JUL 23, 2024 / MacOS

Are you making the most of parental controls?

If you’ve got kids, you may well be concerned that they’re far more tech-savvy than you are. Having grown up with technology as an absolutely expected part of their lives, and with so much IT integrated into school curriculums through their education, it’s pretty easy to feel as though they’re well ahead of you.

That can raise genuine concerns about the kinds of online activities they’re getting up to, not to mention the amount of time they spend on technology in general. Parental attitudes to both content and screen time can vary massively of course, and what you choose to do in relation to your children’s online activities is very much a personal decision, with little in the way of “right” or “wrong” approaches.

It’s useful, however, to know about the range of parental controls that you can access in order to control or limit your child or teen’s online activities. There are any number of applications that sell themselves on providing child control, but you may find that the inbuilt applications on your computer, tablet or even gaming console are enough to cover your needs.

Windows 10
You’ll need to set up a separate account for your child, and under Windows 10 this has to be a Microsoft account.
Open up Settings, then click on Accounts. From there, click on Family & other people and then Add a family member. Choose Add a child, and that’s when you’ll be asked for your child’s email address. In order to fully monitor their activity, it’s best if this is a Microsoft account, and you’ll have the option to click The person I want to add doesn’t have an email address, which will allow you to set one up. Once the account is created, click Confirm, and then Close.

The advantage with this approach is that your child’s new account can then be monitored from Microsoft’s online account portal; signing in there will enable you to monitor activity on their account, block specific web content and set time limits for your child’s computer usage.

macOS also requires you to create a child account, but you don’t need an email address to tie it to. Open up System Preferences and then Users & Groups. Click on the + symbol under Login Options to add a new user, and choose Managed with Parental Controls.

You can then choose an age bracket for your child, as well as a user name and password.

Once that’s set up, head back into System Preferences and then Parental Controls. This will allow you to manage App use, including use of the mac’s inbuilt camera, mail and web apps, as well as separate controls for managing allowed or blocked websites. You can also block access to the iTunes and iBooks stores, as well as set time limits for usage of the mac itself.

If your child has an iPad or iPhone, you can set restrictions on that usage by going to Settings, then General, then Restrictions. You’ll have to set a restrictions PIN code, but once that’s done, you can set limits on app usage, as well as whether your child can add or remove applications. You can also restrict access to certain content by ratings level, as well as limit the access apps have to features such as location data or photos.

Precise parental controls do vary by device type and Android version, but one restriction you can put in place is around the Google Play store. You can set parental controls on your child’s Android device by opening up Google Play, tapping the menu icon and opening Parental Controls. It’s once again PIN-based, allowing for content filtering when switched on.

For younger children, you could also enroll their account through Google’s Family Link service for managing hours of usage, app installs and screen time usage.

PlayStation 4
Sony’s PlayStation 4 has parental controls, but they’re not all that easy to find. Head to Settings, then Parental Controls/Family Management and finally PS4 System Restrictions where you can then restrict usage of applications, network features and play time.

Xbox One
If you add your child’s account (which once again has to be a Microsoft account) onto an Xbox One, you can then manage their usage by adding their account to yours under Settings, then Family, then Add to Family. Then you’ll be able to restrict access based on age profiles, filter web results and decide whether or not to show program descriptions through the Xbox One’s OneGuide.

An easy one if you’re a Netflix subscriber; your Netflix account allows for the creation of profile-level soft controls that limit content availability by age range. You’ve still got to ensure that your child is using that child-specific profile, but if they do, only “kids” suitable material will be shown. You can also set a PIN code, either for specific content, or to block access to any content above specified maturity level. Those settings apply no matter which device you’re accessing Netflix on.

These tools can be useful, but it’s also quite important to clearly explain to your children why you’re using them, if you do. A hard blanket rule against any activity is more than likely going to make it even more desirable to a tech-savvy child or teen, especially if it’s an activity that their counterparts are already engaging in. Often, the most powerful tool you’ll have keeping your kids safe online is keeping up a regular dialog with them to explain your expectations and listen to their requests. It’s better to know what they’re doing in an open environment rather than discovering they’ve been sneaking into online areas you’d rather they didn’t see.

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Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.