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Parental controls

Learn how to use parental controls and other tools to maximise online safety in your home. 

Devices that connect to the internet in your home offer benefits. But you also need to understand the risks associated with these devices and how to protect yourself and your family. 

In short:

  • Parental controls can help keep children and young people safer online by preventing access to harmful content, managing time spent online and who your child communicates with.  
  • To be most effective, parental controls need to be set up on all devices your child accesses. They should be revisited and maintained regularly. It is also important controls are set on devices your child may access while in the care of others (family, friends).
  • Parental controls are most effective when used alongside supervision and other online safety strategies.

Explore how to use parental controls:

In addition to tablets, some e-readers such as Kindle include parental controls. Think carefully about what devices you might have missed, such as fitness trackers, smart watches or wi-fi enabled sound systems.

You can also find information about how to help keep your family safe when using immersive technologies. Immersive technologies include augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and haptics. One example of where you may be able to use parental controls is the metaverse, in which you will need your child to link their account to yours. You can also read our research about the metaverse, as well as our position statement on immersive technologies.

What are parental controls?

Parental controls are software tools that allow you to monitor and limit what your child sees and does online.  

They can be set up to do things like

  • Block your child from accessing specific websites, apps or functions (like using a device’s camera, or the ability to buy things). 
  • Filter different kinds of content — such as ‘adult’ or sexual content, social media pages and pages with content that may promote self-harm, eating disorders, violence, drugs, gambling, racism and terrorism. 
  • Limit who can communicate with your child, and manage the apps they can use to communicate with others.
  • Allow you to monitor your child’s use of connected devices, with reports on the sites they visit and the apps they use, how often and for how long.  
  • Set time limits, blocking access after a set time. 

If a device or program is shared by multiple members of your family, you should be able change the tool settings to reflect each user’s age and skills.

Audio

Welcome to eSafety’s presentation about Parental controls.

Hi, I’m Deb. I’m one of the team of people at eSafety who research and write online safety advice.

I’m also a parent, so I know how challenging it can be trying to work out the best way to protect your kids online.

Parental controls can be a helpful part of your online safety toolkit – making it easier to get your kids to disconnect at bedtime, making it harder for strangers to contact them and letting you check what they’re up to online.

But deciding which ones to choose and how to set them up can be confusing.

So this video will help you.

Let’s start by looking at what parental controls are.

Basically, they’re software tools that allow you to monitor, filter, limit and block what your child sees and does online.

If you set them up correctly, they can help you understand how your child uses their devices, what sites and games they’re going to and when they’re accessing them.

They can provide reminders to help your child manage how long they spend online, or on particular apps, and you can use them to limit the hours.

They can also help prevent exposure to content that’s inappropriate to their age or potentially harmful in other ways, by allowing you to block access to specific sites.

The types of parental controls that are most helpful for your family will depend on the age of your kids, what they’re interested in and the devices they have access to. 

If your kids are young and still mostly using devices at home, you might find wi-fi controls handy. They allow you to give limited access to a managed list of websites or block specific sites.

So, for  example, you could prevent anyone using the home wi-fi from playing a particular online game.

If you set up your child with their own data plan, make sure you check what parental controls that comes with, to help you manage online risks. 

For example, it may allow you to set limits on the time they spend on the device. 

You can find out about the family-friendly settings available on the actual phone, gaming console or other device by going to the provider website. 

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Xbox, PlayStation and others have information pages just for parents.

You can also use parental controls to manage the accounts your kids use.

Where possible, it’s a good idea to start by creating an account for them that’s linked to your own, so you can use your phone, tablet, iPad, laptop, computer or gaming console to manage what they’re doing.

Parental controls in accounts usually allow you to block access to adult websites, limit the use of devices to particular times, manage who your child can phone and message and who can contact them, and limit how much money they can spend online.

It’s the same for many games and specific apps. TikTok, Roblox, YouTube, Messenger Kids, and lots of others have settings to help you make sure young users have safer experiences.

So check them out.

If you need extra help or advice, eSafety’s parent resources page has a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

Now, if your child’s begging you to download the latest thing that everyone is playing or spending time on, there are three things you should definitely do.

