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Parental Controls....Which One To Pick?

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One of the common questions among parents is; “Should we use parental controls, and if so, which one?” It’s something Jonny discussed on BBC News a month or so ago, a difficult question to answer!

It depends on a number of factors such as the personality of the child, how they use the internet and their devices, parenting style, the child’s age, etc. Ultimately, it’s a decision that each parent will have to answer themselves and probably one that should be reviewed from time to time.

One of the key elements to get right is (and especially hard to balance) are the safeguarding needs of the child vs. their right to privacy. Our position is this – ultimately parents and guardians have a legal obligation to protect their children from harm, in both the physical and non-physical realms!

Parental controls can help enable this in many, but not necessarily all cases. However, with the shear variety of different parental control software and apps available to parents it can be a difficult balance to strike. There are some apps, like ‘KidLogger’, which we believe may cross the line into privacy invasion of the child. For example, they record every single keystroke the child makes meaning every text message, email, password, social media post, private message, etc. is recorded for the parents pursual.

Well, there’s some good news. There’s a new app on the block that works in a slightly different way to most and we think it’s a real force for good – it’s called “SafeToNet”.

Note: we have no relationship whatsoever with this (or any) products that we recommend. If we like them…we recommend them.

 

SafetoNet

SafetoNet are an alternative to parental controls. They recognise that whilst adults may often have the psychological resilience to deal with threats like cyber bullying, sextortion and internet trolls, many children do not.

It’s an app loaded onto the child’s device and then uses artificial intelligence to tackle key online threats such as cyberbullying, sextortion, grooming, abuse, and aggression. Here’s the clever bit…it does so in real-time.

It integrates with the keyboard and essentially identifies when something nasty, provactive, inappropriate or suspicious is being typed or received. It looks for signs of anxiety, stress, dark thoughts and bullying. Little guidance pop-ups appear when a potential threat is detected.

Here’s a quick illustration of it in action;

 

Why is this so great?

1. Timing – only appears when it is needed. Otherwise sits quietly in the background. Comes across as much less ‘creepy’ than the standard parental controls.

2. Educates Directly – where most parental controls could be compared to a ‘snitch’, SafetoNet’s focus is on educating the child as they use their device. The focus is not on ‘telling on them’ to their parents where they will inevitably get reprimanded, but to actually help them make the right choices in real time. Often kids will not listen to parents purely because it’s coming from the parent, so it can be especially helpful the guidance coming from ‘someone else’.

3. Encourages Positive Digital Citizenship – not only does it help protect the child themselves, it provides helpful guidance on being kind to others and learning how to be a good digital citizen.

4. Watches Out For Psychological Issues – with it’s machine learning capability, it learns what your child is like, what’s normal and what’s not normal. One of our favourite features is that it identifies when your child might be having dark thoughts or maybe getting a little down or depressed. In this way, it can help flag psychological issues early – something we think will be increasingly important in the years to come.

5. Transparency – the child is assigned a ‘safety indicator’ which is a dynamic measure of how safe your child is online. This isn’t reserved just for the parents, this is shared with both child and parent alike, setting a really good precedent for transparency and balance.

For all these reasons, we love the app and think you will too. It’s available on all major devices and only costs £2.99/month or £31.99/year. You can check it out here.

 

Other Options

Not take your fancy? Here’s another product that we rate, called ‘Qustodio’. It’s from more of the conventional parental control apps and for just £3 per month or £35.95 per year, it has considerable pedigree in the field of online safety.

It’s most redeeming feature is probably that the fact that it provides choice - it allows parents to strike that important balance between parental oversight and invading privacy.

It’s modular in its setup so you can build a product specific for your family. Key features of Qustodio include;

  • Multi-Device Monitoring: monitors your child’s activity on all their devices, including smart phones and tablets.
  • Website blocking: Qustodio has 26 filter categories that blocks things like pornography, gambling, violence, drugs, alcohol and extremist sites.
  • Social Media Monitoring: did you know a lot of kids have two versions of their social media accounts? One that is real and one specifically designed to be visible to their parents so they can’t see what they’re really up to! Parental control software will identify where kids are using tactics like this and notify you. Qustodio makes sure your kids post appropriate content and observe how others interact with others, what they say and what others are sharing with your child. If you find someone bullying or sharing inappropriate content with your child, you can block that person across multiple social media platforms.
  • Screen Time Control: you can set the times of day or durations your kid is allowed to use the internet. Qustodio lets you create individual child profiles so everyone in the family can have their own time schedule, very useful if you have kids a few years apart.
  • Online Gaming: if your kids play a lot of games online through the web browser (not through a secondary device like an Xbox or PlayStation) then you can control what types of games your children can download or play and also see the chat and instant messages they have with other gamers. You can block all online game sites (perhaps as a temporary punishment) or you can select specific games they are allowed to use.
  • GPS Locator: it has a basic GPS locating feature so it can tell you if your kid is where they should be and can help retrieve a lost device. Whilst this functionality isn’t as comprehensive as some of the specific GPS tracking products I recommended in the Geo-tracking chapter, if you think it meets your needs it means you wouldn’t need to have both.
  • Alerting: lets you define alerts and customise how and when they are sent to you as well as how ‘critical’ each should be considered. It provides some decent dash boarding for you to see summaries of their online activity, including any banned sites they’ve tried to access and the search terms they have used when searching for online stuff.
  • Anti-Cyberbullying Monitoring: helps identify potential cases of cyberbullying and notifies you when the offender tries to contact your child. Other products tend not to have this feature.
  • Panic Button: you can enable a panic button on your kid’s smartphone. If they ever feel in danger, either someone following them, they’re getting bullied or in a fight, they can press the panic button and you will get a text alert with their location.

The only real drawback is that other products feature live chat and telephone customer services support, which Qustodio does not provide. If you need to contact them you can send them an email via their online web form. If for whatever reason you don’t like Qustodio, Norton Family or Surfie might be good alternatives to try.

Which parental control app do you use? Tell us in the comments below 🙂

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