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Deep Dive into Parental Controls

Where to start?

There is so much information and advice available to us and it can be hard to make sense of it all. When thinking about ways in which we can keep children safe online, one recurring piece of advice is heard time after time: use parental controls.

But what exactly are parental controls? Are they really that important? To provide some clarity, here is a deep dive into parental controls and how they can be used to help protect children online.  


What is all the worry about?

Children are spending more time online than ever before - from playing games to doing homework to speaking with their friends - and whilst there are many widely accepted benefits from playing games, there is also potentially harmful content online. The good news is that awareness is on the rise - in areas like fake news, trolling, hate and the hacking of your account - and as concerns are growing, governments around the world are responding, with many looking to place more duty of care responsibilities onto digital service providers and bring forth new policies to protect their users.

Why use parental controls?

Parental controls are designed to help parents manage their child’s use of their electronic devices, including filtering access to games, content and spending.

For games that get a higher content rating, parental controls can be used to help restrict their download and limit children’s access. There are other tools to help parents and guardians manage children’s’ access to games and features such as blocking purchases, limiting game access, restricting certain game features, and monitoring gameplay.

When used properly alongside education and engaged parenting, parental controls are considered one of the most useful ways in which parents can help manage their child’s online experience. 


How do we know we can trust parental controls?

Parental controls are now widely supported by a range of organisations, regulatory, and government bodies around the world. 


The UK government has endorsed parental controls as a way to stay safe online and its data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO),  published its age-appropriate design code in which parental controls make up one of the fifteen standards - a testament to the legitimacy of parental controls as a critical online safety tool.  


Parental controls are also supported by charities, including the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and trade bodies including The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) who promote parental controls through their initiative Ask About Games.

In the USA, parental controls are endorsed by the American consumer protection watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission and the US rating authority, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

In Australia, the e-Safety Commissioner has published the Online Safety Act, which sets out a clear set of expectations for online service providers, inlcuding the provision of parental controls.

Internationally, parental controls are supported by the International Age Ratings Coalition (IARC) and Pan European Game Information (PEGI), as well as academics and parents.  


The other side of the coin - the perspective of the child

As child online safety experts explain, we want children to develop a sense of independence and responsibility, embrace imaginative play and creativity, and develop the skills associated with gaming such as problem solving and communication. 

Well applied, parental controls should protect children from online harms whilst allowing them to reap the benefits of age-appropriate games without the feeling that their parents or guardians are constantly monitoring them. 

There is currently no fixed advice on what constitutes a ‘healthy’ amount of screen time, nor what constitutes unhealthy spending habits. Every household is different, every family is different and it’s important that parents are free to “parent” in their own way and what works for you may not work for someone else. 

So how do you find the right balance? 

Many child online safety experts highlight one of the most important ways to successfully implement parental controls is by having open and ongoing conversations with children to find the best combination of tools suited to both the parent and the child. In this way, children can be involved in the decision making and understand why any restrictions are put in place. 

How much time do they spend playing games? Do they think this is too much? Is there certain content that they find distressing? Conversations like this can help you decide - together - on the combination of parental control tools that are best suited to both your needs. 

Remember too that as children get older and become more proficient online, they may be able to download more, change the settings themselves or try to circumvent the parental control tools. 

Technology is constantly evolving to address this and it is important to keep up to date with the device settings and the parental control tools in place so that you can tailor parental controls to children of different ages and strike the right balance to protect children online.  

Top Tips

  • Parental controls are one of the easiest and most effective ways to manage a child’s gaming experience

  • Become familiar with the controls within a game so that you can ensure settings are individualised for your family

  • Talk with your child so they understand why you are setting limits

  • Keep updated on parental controls to reflect the age of your child and adjust when necessary 

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