First of all, do some research yourself, looking at reviews and checking out The eSafety Guide (esafety.gov.au/key-issues/esafety-guide), which includes advice about reporting unsafe content or behaviour and blocking unwanted contact.

Secondly, use eSafety’s new technology checklist (esafety.gov.au/parents/resources) to help you chat with your child about whether the game or site is appropriate for their age and maturity, what risks there might be, and whether there are safety features to manage those.

Thirdly, play the game or use the app with your child, so you can talk together about strategies for staying safe, and what to do if things go wrong, especially how to report issues to the site or app or to eSafety.

Also remember that despite what your child tells you, it may not be true that ‘everyone’ IS actually playing the game!

It could be handy to talk with other parents about what their kids are allowed to do, what risks they’ve noticed and how they’ve dealt with them.

If they’re also finding it difficult to work out, let them know they can visit us at esafety.gov.au for tips and resources.

Another good idea if you have children of different ages with different devices – think about the best parental controls for each child and each device separately. 

It’s also important to be aware that parental controls on their own won’t protect your kids from every dangerous scenario, every time. That’s why we say they’re just one of a range of tools that can help keep your kids safe online.

You should also get into the habit of talking with them about what they’re doing online, what others are up to and how to get help if anything goes wrong. 

Create a family tech agreement together, to decide when, where and how devices and accounts can be used. This allows you to have discussions about balancing screen time with other activities in a relaxed and constructive way.

Help your child choose sites and apps that support their knowledge, skills and personal growth, while also allowing them to have fun. And check their device settings regularly to see if they’ve been affected by automatic updates or been changed by your kids themselves. 

At times it may feel like you’re constantly managing tech tantrums, boundary setting, negotiating and clock watching, but when your kids are young, they’re learning from that – getting into habits that will set them up to self-regulate their experiences online as they become more independent. 

Encouraging them to think and talk about online issues and safety strategies nice and early will help them make sensible, positive choices when it’s time to go it alone. 

I hope you’ve found this video helpful.

There are plenty more tips on our website at esafety.gov.au

And don’t forget, you can sign up to our newsletter (esafety.gov.au/about-us/subscribe) to get all the latest research and advice directly to your inbox.  

Parental controls

This video helps parents and carers to understand more about the different parental controls available and which settings are best suited to your family. It’s designed for parents of kids aged 4 to 13 years old.

No parental control tool is 100%  effective. Helping your child build good online safety habits is just as important.  

Your home wi-fi network 

Some wi-fi routers come with software that allows you to set up parental controls across your whole family wi-fi network. The advantage of this is that the rules you make are applied on all your connected devices – laptops, tablets, smartphones, even game consoles and smart TVs. However, you don't always get the same level of control and monitoring that you get from software installed on each device.  

Search online for child-friendly wi-fi products using terms like ‘child friendly routers’, ‘child friendly wi-fi’, ‘family friendly routers’ and ‘child safe wi-fi'. Or check out the products accredited through the Family Friendly Filters scheme

Some internet service providers (ISPs) provide routers with parental control features as part of their broadband products.  

Desktop and laptop computers

PC/Windows 

Microsoft Family provides the ability to manage your children’s online activity on Windows devices through website blocking, checking in online at any time, and viewing activity reports on sites, apps and games visited. You’ll need to set up a family group of at least one parent and one child, each with their own Microsoft account.  

Mac OS 

The OSX Parental Controls allow you to set profiles for each child to do things like limiting access to websites or apps, restrict functions like Siri or the iTunes store, set time limits for days of the week and for bedtime, and hide profanity in the dictionary and other sources.  

Mobile devices

Apple tablets and smartphones 

Apple operating systems from iOS12 enable you to restrict access to browsers and applications, in-app purchasing, social networking, non-child friendly internet content, sharing of data (including photos and location), media streaming and online gaming. Find out how

If you are concerned about your child seeing unwanted nude images and videos, consider turning on 'Sensitive Content Warning' on their Apple device. It is available to users of all ages. Access it by searching for 'Communication Safety' or 'Sensitive Content' in settings. 

Android tablets and smartphones 

Although Android has no general built-in parental control features, Android devices can be controlled using Google Family Link. See using third-party software. 

