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Internet use among children and adolescents is on the rise, with children coming online at a younger age. This paper from 2001 states that 59% of children and adolescents 5-17 use the internet in the United States. According to that same study, about 25% of 5-year-olds use the internet, rising to 50% by age nine.
Newer data from the NCES shows that 93% of children between the ages of 3 and 18 now have internet access. As you can see, internet use amongst young children has become an established reality in our society.
This makes the statistics on internet safety among young children even more disturbing:
56% of children aged 11-16 have seen explicit material online.
33% of children aged 12-15 have encountered sexist, discriminatory, or racist content online.
10% of children aged 8-11 have encountered something online that they describe as nasty, or worrying.
Cutting off a child’s internet access to avoid these issues is not practical. It can cause significant harm to your child’s social life and ability to function in an increasingly digitized workplace as an adult. Parental control software allows you to monitor your child’s browsing, block inappropriate content, and set time limits on online activity while allowing your child to continue to browse the internet.
A parental control app lets you monitor your child’s total online activity, actively blocks access to harmful websites, and even enables you to block apps during certain times of the day. Parental control apps are available for mobile and desktop devices. Most apps offer multiple versions, one for desktop and one compatible with an iOS or Android device.
A parental control app for mobile devices monitors app activity, not just internet browsing. You can use it to limit your child’s access to social media past certain hours or simply to see what apps your child frequents when they are online.
An effective parental control app also monitors social media activity. This is essential since the three most popular apps used by children after YouTube are the social media platforms TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat.
While individual apps work slightly differently, all parental control apps involve installing the application on your child’s device, and your own. You can access the password protected application from your own device to view a dashboard. Depending on what functions your app has, this dashboard may allow you to view your child’s browsing history, block or unblock certain websites, or even to track the location of your child’s device.
For shared computers, you can place parental controls on a single account, allowing you and other adult family members to have full access, while your child’s account remains protected.
Keep in mind that parental control software is not a substitute for internet safety education and a dialogue with your child. It is still important to teach your child the basics of safe conduct online, and to maintain an open dialogue about your child’s online life.
Parental control apps have become popular tools for parents to protect their children from inappropriate content and limit their screen time. While these apps can be effective in restricting access to certain types of content and managing screen time, there are also concerns that they may be overly restrictive, intrusive, and may not be effective in preparing children to navigate the online world independently.
It is important for parents to weigh the benefits and risks of using parental control apps and use them in a balanced and thoughtful way, in combination with other strategies for promoting safe and responsible online behavior. Ultimately, parental control apps should be seen as one tool among many for protecting children online, rather than a comprehensive solution to the complex challenges of online safety.
The ability to view the entirety of another device’s browsing history, control its browsing activity, and track location is essential for protecting your child online. Some children may not be open or comfortable with this sort of monitoring. The best way to get around this resistance is to have a mature dialogue with your child about the importance of online safety.
Some parental control apps opt for a different strategy. These apps employ stealth software, essentially allowing you to view your child’s browsing activity without their knowledge or consent.
The problem with this technology is that it is essentially spyware. Since the program is designed to be installed without the main user’s knowledge, there is theoretically nothing stopping you from installing it on any device you have access to, whether it belongs to a a child, a spouse, or a co-worker.
Every parental control app is different, but they should all come with at least some of these key features.
Parental control apps range significantly in cost, from free applications to annual subscriptions worth multiple hundreds of dollars. How much you need to pay will depend on several factors, including the number of devices you need to protect, as well as the device type. For instance, software for a Windows PC typically starts at $40/month, while Google offers a free parental control service for up to 8 devices.
A parental control app, despite the name, is most effective when used in cooperation with your child, more as a form of education and protection than as a tool for direct control. Eventually, your child will grow up and will be exposed to the unguarded, uncontrolled internet. Consider parental control software equivalent to a bike's training wheels.
Let your child browse the net in a safe environment, but give them enough room to experience autonomy and exercise good judgment. As your child gets older, dial back the settings on the parental control software. Your child will have greater needs for privacy and autonomy as they get older.
Work with your child to select an app that works for both of you. Most apps offer a free trial. Use it to try out different programs until you find one you both like. Remember that even the best parental control app is not a stand-in for online safety education - use this software as part of a larger, collaborative learning experience that teaches your child about safe conduct online.