But for all the upsides the internet offers, parents in the digital age also have their fair share of concerns. The internet may be safer than it once was, but it’s still the Wild West in many ways.
As kids navigate the web via web browsers, search engines, and app stores, they are likely to encounter explicit content, general web content that simply isn’t age-appropriate, or interact with bad-natured characters on social media.
Children are also often the targets of scams and cyber attacks. This can threaten not only your digital information and credentials but also the physical security of your home and family.
That’s why restricting your child’s internet access through privacy settings and content restrictions is not just a matter of creating a pleasant and safe environment for learning and fun online. It’s also a matter of protecting yourself and your future as we advance into the digital frontier.
Let’s talk about the best ways to restrict your child’s internet access in 2021 – while still maintaining a standard of trust and understanding that every family needs to thrive.
Prioritize Your Restrictions
Start by mapping out a list of priorities for how and when we restrict our children’s internet access because digital parenting is not a one-size-fits-all effort.
Here are the four main “buckets” of internet usage that you’ll want to account for when creating a strategy for restrictions, monitoring, and other objectives that matter to you.
Websites and Apps
When we think of a safe internet, we generally start with a mental list of websites and apps from the App Store. We can restrict, limit, or completely block access for our kids and change policies around to monitor a child’s device.
These could be websites and apps with adult content, inappropriate content ratings, gambling, gaming, video streaming services, or any other type of internet experience that isn’t meant for children.
There may also be websites or apps that you allow your kids to access, but that isn’t necessarily productive or educational. Video games and YouTube are good examples of these apps – there should be a limit in terms of time spent on these apps.
Figure out which websites and services are on your definite “no-go” list for your children so you can limit adult websites and set privacy restrictions, and also identify the apps and activities that you want to restrict but not block entirely.
Messaging and Interaction
Who is your child interacting with online, and are there hidden red flags that you may be missing in this aspect of their internet usage?
We tend to think that inappropriate content is the primary concern for our kids or tweens as they navigate the web. That’s true, but let’s not overlook that there are also social hazards online that must be addressed and restricted to the best of our abilities.
Tackling this problem means identifying browsing behavior on websites with interactive components, whether social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook or chat-driven apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat.
Internet security practices also come into play with live interactions and chat. This is a common blind spot for many parents in the digital era – don’t let it be one for you.
Time Spent Online
If your kids spend too much of the day on the internet via social media, video games, and other websites and apps, you’re not alone.
Many parents would agree that their children are too dependent on screens for entertainment and social engagement.
It’s a complex situation because kids now need to use the internet for schoolwork and spending time with friends. Balance is the key, but you also may need some support as a parent in your efforts to limit time spent online.
Start by making a rough estimate of how long your kids spend online each day and each week, then consider what strategies you can employ to guide them towards non-screen activities in the real world. Set content time limits accordingly with features like a screen time passcode.
With these frameworks in place, you will be able to use parental controls in a more directed, effective manner, restricting internet access in a more targeted and balanced manner.
Parental Controls on Apps and Devices
It is now time to put your plan into action and create the internet environment you want for your kids. We suggest starting with the controls built into your family’s existing devices and apps, then moving on to router-based controls to get a more competitive, top-down solution.
Let’s start with the app and device controls and put our plan into action.
Configure Each Device and App
Go through each device on your home network or Wi-Fi router, including game consoles, and set up whichever parental controls can be found in the system settings or operating system.
Native parental controls will vary widely depending on the manufacturer and OS, but you can generally configure some basic content filters and restrictions right out of the box.
Remember – this is not a complete parental control solution. It’s only setting the foundation for your internet restriction strategy moving forward.
Leverage Software and Secondary Accounts
Once you’ve done everything in your power to set restrictions on apps and devices, you can start implementing third-party software or setting up secondary “kids accounts” on relevant hardware. Phones, tablets, and computers typically have these capabilities, and they can grant you much peace of mind as a parent when your child wants to make app purchases, go on iTunes, use Yahoo, or watch movies or TV shows.
Again, these apps tend to be hit-or-miss depending on the developer, and you may need to set up a broader array of apps to build a complete, custom solution.
You may also encounter compatibility issues with third-party apps, which can be frustrating when you want a plug-and-play solution.
As we’ll discuss soon, router-based parental controls solve this issue with a complete, overarching suite of software, but it doesn’t hurt to deploy some basic apps if they’re available for free or at low prices.
Monitor and Adjust Settings Over Time
Despite your best efforts to launch a full-featured parental controls plan in a single day, free software and app-based settings are not going to provide that instant fix.
Do your best to implement your system with our tips so far, but maintain a proactive approach to parental controls as time goes on.
This requires some diligence and a commitment to continuous improvement, but this is just a necessary part of digital parenting in an age when internet tech is developing faster than we can keep up.
Implementing Router-Based Parental Controls
The standard settings on apps and devices may offer decent restrictions and filters for your family, but it’s not enough in this era of the internet.
You’ll want to implement a router with built-in parental controls software at the network level for a complete game plan.
Monitoring and Insights at the Network Level
With router-based parental controls, you see everything that enters the network and all the relevant insights that go with it.
This allows you to tap into everything from web browsing behavior, app usage, total screen time, social media patterns, and other important data that will help improve your digital parenting in real-time.
User Profiles with Customizable Settings
Router-level parental controls also take a huge burden off your shoulders regarding active effort and configuration, thanks to individual profiles for each person on your network.
Simply set up the appropriate content filters for each device and receive updates on your phone-based app if there’s a red flag or issue with a specific user at any time.
This streamlines the entire digital parenting process like no other piece of third-party software or browser extension available.
Double Down on Network Security
Unsure about your network security in the age of smart homes and the Internet of Things?
The best parental controls routers also come with cutting-edge network security systems that protect your entire connected devices and apps ecosystem.
The one-two punch of security and parental controls is invaluable and a compelling reason to upgrade your router if it’s behind the times.
Control App and Wi-Fi Access Schedules
If you’re tired of arguing and negotiating with your kids about screen time when there is homework to be done or dinner on the table, you’ll want the power to suspend app or internet access with the push of a button.
This is a crucial component of any digital parenting strategy and can change how you manage internet usage for your entire family.
Restrict Internet Access the Right Way
The internet is necessary for modern life, but when raising children, it also presents numerous challenges.
Use our tips to establish a strong set of policies for appropriate internet usage, then put your plan to work with technologies that make digital parenting an actionable reality.
Limit WiFi Access for Kids | PCMag
Restrict Kids’ Screen Time | Techlicious
Internet safety for children 6-8 years | Raising Children