You can also set up parental controls on Google Play to restrict the content your child can download or purchase. 

Other mobile devices

They may not be the first devices that come to mind when you think about online safety, but it’s important to consider all online devices your children might use, including fitness trackers and smart watches. Garmin fitness trackers have parental controls, and Fitbits allow parents and carers to manage children’s accounts.

Smart watch settings are connected to the user account, such as Apple or Google.

Remember, you will need to set up your parental controls on these and other devices – they are not usually automatic. You should also check them from time to time to be sure your settings haven’t changed if the device software has been updated. 

Gaming consoles and smart TVs

Every major gaming console provides parental control measures to help parents manage their child’s gaming activity.  

Smart TVs offer all the exciting opportunities – and the risks – that come with being online. Most provide some form of parental control, even if it is just a PIN locking certain features. You could also consider disconnecting the TV from the internet if you are not using the ‘smart’ features. 

Other online games

Unlike games played on gaming consoles such as PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo, online games that are played on mobile devices or in web browsers rarely have parental controls or safety features built in. Some controls may be accessible through Apple’s ‘Game Center’ for Apple devices, and at the app or device management level. Parents and carers should be aware of what mobile or browser-based games their children are playing, and ensure that:

  • the content is suitable for children
  • the game does not require in-app purchases or ‘micro-transactions’ (or these are turned off)
  • the game does not promote or advertise content that is not suitable for children, such as gambling.

Find out more about online safety while gaming.

Using third-party software 

Commercial software 

Commercial software can provide additional control and convenience, generally for a price.  

Some products are designed to be installed on each device. Others use special hardware in conjunction with your wi-fi router. Some are accredited under the Family Friendly Filters scheme.  

They tend to operate as a subscription service, with pricing tiers aligned with numbers of devices: some offer free versions for basic protection on a limited number of devices. Compatibility with macOS and iOS can vary. To find a filter that is right for you, search online using terms like ‘internet filters’ or ‘family filters’ and check out review sites.  

Google Family Link  

Family Link is an app developed for families with children under the age of 13 who have an Android device. It enables you to set screen time limits, review app permissions (such as their camera, location, contacts), block apps and approve downloads, block sites and filter content.  

You and your child need to have Google accounts and be signed in to use Family Link. It is worth reading the parent disclosure statement.

Mobile service providers

Your mobile phone service provider may also offer parental control tools as part of a mobile phone plan.

Social media

Social media platforms sometimes have additional safety features as the default for users aged under 18, but you shouldn’t rely on this happening automatically. If your child is using social media, help them check their settings regularly to ensure they are using the strongest safety features.  

Most social media platforms do not allow users under the age of 13 to register. However, most do not have reliable age verification, so it is likely children may still be able to access them and create an account. There are also social media platforms designed for children, such as Messenger Kids.  

Some commonly used platforms include:

Facebook

Parental supervision tools have been available globally on Facebook since late 2023. These tools are accessible via the Settings menu. They can provide insights on things like time spent on Facebook, as well as enabling parents and carers to schedule breaks, and find other resources about managing their children’s time online.

Find more safety information about Facebook in The eSafety Guide.

Instagram

Supervision tools are available via the Instagram mobile app. Instagram is primarily designed to be used on mobile devices, so some supervision tools may not be accessible via desktop browsing.

Parents and carers can invite teens to link their account for supervision. The teen must agree to this before supervision tools can be used. The tools include the ability for parents and carers to set limits on when and for how long their child can use Instagram, to view who their child is connected to and who they’ve blocked, and view some of their settings such as privacy and security. Supervision tools do not enable parents and carers to see their child’s search history, messages or posts (but you can see their public posts, or posts shared to followers if you follow them).

Supervision is automatically removed from the child’s account when they turn 18.

Find more safety information about Instagram in The eSafety Guide.

Messenger

Parents and carers can access supervision tools through the Meta Family Centre. These include the ability to view how much time your child spends on Messenger, view their contacts list, who can message them and their safety/security settings, and who can see their Messenger stories. Teens can also opt into allowing parents and carers to see who they have blocked on Messenger. Parents and carers can also schedule breaks to help manage time spent online.

Find more safety information about Messenger and Messenger Kids in The eSafety Guide.

