Ways to make the internet safe

While there exists many tweaks and features within browsers and software that can make your internet access more secure, one almost fool proof step you can take is to actually go to the source itself – the router. That little box with all the flashing lights is your gateway to the web, and it’s actually possible to use special apps such as Familyshield by OpenDNS to directly filter all the content that emanates from its glowing heart.

We have a guide showing you how to install Familyshield, but before you rush over there it’s worth noting that this is a unilateral setting – meaning there is very little in the way of granular adjustments. You choose from either High, Moderate, or Low filters, but this applies to everybody on the network, not just your children. There are ways around this, as seen in the guide, but they can be somewhat complicated. It’s not just Familyshield that suffers from this broad-brush approach. Many Internet Service Providers, such as Sky, BT, and Virgin, offer family security filters, but once again these are blanket apps across all content, reducing the internet to a children’s version for everyone.

We have seen improvement recently though, with offerings such as Sky’s Broadband Shield allowing you to set time limits, so access is opened up after a watershed time when the kids are in bed. Obviously the advantage of this approach is that all devices connecting to your home Wi-Fi will have the same restrictions, so you don’t need to go around setting up each tablet or PC. Remember though, this doesn’t apply to 3G or 4G signals on mobile phones, or any other Wi-Fi connections that are in range and don’t have passwords.  

Parental control software

If the nuclear approach of router-based solutions feels too restrictive or cumbersome, then you can work on an individual device level. Depending on the operating system you’re running, the approaches are slightly different. On both of Google’s platforms – Chrome and Android – you are able to set up different User Profiles so that a number of people can share the same device, but not the security levels. If your children have their own Google accounts, then these profiles are independent from one another and therefore harder to control, as the settings are always available to the user.

For younger children, the answer is to create Supervised User accounts on the Chrome browser. These are linked to your full Google account, but allow you to set limits for the websites they can visit, as well as keeping a log of their online habits. If you share an Android tablet then a similar feature is Restricted User accounts.

These are easy to set up via the Settings>User menu options, and give the administrator (you) the ability to select which apps the account can access, plus blocking any purchases or even the app store itself. It isn’t a completely satisfactory solution though, as content settings are still available within YouTube and Chrome, so explicit material could still sneak through. In many ways it’s more a feature to stop your children running up bills through in-app purchases, or installing random apps on your device.

Best free parental control software

With Android 5.0 (Lollipop) Google has created the option to create separate profiles on an Android phone. While this can be useful in short bursts, as you can disable phone calls and SMS messaging, it’s not really suitable for children as such, due to the fact that you can’t limit the things they can access online.

See our step-by-step guide to enabling restricted user profiles on Android Lollipop

Parental controls on an iPhone and iPad

To access this feature go to Settings on your iPhone or iPad and scroll down until you find Restrictions (which should currently be Off).

How to set up parental controls in iOS 8

After selecting this you will see a menu of the available options. At the top is Enable Restrictions, tap this to access these settings.

How to set up parental controls in iOS 8

You’ll be prompted to create a passcode for the Restrictions. This will ensure that your children don’t simply go to Settings and disable your choices.

How to set up parental controls in iOS 8

Now you can select the options that you feel are appropriate to your child, remembering to look at the section covering Allowed Content, as here you can limit explicit songs and TV shows from iTunes.

How to set up parental controls in iOS 8

Conclusion

The job of a parent has been made a little more challenging by the internet, of that there is no doubt. While we’ve gathered together as much helpful information as possible in this feature, and there are some fine tools available, in truth none of them are a guarantee that your child will be safe online. That’s not to say that they won’t help, but as we stated at the beginning, they must only be used in conjunction with your own presence and on going engagement with your children to be fully effective.

Combining many of the features together though, will at least limit the potential of unsavoury material appearing before their young eyes. Ensure that the various Safe Modes are enabled on search engines, add restricted profiles if possible, and if you’re happy to pay the money then invest in one of the safety suites we mentioned above. This will get you a good way along the road to security. But remember to take time out to talk with your young ones about how they use the web, what they like, and what their friends are into. It could just be the very best way to protect them.