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Kids and the Internet: Why parental controls aren’t enough

Ask a parent of an underage child if they are concerned about their child being exposed to inappropriate Internet content, and most parents will, predictably, say yes. Then ask if they use some type of parental control software to protect their kids online, and the majority of parents will say no. Surprised? I was.

family with laptop

In our global survey of 15 countries, 78% of parents reported being concerned about their kids being exposed to content like porn, violence, racism and drugs online. But only 40% said they actually use software tools that ensure safe Internet use on computers their children use.

As the parent of a toddler, I don’t yet have to worry about such questions, but if my kid were school-age, I certainly would. Software with Internet filters and time controls is an easy way to make sure kids aren’t getting into trouble online. So why the disconnect?

Looking for answers

To get a better understanding of the thinking behind the statistics, I thought I’d ask some parents about their use or nonuse of parental control software. Living in Finland, the country with the lowest number of parents who use parental controls on computers their kids use (only 24%) and being from the US, with the highest number (59%), it made for some interesting conversations. I asked mainly Finns and Americans, but people from a few other countries as well.

What I found was that yes, parents do care about their kids accessing inappropriate content. But approaches for dealing with it range widely. I would loosely categorize my interview subjects into three camps.

First camp: Parental controls a must

One mother of an eight-year-old said she plans to use parental controls on her son’s new laptop, and doesn’t allow Internet access on his mobile phone. A mother of four children under ten uses an Internet filter in addition to accompanying her kids while they’re online. And another mom said in addition to using parental control software, she drove her teenage daughters (now grown) crazy with frequent lectures about the dangers of the Internet.

Second camp: Parental control, but not with software

One parent pointed out that parental control software isn’t the only way to protect kids online. For example, placing the computer in a high-traffic area of the home is a good way to make sure kids aren’t getting into trouble. Similarly, a parent of a five-year-old said she doesn’t use parental control software, but her child isn’t allowed to access the Internet without a parent by his side.

Third camp: The liberal approach

Some parents took a more liberal approach. A father of teenagers said he no longer uses parental controls, instead relying on a trust relationship with his children. A mother of a 14-year-old forgoes parental controls also, since her son doesn’t seem to show interest yet in anything aside from a few online games.

A common thread between these parents was that even if they restrict access at home, their kids could still access bad content away from home. And that restricting access might make forbidden fruit all the more tempting. One father stressed that he is always available to talk to his children should they see something distressing online.

Which approach is best?

Parents’ answer to that question depends on, among other factors, cultural attitudes and the age of their children. My personal conclusion? When it’s time I need to think about it, I’ll err on the stricter side by restricting access time, monitoring usage and just to be extra-safe, use some form of content filter for my child.

To me, there’s way too much bad stuff out there that’s way too easily accessible. A lot of it’s not fit for anyone, let alone kids – case in point, Facebook’s recent controversy over videos of extreme violence. Even if you trust your kids, they may stumble onto harmful content without meaning to. Or they may let curiosity get the best of them and see things their young minds just shouldn’t have to think about.

Communication is key

But even the strictest parental controls aren’t enough. In talking to different parents, whatever their stance, the theme that kept recurring for me was communication. Open, realistic age-appropriate communication between parent and child. About what kind of websites are and aren’t okay. About what kind of behavior online is and is not okay.

So even when the child is away from home, he or she will have a basis for making the best choices. And if a child does happen to see something harmful, you can hopefully find out about it and discuss it.

Plus, not every risky thing your kids do online can be caught by parental control software. The lecturing mom who aggravated her daughters? They are now grateful for the talks because they haven’t made the embarrassing mistakes their friends have made, posting compromising selfies and the like.

Family protection for computers and mobile devices

So talk to your kids. And if you’re looking for parental control software, allow me to recommend F-Secure Internet Security.

F-Secure Internet Security allows parents to filter out websites based on what sort of content they want to protect their kids from:

content-blocker

And it lets parents set browsing time limits:

time-limits

F-Secure Internet Security also protects computers from viruses and other digital threats and safeguards while banking and shopping.

There’s also protection for kids’ mobile devices. F-Secure Mobile Security, in addition to protecting from digital threats and in case of loss or theft, offers parental controls, with the added feature of shielding kids from inappropriate apps.

And for under one euro per year, parents can install F-Secure Child Safe to iPads and iPhones. Child Safe is a browser that keeps kids safe from harmful content when browsing the web.

What about you – do you use parental control software? If not, how do you make sure your kids are safe online? Let us know in the comments!

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Girl with laptop image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Parents with kids image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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