Using Parental Controls Effectively with Kids

Liz Repking, Cyber Safety Consultant, BECO Ambassador

December 2020

Liz Repking Article2

This is the first in a multi-part series that will look at various parental monitoring options for children's devices.

Welcome to 2021! As the holiday chaos settles, and we start to work our way back to normal (not even sure what that word even means anymore), the new year marks the mental and physical opportunity to reboot (pun intended) certain aspects of life. 2020 (thanks to the many byproducts of Covid) brought a tsunami of changes to the use of technology in family life. The changes came faster than most parents could react and adjust to, primarily in two ways. First, we saw younger kids having unfettered access to devices far earlier than planned and being ill prepared to manage the massive responsibility that the devices require. Second, we saw tweens and teens, many of whom had a high level of technology independence pre-Covid, have exponentially greater time online. Undoubtedly, the changes were, in many cases, unavoidable for the reasons of education, connection to friends and family, and the need to fill countless hours of quarantine.

As we turn the page to this new year, many parents are looking to gain a better handle of their child’s device usage. With this objective in mind, parents have been asking many of the same questions:

      • How do I know what my child is doing online?
      • Should I monitor my child’s online activities?
      • What is the best way to monitor my child online and increase safety?


None of these questions have straight forward or simple answers. They are questions that require technology management, a balance of communication with your child, and a commitment by both parents and children to work together to manage the independence of technology in positive and effective ways.

As parents seek answers to these questions, it is helpful to consider some basic fundamentals of monitoring:

      • Monitoring does not replace parenting! A child’s device usage may be a problem in your family life but realize that the core of this problem is not a tech issue, but rather a parenting issue that involves technology. Utilizing monitoring tools can be risky because it creates a false sense of security for parents and, often times, results in parents taking their foot off the ‘parenting gas pedal’.
      • No monitoring settings and software are perfect! All safety settings and monitoring software have glitches and work arounds. Kids can simply Google such info as ‘how do I get around screen time settings on an iPhone?’ and they will find an answer. Even more common, one friend discovers how to bypass a safety setting and very generously shares it with all the friends.
      • There is no substitute for education! The most sustaining and long-term solution to ensuring safe online behavior is education of your child. However, this is not a quick and easy answer and can be a long road with bumps and detours along the way. Mistakes will be made, but if parents can work to be involved in their child’s online life and open up lines of communication, there is no 3rd party software that can compare to the arsenal of education and conversation.


Having considered these thoughts, monitoring can still be an effective tool to help with the parenting challenges of technology. Here are a few quick and easy settings that can reduce your child’s vulnerability and increase safety.

Google SafeSearch
SafeSearch is a setting within Google which filters out explicit content in search results across websites, images and videos. As I stated previously, NOTHING is perfect, but this setting is effective at blocking porn sites and sexually explicit content. I also like it for younger users as it will prevent them from mistakenly stumbling on offensive content and images. This link, Google SafeSearch, will walk you through the steps to enable SafeSearch. It can be set on any device that your child uses including laptops, Android, iPads, and iPhones. It is important to know that you must set it, individually, for each browser (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) that is installed on the device. In the past, you could easily lock this setting on the browser by using a Google account. Unfortunately, it appears that locking the setting is no longer a feature offered by Google.

YouTube Restricted Mode
Where do kids spend their time online? Common Sense Media reports it is spent viewing online videos. According to the 2019 Common Sense Census: Media Use By Tweens and Teens,
“Online video viewing is through the roof: More than twice as many young people watch videos every day than did in 2015, and the average time spent watching has roughly doubled.”

If this is where kids spend much of their online time, then what better place is there to engage an additional setting that may limit their access to potentially mature or inappropriate content? Restricted Mode, like Google SafeSearch, is a no brainer. Although, this setting is not fool proof and plenty of content slips through the setting, it is certainly better than nothing.

Like SafeSearch, Restricted Mode needs to be set on each device and within each browser installed on the device. However, you can lock the setting by enabling it while logged into a Google account on the browser. Remember to scroll down to the bottom of the setting screen, click Lock Restricted Mode, and enter in your Google password to lock the setting for that browser. This link, YouTube Restricted Mode, provides step by step instructions on how to enable the setting on various devices.

These settings are a good start to developing a stronger technology safety plan in your household. Once you have set them on the devices, make it part of a monthly or quarterly plan to check the settings remain in place over time.

Undoubtedly, parenting during 2020 has brought technology to the forefront of raising our children, if it wasn’t there before. Like most things in life, there are pros and cons to everything. While kids have had tremendously more use of technology both in terms of age and amount, I will argue that these changes have caused all of us to put a stronger emphasis on how our children use technology. There is a growing awareness of protecting our children through both the use of settings like these and educating them to self-protect online. These are skills and knowledge that we all will take far beyond the events of the past year.

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