Parental controls What are parental controls and how can you use them to keep your children safe?

Parental controls are a key part of the parent’s toolkit, and a great first step to help keep your child safe online, says Internet Matters

Internet Matters logoParental controls are software and tools that help parents to set controls for their children's computer use. They're a great way of helping to prevent children from accessing unsuitable content online.

Controls aren't a single solution to staying safe online - talking to your children and encouraging responsible behaviour is critical - however, controls are a vital first step to helping to protect your child online.

What do parental controls do?

There are many types of controls available, and they allow you to do a number of different things, such as:

  • filter and block content you don't want your children to see – such as violence and pornography
  • restrict information that can be shared
  • set time limits on how long children are online
  • control the time of day that children can access the internet
  • set different profiles, so that each family member can access content that's appropriate to them.

Using controls on your devices, tools and networks

Most internet providers – like BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – offer free filters that give you control over what content comes into your home. This means that any device connected to your home broadband is subject to the controls you've set on your home router or hub. These are sometimes referred to as 'whole home filters'.

You can find links to these and other providers'  safety pages on Internet Matters' parental controls page.

Smartphones, computers and tablets come with controls that can be set up to restrict access to explicit content, in-app purchasing and other content that you don't want your child to see.

Most games consoles and devices are internet-enabled. This not only lets the user go online, but also chat with other players, and make in-game purchases. All the major gaming consoles and devices come with controls that allow parents to decide what can and cannot be done, both on the console and in online gaming platforms such as Xbox Live. Some devices allow you to set up different profiles with different rights for each family member.

If you and your family access entertainment – films, music, or TV programmes - through the internet, you should consider setting controls on the platforms and sites you use. YouTube, iTunes, BBC iPlayer and Sky Go all have safety settings. Each is different and some, such as Netflix, allow you to create individual profiles with different control levels, so that each family member only sees content appropriate to them.

Children can sometimes see things online which are inappropriate for their age and stage of development. The main search engines allow you to set up filters, such as Google SafeSearch, that help block inappropriate or explicit images from search results.

These filters aren't 100% accurate, but they do help block most adult content. You should also consider encouraging the use of child-friendly search engines such as Swiggle and Safe Search UK.

Mobile operators let you set restrictions on what can be accessed through their networks. Most are automatically set to block 18+ content and require the account holder’s permission to change this. It’s worth checking with your mobile provider exactly what is and what isn’t blocked, and whether this applies to pay-as-you go handsets as well as pay monthly contracts. We also recommend that controls are set on the mobile device itself, as well as the mobile network.  The reason is that mobile network controls won’t apply when the device is used on wi-fi.

6 easy steps to help keep your children safe online

Controls aren't a single solution to staying safe online. Talking to your children and encouraging responsible behaviour is critical. However, controls are a vital first step to helping to protect your child online.

  • Set up home broadband parental controls
  • These allow you to control what content is seen on any device connected to your broadband router, or hub.
  • Set controls on your search engine
  • Encourage your child to use child-friendly search engines and activate and lock safe search settings.
  • Make sure every device is protected
  • Controls should be installed on every device your child uses – mobile phones, tablets and games consoles.
  • Privacy settings
  • Activate safety measures offered by different sites. Sites like Facebook have settings that help prevent your child seeing unsuitable advertising.
  • Block pop-ups
  • If you're worried about your children accessing inappropriate content through clicking on pop-ups, BBC Webwise has advice on how to stop these.
  • Keep talking
  • Parental Controls are a really useful part of your toolkit to keep your children safer online, and can be adjusted as your child grows, but it's vitally important to remember to talk regularly to your children about what they are doing online.
  • You can find more tips on how to start these conversations at internetmatters.org.

Download our NetAware app

NetAware is our simple guide for parents to the most popular social networks, apps and games that children use. 

You can easily find age ratings, parent and child reviews and how likely it is that a child could find inappropriate content. 

Download the app today, so you'll always have help keeping children safe online wherever you go. 

For Android devices

Untangle the web using the NetAware app for Android phones.  

For Apple devices

Stay on top of the latest apps and sites children use by downloading NetAware for iOS devices. 

Get help setting up controls

Get step-by-step advice, watch how to videos and create a personalised checklist for setting parental controls with the Internet Matters web app.

Get advice from Internet Matters

Got a question?

Whether you want to set up parental controls, adjust privacy settings or get advice on social networks, experts from the O2 & NSPCC are here to help.

0808 8005002

Free online safety workshops

Along with O2, we're holding free workshops to help parents learn how to keep children safe online. 

Sign up now

Minecraft: a parent’s guide

Minecraft is one of the most popular games, but it's not always easy to know how to keep children safe while they play the game. We can help you know the risks of Minecraft so you can keep children safe.
Read more

Share Aware

Children are told it's good to share, but sharing too much online can be dangerous. Help your child stay safe on social networks, apps and games.
Be Share Aware

Donate now

Every call is a chance to stop abuse. Support the NSPCC helpline and help us stop children suffering in silence.

Help give children a voice