In recent years, the introduction of virtual classes, increasing number of online, research-based assignments, and emergence of online communities have made it virtually impossible to keep children away from the internet and connected devices. Online threats, however, have kept pace, leaving many a parent unsure of what restrictions to enforce, and how.
Fortunately, there are both free and paid tools that can help. But there are things that are very much within parents' control as well. A significant dilemma today is sharenting, deciding how much to share online about your children and their lives, given threats such as online predators and cyberbullies, inappropriate content, and online scams. Some “influencer" moms and dads share pretty much everything; others, nothing.
We give you a run down of things you should be aware of, in monitoring your children's digital life (and your own, or at least as much as it involves them).
Every parent should be mindful of the information they are sharing and its context, to ensure it doesn’t violate the child’s privacy or dent them emotionally when they grow up and see what has been shared.
One sometimes hears that parents shouldn’t take a call on their child’s privacy or consent but they do, after all, take a call on a variety of important things, including food choices, religious practices and academic pursuits. But how much is too much? Earlier this year, the French parliament green-lit a draft legislation to protect children’s rights to their own images, making parents responsible for the privacy rights of children who cannot consent to their images being uploaded online.
Whatever you choose to share online, do use the privacy controls on your social media platform liberally. It’s a good idea to apply the principle of least privilege—share things only with those who need to see them. That said, assume that everything you share is public.
It’s wasteful to diss technology, the internet and social media. For, once you set boundaries and find a healthy balance, these can help with the social, creative and academic development of children. So, it’s more important to focus on the activities they are involved in. And if you sweat over screen time, you can decide how much you would be comfortable with.
Do note that children should never have admin rights to the devices they use. Parents should enforce digital controls on their devices, and any installations or configuration changes should be done under adult supervision.
MORE FROM THIS SECTIONview all
Of course, since children are smarter with tech than most parents, they can circumvent the controls and find ways to install the odd dodgy service or access age-inappropriate content. Nevertheless, since children today use all kinds of connected devices, you need broad parental controls across their smartphones, tablets, laptops/desktops.
A good place to start is the free, first-party solutions that come with the operating system on the device.
iOS: You can set up Screen Time for a child’s iPhone or iPad to manage the time spent by your child on individual apps and games and keep track of their downloads. You can also turn the phone off for specified periods, such as their study time or bedtime.
Android: Use Google Family Link to track and control the screen time and online activity of your child’s smartphone. While its content filtering is limited, it does offer extensive app management functionality, with options to disable unapproved apps, block new installs until the app is approved, and manage in-app purchases.
Windows: Microsoft Family Safety works well and offers a wide feature set, including time-limit restrictions, app management (including preventing installation of new apps until approved), filtering inappropriate web content, and location-sharing features.
Besides the first-party digital control apps listed above, there are many independent or third-party parental apps that allow you to track and control online activity and screen time across devices, such as:
Qustodio: Offers comprehensive parental control tools to set rules and time schedules and block unsuitable content for free, while the paid version offers a richer feature set with an intuitive user interface.
Net Nanny: Intelligent filtering that uses real-time, context-aware content analysis to flag issues along with the essential features of a parental control app, like restricting app usage and managing screen time.
Norton Family: Offers solid parental control features, including blocking inappropriate content, restricting app usage, and location tracking.
Bark: Focuses on AI-powered monitoring of signs of cyberbullying, predators, sexting, drug use and suicidal thoughts; sends realtime alerts to parents. Also has basic features. Suitable for parents of older children.
Live location tracking apps & keyloggers: Can record what children type on their devices, though it may be better to avoid this constant invasion of privacy unless absolutely necessary.
Parental control apps don’t come cheap, so weigh your requirements as well as the devices/platforms your children are on. For, some tools work better on one platform than the other.
Before you enforce any restrictions on your children’s devices, do tell them abut the need for these and ensure you don’t come across as distrustful. Else, children may find ways to circumvent the restrictions.
Finally, of course, there is no substitute for parental vigilance and the role parents play in shaping the values and choices of their children.
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.
- FIRST PUBLISHED22.09.2023 | 02:47 PM IST