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Internet 101: Childproofing Your Devices

Internet 101: Childproofing Your Devices

The internet can be a wonderful place, but for people with children, it can also be a cause for concern. It’s pretty common these days for children to have regular access to the internet. Whether it’s a family computer, a parent’s tablet or smartphone, or even the child’s own device, many kids are able to get online every day.

For some, letting children use smartphones, tablets, or computers at all is troubling. At least one study has showed that children getting too much screen time can be bad for their mental health. And of course, some people believe that using the internet and playing video games just isn’t a worthwhile way for a child to spend their time. Some argue that there are better things kids could be doing in their off time.

While these ideas are obviously worth considering, many parents weigh the pros and cons and decide they want their children to have access to the internet through some kind of device. Depending on how old their children are, parents will likely find it extremely difficult to keep kids off the internet anyway. And though there are some serious downsides to consider, there are certainly positives when it comes to letting children have access to apps and certain websites. It’s hard to argue with the idea that there are a lot of different educational apps, games, and websites available for kids. Plus, it seems as though it’s most important to just limit screen time and keep watch on a child’s activity. A little screen time, then, can be fun.

When someone wants to let their child have access to a computer or smart device, there are a lot of things to consider. Specifically, how can adults keep their children as safe as possible, and how can they protect their devices, too? Childproofing can seem complicated, but depending on what you want to do, it might be easier than you think.

Before we get started…

It’s important to note that if you’re looking into childproofing your devices, you should also talk to your kids about how to be safe on the internet. Communication is key when it comes to letting your children use computers and smart devices. If kids don’t know what to watch out for, they could still get themselves into bad situations. And if children know they can talk to an adult about what’s been going on in an app or on a website, it’ll be easier to stop negative experiences before they can escalate. Whatever action you take to childproof a device, make sure you first talk to your kid(s) about why it’s necessary in the first place. The Federal Trade Commission has a page dedicated to talking to your kids about online communication.

Childproofing your computer

There are a number of options for childproofing a computer. Here are a few options you can consider:

Use your computer’s settings

If you have a Windows computer, then there’s a pretty straightforward way to monitor and childproof your child’s time on the device. In your settings, there is an option to set up and customize a child’s account. You can find instructions online about how to set up a restricted account on different Windows versions. For Windows 10, you’ll need to open your settings, go to “Accounts,” select “Family & other users,” and choose “Add a child.” Then you’ll fill in the necessary information to complete a new account.

When you go to manage the child’s settings, you can choose from a number of different options. You can have the child’s activity tracked so it can be sent to you. You can block or allow specific websites, or you can click a button to block websites inappropriate for children, and you can also restrict apps. You can even set certain times that the child is allowed to use the computer. Microsoft’s childproofing option can be extremely helpful.

If you have a Mac, you have just as many options for childproofing. If you go to System Preferences and choose “Parental Controls,” you can create a new account and set it up for a child to use. With Mac’s childproofing, you can restrict or allow certain websites and apps, set up time limits for use, restrict other kinds of content, view a log of visited websites, and even make the desktop easier to use by enabling “Simple Finder.”

Manage your browser’s settings

You can also set up a browser to be more child-friendly. For instance, Google Chrome allows users to create a supervised profile that blocks websites, lets you see what’s been visited, block new installations, enable SafeSearch, and more. Also, Firefox offers some extensions for parental controls.

However, browser settings can only do so much if your computer isn’t safeguarded as well. Also, changing your browser settings or adding an extension won’t do much at all to stop an older child from figuring out how to sidestep the parental controls. Browser settings should really be considered an additional layer of safety, not the primary source.

Block content through your router

You can use a service to block certain content on any device connected to your internet. One popular service is OpenDNS. They have some free and some paid services. Their free Family Shield service allows you to block adult content on the devices using your internet. Circle is another service that pairs with a router and lets you customize what devices are allowed to access when connected to your internet.

Childproofing your tablet

Tablets are popular devices for children. Here are just some ways you can childproof a tablet:

Create a restricted profile

If you have an Android tablet, you can create a restricted profile specifically for your child to use. In your tablet’s settings, find something similar to “Users” or “Profiles.” Then choose a “Restricted profile” or “child profile.” From there you can create a new profile and manage its settings. For instance, on the Kindle Fire you can enable certain books to be available, let the child use certain apps, and enable a kid-friendly browser. As long as you have a lock set for your own profile (like a PIN), when switching back to your profile you’ll encounter a lock screen.

These settings can change from tablet to tablet, so take a look at your tablet and scroll through the options. Most devices do their best to make restricted profile settings as clear and straightforward as possible.

iPads also offer Restrictions for childproofing. In your iPad’s settings, you can create a passcode for your restricted settings and customize your settings. You can restrict certain apps, music, and websites, and you can disable Siri, location services, volume controls, and more.

Lock the app store

To stop children from downloading certain apps, you can lock up a device’s app store. If your device uses Google Play, you can enable parental controls. You can create a PIN and restrict app, TV, and movie downloads to a certain rating range, restrict “sexually explicit” books for download, and restrict explicit music.

As mentioned before, iPads can also be customized for children. You can restrict app downloads in your iPad’s restrictions.

Use screen pinning or guided access

If you have an Android tablet with a later version of Android installed, you can use screen pinning when you’re letting a child use a shared device. Some tablets won’t have this feature, but some do. To check it out, try going to your Settings and tapping on your Security settings. Look for some mention of screen pinning. Screen pinning will let you open a specific app and pin it to the screen so a child can’t navigate away from it. It can be extremely useful if you want to know exactly which app your child is using at the time.

On an iPad, guided access can do the same thing. In your iPad’s settings, go to “General,” then “Accessibility” and find “Guided Access.” You can turn Guided Access off or on, set up a PIN, and learn how to restrict the device to show a certain app on the screen so a child can’t switch to a different app.

Download additional apps

You can also download some other apps to help you childproof your device. You can download an app like AppLock to restrict access to certain things. You can do the same with McAfee’s Safe Family. You can also download some child-specific versions of popular apps. Specifically, YouTube Kids lets you give a child access to some YouTube content without having to worry about the child wandering off into inappropriate content.

Childproofing your smartphone

Childproofing a smartphone is extremely similar to the techniques listed for tablets. In fact, all of the above is applicable to smartphones except for one key difference: restricted profiles do not seem to be available yet for Android phones.

Other than this, you can follow the same steps for smartphones as you would for tablets. iPads and iPhones have the same parental control features that let you restrict content or use guided access, and Android phones (as long they have a later version of Android installed) can enable screen pinning.