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A guide to internet safety for kids

Internet trends now move so fast that it's becoming harder and harder for parents to know how to keep their kids safe online. Or even where the dangers lie.

According to a uSwitch study, nearly one in five parents confessed they’re worried their lack of tech skills means their children are at risk while they’re using the internet.

The good news is that help is at hand. In this bite-size, simple guide on internet safety for kids, we’ll arm you with all the internet safety facts you need. Along the way, we’ll look at how to get the best out of parental control software that's provided free by most broadband providers and how it can help you. We’ll also outline the sort of threats to your children that are beyond the limits of parental controls and how you can take action.

What does parental control software do?

bt parental controls

Parental control software can be a useful way of safeguarding your kids online. Below, we’ve outlined exactly what it can do.

  • Block harmful websites and applications, including those that host pornography and violent content, as well as dating, gambling and file-sharing sites.

You can do this by logging into your customer account with your provider and ticking categories that you want to block, or by inputting specific website addresses.

  • Limit the amount of time your child spends online.

Your parental controls let you bar access to the internet at certain times of day or set your controls so the internet shuts off after an allotted usage allowance that you have determined.

  • Block access to sites on all devices connected to your home broadband, including smartphones, tablets and games consoles.

With more and more of us using multiple gadgets, it's important to make sure your children are safe across all their connected devices.

  • Some parental controls, such as Sky’s software, also let you block certain TV channels and restrict viewing by programmes’ age certification.

Which broadband providers offer parental control software?

If you’re signed up to one of the UK’s big-name broadband providers, including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, parental controls software is supplied free of charge.

If you’re not with those providers, you may want to invest in paid-for parental control software, such as K9 Web Protection. Or if you’ve got a Windows PC, you could investigate Windows Live Family Safety app, which is free of charge.

However, while it’s always useful to have parental control software set up, it’s vital to know that it’s far from a catch-all solution. Turning on parental controls doesn’t mean you can relax and rely on it completely to keep your kid safe online.

Limits of parental controls

boy using smartphone

Parental controls are good as far as they go. But there are limits to their effectiveness. In general, the older your child and the more tech savvy they become, the easier it is for them to get around parental control software’s restrictions.

In this section, we look at some holes in parental control security and the methods kids use to bypass restrictions on their internet usage.

  • If a child knows the login for your account with your provider or if you allow the site to remember your login details, it’s very easy for them to change your settings so they can view sites you’ve blocked.

It’s also worth knowing that parental control software usually won’t send you an automated email to notify you that the settings have been changed.

  • Parental controls only cover your home broadband connection.

This means your child will still be able to be access blocked sites over a 3G or 4G mobile internet connection, whether that’s via a mobile broadband dongle or a smartphone or tablet.

  • Parental controls won’t restrict who sees your child’s profile on Facebook.

This can only be changed in Facebook's ‘settings’ page; it cannot be changed through parental control software.

  • If you allow kids to play games online, you can’t control who speaks to them.

Danger can lurk even on the most innocuous, harmless-seeming games, so try to keep an eye on their activities to ensure their safety.

  • No parental control software can ever be completely up to date and cannot guarantee your child won’t be exposed to something you’d rather they didn’t see.

This is because new sites are being added to the internet all the time, which could sneak through the filter.

  • Even when parental controls are on, users may still get a momentary glimpse of a site before the block you’ve set up is activated.

Unfortunately, parental controls sometimes lag, so pages may load before being blocked.

  • Tech-savvy kids can get around restrictions by using what’s called a VPN or virtual private network.

This lets them trick the system with a different IP (internet protocol) address, which will not be covered by your parental control settings.

That's a long list and lays bare just how vigilant you still have to be even when you're using parental controls. The only way to be sure your kids are safe when they're using the internet is to educate yourself about where threats lie and keep a close eye on what they're doing when you're not around.

Want to know more? For a fully comprehensive guide to keeping kids safe online we recommend Internet Matters.