As a day job, a lot of my time is spent making internet access easier faster and more accessible in every part of the house for my clients and their family members. But with this new 24/7 connected home, there also comes a level of responsibility to help educate parents on how to go about limiting access for some members of the household without affecting others? Why is this important?
As a father of a bright and bubbly 9 year old girl who resides in a connected house with end to end Wi-Fi coverage, with lots of portable devices (iPad’s, phones, laptops) lying around and 24/7 access to the internet poses some challenges to her parents on how we control what she can see and can't see and when enough is enough.
Like a lot of children her age when she is allowed some screen time, she loves watching YouTube. You know the kind of shows were lots of kids or even parents are reviewing the latest toys or doing the unboxing (Cant see the attraction myself). She also needs the internet to do some of her homework projects, and she also loves watching some shows on Netflix. That’s about the extent of it so far, but the day will come where she will delve deep into the internet who knows what she will stumble upon.
Now as parents we have a philosophy of not trying to cotton wool our daughter to the realities of the world but there are just some things a 9-year-old does not need to be exposed to. So how do you go about balancing the needs of a family's access to the internet? As adults, we want to be able to access all the information all the time when we need to but we also don’t want our daughter to be able to wander off and visit the not so nice side of the web. Even Peppa Pig is not safe.
Well, easy you say just ban YouTube and other not so nice sites that you know about (PornHub) just block that site. Life will go on as it did before it was invented. There will be some initial resistance from the affected parties. But they will get over it.
Ok so what about limiting social media activity Facebook, Instagram. What if you have one child being bullied on social media but the other members of the family either need Facebook for work purposes or don’t have an issue?
Well, it all depends on your unique family situation and as I found out over the years surprise surprise needs change. I know this sounds like a copout but please stick with me and I will explain.
There are a number of ways to limit access but most are blunt instruments, some work well for some families and not others. Some will require more parent intervention than others, others rely more on trust. Also, your own level of technical expertise will play a big factor in which solution is right for your family.
A lot of the newer over the counter purchased routers have a “Parental Controls” function built into them, this does require a little bit of study to set up and a few hoops to jump through so you will need a little bit of knowledge to use this feature. Some brands do it better than others. They apply a ban for all users on the network to a set of predefined rules or websites address (URLs) some have the ability to allow some PC’s to be exempted but not portable devices. So, for example, you can ban specific websites or websites with R18 ratings.
That is all well and good until Mum or Dad want to order some wine online or place a bet online or just check the Lotto results or some other innocent harmless adult activity and you find yourself blocked from the website. This gets frustrating very fast as you stumble upon things you can’t do that you took for granted before.
Apple Portable Devices
If your child is lucky enough to have their own dedicated apple device you can enable Parental Controls on the device. To setup follow this how-to guide https://support.apple.com/en-nz/HT201304 . Its great until they discover the unlock code. This feature limits certain age-restricted apps, and other built-in features like purchasing or facetime or using the camera, as well as location sharing etc. This works well for little ones 3-6-year-olds but as your child grows this can become problematic as its an all or nothing approach. It’s a great first step and better than nothing.
So if you are sharing a family iPad, this is not so great as all of a sudden you won’t be able to access Trade Me, or even watch a how to fix it video on YouTube.
Timed WiFi Access:
We use this option a lot and is great at limiting kids access to the outside world from portable wireless devices for set periods of time (think set and forget), buts it’s not so great if you have hardwired PC’s or gaming consoles, and you have to have the scheduling capability within your router hardware, Most telco provided routers do not have this option. So, it will require a change of hardware.
With this option we set up a specific Kids SSID and password separate from Mum and Dads. Then define a weekly schedule with on and off times. For example, Mon – Thur on at 4 pm off at 9 pm, and different times on the weekends. This works well in families with children of similar age groups and bedtimes, not so great if you have bigger age gaps like little ones and Teenagers. We have found having separate SSID’s for each child does not work as often the older ones will horse trade their password to the younger kids for a profit of some kind.
And it does nothing to block access to nasty websites, or give you any idea as to what they are looking at or if there are any bullying or social media issues you need to be aware of.
Paid Parental Control Apps and Software:
This option gives you the most flexibility and depending on what level of detail you want to go into you it can give you 100% transparency even into text messages and phone calls. The cool thing about this option is its device specific and child-specific, so it’s not one rule for all. This is the option if you have a bullying issue, or just want to be specific about what is able to be accessed. There are a lot of options out there and we have tried a few, and I can give you real some feedback on what was good and not so good.
Real-time internet filter blocks inappropriate content even in private viewing-mode.
View Social Network Activity
Monitor time spent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and more.
Balance Screen Time
Easily set a time schedule or limits for how much internet time is allowed each day.
Control Games & Apps
Set time limits for games & apps or block apps you don’t want from running altogether.
Track Calls & SMS
See who your child calls or texts most, read text messages, and set a list of blocked contacts.
Location tracking and Panic Button
Track your child’s location. In an emergency, your child can use the Panic Button to call for help.