How to use parental controls and other tools to maximise online safety in your home.
Know your devices
All the devices that connect to the internet in your home offer lots of benefits. But you also need to understand the risks associated with these devices and how to protect yourself and your family.
Explore how to use parental controls:
Use 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, content that may promote self-harm, eating disorders, violence, drugs, gambling, racism and terrorism.
- 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.
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.
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.
No parental control tool is 100% effective. Helping your child build good online safety habits is just as important.
On 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 incorporating parental control features as part of their broadband products.
Built into desktop and laptop computers
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.
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.
Built into 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, inappropriate internet content, sharing of data (including photos and location), media streaming and online gaming. Find out how.
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 below.
You can also set up parental controls on Google Play to restrict the content your child can download or purchase.
Built into 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 code locking certain features. You could also consider disconnecting the TV from the internet if you are not using the ‘smart’ features.
Using third-party 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. Compatibility with macOS and iOS can vary and some offer free versions for basic protection on a limited number of devices. 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.
Mobile service providers
Your mobile phone service provider may also offer parental control tools as part of a mobile phone plan.
On 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.
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 inappropriate 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 other messages or disclaimers that require a response.
- Help minimise the risk of your child coming across unsuitable websites accidentally by setting up bookmarks in their browser for sites you would like them to use.
Child-friendly search engines
Child-friendly search engines aim to exclude inappropriate 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 many search engines can contain advertising, and there is always a risk that inappropriate 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 inappropriate or explicit content like pornography. For example:
SafeSearch isn’t 100% accurate, but it can help you avoid explicit and inappropriate search results on your phone, tablet or computer.
Your family on Google
- 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: 28/11/2023