Snapchat

Snapchat provides parental controls through its Family Centre, which is accessible via the mobile app. These controls enable parents and carers to see who their child is communicating with, view their child’s privacy and safety settings (including limiting the types of content that can be seen), manage parental controls for Snapchat’s artificial intelligence chatbot, My AI, and report any concerns directly to Snapchat’s Trust and Safety team. Parental controls on Snapchat are only accessible to parents and carers over the age of 25.

Find more safety information about Snapchat in The eSafety Guide.

TikTok

TikTok uses a feature called Family Pairing to support parents and carer supervision. This tool enables parents and carers to manage screen time, restrict content and users from searches and the feed, and change privacy and discoverability settings such as who can comment on your child’s videos, who they can be recommended to, and whether they can send and receive direct messages. Direct messaging is only available to children 16 years and older.

Find more safety information about TikTok in The eSafety Guide.

X (formerly Twitter)

X does not provide parental controls, but there are some safety features that you can support your children to use if they have an X account. These include blocking other users’ accounts, muting certain words from the feed to avoid particular types of content, and reporting harmful material.

In Australia, X accounts known to belong to minors will only be able to receive direct messages from accounts they follow. Children’s accounts will also be restricted from accessing ‘sensitive content,’ such as pornography.

Find more safety information about X in The eSafety Guide, as well as a wide range of other online platforms, games and apps children might use.

Streaming services

Subscription services such as Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now and Amazon Prime all provide parental controls for families to ensure children at various stages of development do not access inappropriate material. 

YouTube Kids offers family friendly content along with parental controls that can set time limits on apps and turn off search functionality. See the YouTube Kids Parental Guide for more information. 

Not all catch-up TV platforms offer parental filters and controls, but they are available on ABC iViewVirgin TV GO, Sky Go, BT TV (known as EE TV), NOW and TalkTalk TV. The ABC also has a dedicated platform for preschoolers, ABC KIDS iView.

The following video shows how to use parental controls on Netflix. You could look for similar information about parental controls across different services.

Netflix Kids & Families - Parental Controls

Web browsers and search engines

Web browsers provide the door to the online world, and search engines are the way we explore that world. We all use search engines to find information online, and so do our kids, but with that open access comes the risk of seeing non-child friendly material.  

Safe browsing tips 

  • Encourage younger children to always ask an adult before clicking on an 'Accept' or 'OK' button on a website, as sites may display messages or disclaimers that require a response. 
  • Help minimise the risk of your child accidentally coming across websites not intended for children by setting up bookmarks in their browser for sites you would like them to use. 
  • Keep devices that are used to consume adult content like pornography or violent content away from children. Where they must be shared with children, set up separate profiles with additional security measures, and consider using private browsing (sometimes called ‘InPrivate’ or ‘Incognito’ windows). Ensure all devices used by children are setup in this way, including devices that are used outside the family home, such as with grandparents.

Child-friendly search engines 

Child-friendly search engines aim to exclude non-child friendly sites and material from search results, while making sure content relevant to the search is provided.

You can find a child-friendly search engine that best suits the needs of your family by researching them online. This can then be set as the default browser available to your child, with some search engines also available as apps.

Be aware that many search engines can contain advertising, and there is always a risk that non-child friendly material may still slip through.

Safe search settings 

In most search engines, you can activate ‘SafeSearch’ to filter the search results so they don’t include explicit content like pornography. For example: 

SafeSearch isn’t 100% accurate, but it can help  you avoid explicit and unsafe search results on your phone, tablet or computer. 

Your family online 

  • Google offers the ability to create a family group with up to six family members to manage various Google products and features. 
  • Google Family Safety Centre contains general advice and information for families and direct links to tools and resources 
  • Google’s Digital Wellbeing provides tools and information aimed at helping all users improve their digital wellbeing. It includes tips for parents on how to help their child form a balanced relationship with all things digital. 
  • The YouTube Safety Centre provides safety tips, including advice on keeping personal videos private, cyberbullying, spam and phishing; as well as information about how to protect identity and appropriately manage interactions with other users, tips on how to be a responsible digital citizen and how to use the community flagging system.

Last updated: 13/06/2024