As discussed in our recent book Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide, it’s important that parents understand kids’ use of the Web, and how to manage children’s use of connected devices. After all, the ability to access web pages through browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and other popular solutions is, to some extent, the very essence of today’s online experience. Kids suddenly have access to unimaginable amounts of information with just a few taps on a touchscreen or keyboard clicks. It’s hard to get an exact estimate of just how many libraries’ worth of material is now available, but UK research company Netcraft estimated that there were 525 million different websites on the Internet – and that was several years back. Even if you focused on the third of those that are considered “active,” spending just one second on each site would take five and half years to accomplish.
Hyperbole aside, the simple fact is that countless volumes of information exist on virtually any topic you can imagine – real, fictionalized, and for better or worse. All now literally lay at your kids’ fingertips. And thanks to their growing ubiquity across a range of high-tech devices from smartphones to tablets and video game systems, Web browsers are likely to be the primary way that they’ll access them. With numerous solutions available based on device, personal need or age-appropriateness, choosing a browser is often simply a matter of personal preference or familiarity. However, five of the most popular Web browsers currently are Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera, with the first three accounting for more than 90% of all online usage. Through the use of built-in parental controls, these browsers all contain tools to help make sure your kids are only accessing the pages they should be.
Not sure how to restrict access to only desired sites? As Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)explains, “there really is no excuse now for parents [not to know how to] restrict their kids’ Internet usage.” And even if you’re unsure how to go about configuring these settings, here’s the good news – doing so really is as simple as punching the question into Google to find out more information, as Balkam points out.For those who use common computer operating systems, here is just a small sampling of the types of content and interactions that can be controlled:
Web restrictions. You can restrict the websites that children can visit, make sure children only visit age-appropriate websites, indicate whether you want to allow file downloads, and setup which content you want the content filters to block and allow. You can also block or allow specific websites.
Time limits. You can set time limits to control when children are allowed to login to the computer. Time limits prevent children from logging on during the specified hours and, if they are already logged on, they will be automatically logged off. You can set different logon hours for every day of the week.
Games. You can control access to games, choose an age rating level, choose the types of content you want to block, and decide whether you want to allow or block unrated or specific games.
Allow or block specific programs. You can prevent children from running programs that you don’t want them to run.
While knowing how to setup and configure parental controls may have been enough for a concerned parent to be aware of in the past though, as discussed earlier, remember: The explosive growth of mobile phones and tablets shows that simply managing Web browsing and content consumption from your home computer alone is just a starting point when it comes to online safety. Remember that according to a recent report from Pew Center, more than three-quarters of teens have or have access to smartphones. These children alone are, naturally, less likely to access the Internet through traditional desktop or laptop computers.
Elizabeth Z. is Family + Lifestyles Editor for SELECT, a seasoned video host, and - according to lay observers - a 23 year-old trapped in a smaller person's body. Our resident expert on all things kid-friendly, her musings on entertainment, events, travel, toys, modern lifestyles and more have appeared in numerous outlets from The Huffington Post to Parade.