This post was originally published September 7, 2017 in the Southwest Journal, a Southwest Minneapolis community newspaper.
I have never heard a client say, “I am happy that my child has complete access to the Internet. I don’t need to be aware of what they’re watching.” That’s because it simply isn’t true.
Parents want to protect their children and ensure they’re safe while using the Internet. And appropriate levels of access differ across age ranges.
For a while now, I have been using Qustodio, a great parental control software, for creating a safe Internet experience for my own children and setting it up for clients’ use as well. I have played around with quite a few different applications, and Qustodio is by far my favorite.
For me, it is about balancing both time limits and content safety, meaning the applications and services that are allowed to be used on their devices. But for others, it can be more about cutting off Internet access at certain hours — so that kids are not up all night on their phones, tablets or laptops — or being aware of the device usage and sites visited. Additionally, it can limit all sorts of access to the web and allow for tracking the use of their devices.
The software is fantastic. It has a web portal for parental control and it is installed as a background program, or app, on the kids’ devices. Once installed, parents can set up rules for time limits and specified hourly cutoffs, limit the type of online sites viewed and track social media, text and call info, even if it is deleted.
Qustodio is available for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Fire (Amazon) devices. It is free to install and use on one device, but for multiple devices there are annual fees — which most people will accept, as one generally wants to track a laptop as well as a phone, for example.
When installing the application, you have the option to choose if it is a child’s or parent’s device, meaning a tracked device or tracking device. You can also set it up so that it is not viewable on the child’s devices if you want to be stealthy about it. Note that regardless, kids cannot remove it from their devices or disable it without the password.
For my young girls, I turn off nearly all Internet access and only allow YouTube Kids, Netflix, Google Play Movies and Amazon Videos — plus games, which generally do not require Internet access. For parents with older children who want the Internet on, you can restrict types of sites like pornography, gambling, etc., and also see thumbnails of the sites that are visited. It is pretty impressive to see the actual sites visited.
There are hardware devices out there as well, like Circle with Disney, which control access to your wireless router and therefore can cut off Internet based on rules and times you set up. However, you do not get the granular detail of devices usage with Circle, such as seeing which websites were accessed, nor does it work away from your home network unless you pay for an additional service through them.
I much prefer the software control instead of the hardware control, as I have found Circle to be a bit cumbersome to set up and begin using. You can use it to completely cut off Internet at any time like a quick kill switch, which can be great when chores need to be completed before the Internet is turned back on.
Whichever route you choose to go, it is important to be responsible with children’s online usage. Having open conversations and sharing the basic dos and don’ts of their use is an important step in raising kids that are savvy and safe with online use.
Paul Burnstein is a tech handyman. As the founder of Gadget Guy MN, Paul helps personal and business clients optimize their use of technology. He can be found through gadgetguymn.com or via email at email@example.com.