to open the menu
  2. Select Settings and then select All Settings
  3. Select Account and open Family

In the Family menu, you’ll have the option to restrict content and websites by age. You may also restrict in-app purchases and downloads. 

PlayStation parental controls

Set parental locks for your child’s PlayStation at the user level or at a system-wide level for maximum security.

To access your PlayStation’s parental controls: 

  1. Choose Settings and then select Parental Controls/Family Management
  2. Select Family Management then either enter and pick a user to set restrictions on

In the Family Management menu, you’ll be able to set monthly spending limits on user accounts and choose whether or not users can communicate with external players. You’ll also be able to set age restrictions on game maturity ratings. Choose your restrictions and then set a four-digit passcode that only you know to prevent the settings from being changed.

Are parental controls effective?

Many parents look to these controls to be their eyes and ears when they’re unable to closely monitor a child’s online activities. However, experts question the efficiency of these tools and whether or not the short-term benefits outweigh the long-term effects on the child. 

In a study conducted by Bieke Zaman and Marije Nouwen, research found that the majority of parental control tools focus on prevention and restricting behavior. Strict parental controls could cause the child to miss out on online opportunities, impede on the child’s rights and even harm their wellbeing. 

“We don’t know whether parental controls really work! Previous research on the use of parental controls has not yet reached a conclusive answer on their effectiveness in reducing children’s online risks,” Zaman and Nouwen concluded. 

If you do choose to enable parental controls on a child’s device, there are a few ways you can make sure positive changes are made:

  1. Don’t overprotect or over control
  2. Do discuss parental control settings with your child 
  3. Don’t resort to punishment if your child accesses restricted content
  4. Do make your intentions for parental controls clear to your child

Heavy restrictions and punishments could lead your child to conduct online activity in secret. Promote an open and understanding environment for you and your child to discuss what parental controls are in place and why. Continue to facilitate discussion around the dangers of the web and how you’re helping keep the household and your child safe.  

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