Don’t Forget to Activate Parental Controls on Your Tablet PC

Jan 31, 2013

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If the family computer has been getting a lot of miles on it lately - perhaps you have one or more youngster in the house clamoring for screen time - you may be in the market for a second PC to share the load.  Some parents may consider a tablet PC because of its cheaper price tag, but handing an un-monitored internet-connected device to your child has risks.  Luckily, there are parental control software that you can easily activate to protect your child from the wild west of the internet.

Restrict the YouTube App: Even watching their favorite Muppets song on YouTube can be dangerous.  From the "suggestions" of additional content to explore, to the profanity that pops up in user comments, there's stuff there that you just don't want young ones to see.  Also, you obviously don't want your kids to simply search YouTube and watch whatever results from their search.  That's where Safety Mode comes in.  Activate it by toggling "Safety: On" at the bottom of the YouTube screen – log in to lock it in this mode.  Not only is content restricted, but comments under videos are screened and restricted for profanity, allowing for a safer YouTube surfing experience for your kids.

IPads offer customizable restrictions that, once activated, link to a 4-digit code to modify or unlock.  Under Settings, select General then Restrictions to modify.  You can disable the ability to delete or install apps, purchase in-app content, or individually disable certain functions such as Safari or YouTube.

Note: if you disable Safari but don’t disable the ability to install apps, your child can simply install an alternate browser such as Chrome to gain unhindered access to the internet.

The bad news is that there's no option to establish specific user profiles, so if you put restrictions in place for your toddler, then want to use the device for yourself, you'll need to remove the limitations every time.  This means you have to remember to turn them back on before you set the iPad down.  As any busy parent can attest, this is a sure path to failed parental control.

Also, I've found that if you restrict applications to 4+ (for example), some applications are completely unavailable, like Netflix, which you may want to allow.

Kindle Fire users with small children should consider FreeTime Unlimited, a subscription service available for $5/month ($3 for Amazon Prime members).  Kids have unlimited access to age-appropriate content such as books, games, movies and TV shows from Disney, Sesame Street, PBS Kids and Nickelodeon.  You can establish screen time limits, even for specific activities.  For example, you can allow unlimited reading time, but limit game play to 30 minutes a day.

Individual profiles for each user allow you to personalize access by who is logged in. This is a definite advantage if you’re planning to share the tablet between family members.  Not only will it mean that your 3-year-old's games aren't clogging up your screen when you log into your profile, it lets adults access age restricted functions without having to disable parental controls.

Barnes and Noble's Nook has integrated parental controls right out of the box.  It supports up to six user profiles and each can be customized for web access limitations and in-app purchasing with separate viewing libraries for each user.  When you set up a profile for a child (enter their age in their profile), by default the store is open but is limited to kid-friendly apps and requires a password before purchase.  You can change this in the settings if you want stricter controls. 

Finally, Net Nanny is a great resource to limit the things your children find online, post to the Internet, and even install on the computer. More than a list of blocked websites, Net Nanny uses a unique filter that reviews the content of the website before displaying it. Net Nanny uses the site’s content to categorize it, and you can allow or block categories for each of your users individually. If you want to allow your older child to see content related to drugs or alcohol, but not your second-grader, you can customize access for everyone in your house.

Net Nanny allows you to block image upload, even block your child’s ability to post to online forums or blogs. You can set it up to capture where your kids are going online, view a log of IM chat sessions, even review their Facebook profiles so you can see their friends, wall posts and what they are sharing with the world. You can block the installation of games based on their ESRB rating, and set limits to amount and time of day that you want to allow your kids to be on the computer.  NetNanny is supported in Mac, Windows and Android versions and they even offer a “free” trial for parents to check it out.

The great thing about a tablet is that you can easily put it away when it’s time to disconnect.  Your best parental control is you!