Protecting the Innocent
The internet has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for learning, shopping and communicating with friends and family – as well as with strangers.
Just as we protect our children in the real world it is important to extend this protection into the virtual world of the internet and we are offered a vast choice of “Parental Control” software promising to do just that: from preventing access to inappropriate websites, limiting access times right down to recording every keystroke and every word typed.
Which Parental Control?
Over the last few weeks we (parents and children) put Parental Control software to the test on our quest to find a solution that is not only free and easy to set up but most importantly – actually works – without spoiling the fun for the child or resulting in constant interference by a supervisor:
Router Level Parental Control
Despite the advantage of router level parental control protecting not only computers but also other devices used in the same household (i.e. phones and game consoles), setups tended to be fairly high tech and time consuming. The main downfall was not being able to adjust the restrictions per user – controls were applied across the board whether the internet was used by adults or children.
Built-in Parental Control features within Windows & Anti-Virus packages
Although Windows 8 promises advanced features, the available options in the current Windows operating systems were disheartening and not really worth spending the time and effort in setting up.
Most decent Anti-Virus packages now include parental control functions and whilst some were along the same lines of Windows built-in features, others (i.e. ESET’s Smart Security) offered a good alternative to purpose-built parental control software but simply could not compete with the features of our favourites below.
The Winners: Purpose-built Parental Control Software
Despite the vast choice of products available on the market, two really stood out for us:
K9 Web Protection
Installation was quick & easy with neither computer / internet speed impeded upon and the preset configurations were the best of all the software we tested – although not offering 100% reliability, we were impressed with restrictions being applied to the majority of Google searches without opening the door to everything this world has to offer!
K9’s flexible configuration settings made it easy to adjust the level of control to individual parents’ requirements and the reporting feature with its easy to digest overview of internet sites visited, as well as other useful information, makes K9 a great choice – but only for computers used exclusively by children – not for family computers:
Unfortunately, K9 can only be applied globally to all users of a computer – not to an individual account. So, on a family computer, adults and older siblings would have to continuously type in their supervisor password to surf “freely” – making it a rather tedious experience indeed!
Windows Live Family Safety on the other hand, offered more flexibility: different settings can be applied for different users. Not only can children request permissions for disallowed websites in person (by supervisors entering their password) but can also send email requests allowing supervisors to grant permissions remotely: perfect for parents not wishing to look over the children’s shoulders all the time.
Although the preset control configurations were good, they were not nearly as good as K9’s and with Google searches not being filtered appropriately, we felt it necessary (especially for younger children) to disallow Google and allow kiddie friendly search engines (i.e. kidrex.org and askkids.com) only. Although these offer a “walled garden” of information, they also limit the information available due to censorship.
Reporting functions were basic in comparison, but we did like the age restricting games and software permissions.
Big Brother and the not so innocent
Children might be naive and certainly need protecting, but they are also tech savvy (and if they are not – they will have friends that are) and it is important to remember that parental control passwords can be cracked and bypassed.
To really protect our children, we not only need their cooperation but also need to make sure that they understand why parental control software is being used. Talk not just about “stranger danger” but about the dangers of the known; discuss the fact that everything created online creates a digital footprint, forever; and remind them that just because it is published online, does not mean it is true.
Protecting privacy can often be a bigger issue than predators and whilst parental control software can have considerable protective value, it is no substitute for parenting – the best internet safety means teaching responsible use.
REFERENCES & Related Links
- Social media: refer to childnet.com
- British Standards Institution (BSI) kitemark for child safety software
- Parental controls you might already have depending on your computer system: http://www.which.co.uk/baby-and-child/child-safety-at-home/guides/parental-control-software/what-parental-controls-do-i-need/
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