We can do pretty much anything online nowadays, from finding a new home, doing the weekly shopping and keeping up with old friends. But with the internet being so vast, there’s also a lot of dark and dangerous content out there that could be potentially harmful to your children if they have access to it. Luckily, all the major broadband providers in the UK will offer free parental controls with their packages, allowing you to feel secure that your children are safe online.
With most broadband parental control software, you will have to set up the limits manually. While this can be confusing for some, it allows you greater control over what you want your children to see and not see online. This guide will take you through the different parental control services offered by the major broadband providers in the UK.
BT Parental Controls offer three different levels of restriction to choose from – Light, Moderate or Strict. On top of this, BT allow you to customise the level of control you want, by selecting specifically which category of page you want to be blocked. BT have the most extensive list of categories you can block out of all the major broadband providers. The categories you can choose to block are:
BT are the only major broadband provider in the UK whose parental controls extend beyond the home. Not only will the controls be placed on your home Wi-Fi connection, but to any device you use that connects to a BT Wi-Fi hotspot using the home account.
The software also comes with an option to set the time of day when the filters are in place. For example, if your children are in bed by 9PM, you can turn off the parental controls after this time so that you can browse the internet as you wish.
You can also get BT Family Protection and BT Virus Protect software at no additional cost. BT Family Protection allows you and your family to each set up a different account on the same computer with your own passwords, allowing you to set different content filters on each account. BT Virus Protect blocks harmful malware and spyware from attacking your computer or stealing personal information.
Sky’s system works in a similar way to BT Parental Controls, offering three levels of content filters set by age – PG, 13 or 18. You can also customise each level of control, allowing you to add or remove certain websites or categories of website appropriately.
The PG setting will block all potentially harmful content, including social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as online gaming. This could be useful if you’re concerned about the amount of time they’re spending online, or you want to keep them away from distractions when they’re doing homework. The 13 option will block most harmful content but allows for social networks and games, while the 18 option only blocks malware, spyware and phishing emails – protecting your computer from viruses and hackers.
Sky Broadband Shield also comes with a watershed option. This lets you automatically set the filters for different times of the day, allowing you to view what you want without changing the settings every time, while knowing your children still don’t have access to harmful content during the times that they’re online.
Turning on your Sky Broadband Shield will cover all the devices in your home that use your network, including your laptops, computers, smartphones and tablets.
If you are a Sky Broadband Unlimited or Sky Fibre customer, then you are entitled to a 12-month free trial of McAfee Security Suite, an anti-virus software programme that protects all your devices from viruses and other malicious software. It also comes with additional parental controls.
Virgin Media’s content filter system comes with two main levels of protection – Virus Safe and Child Safe. While Virus Safe protects your devices from malware and spyware, Child Safe blocks certain categories of harmful websites containing content such as pornography, bullying and gambling.
Web Safe protects every device in your home that is connected to your broadband, including your tablets and smartphones. You can also set the content filter to automatically turn on and off at certain times of the day, and you can add or remove certain websites from the filter manually, much like with the other broadband providers.
Virgin Media broadband customers are also offered F-Secure SAFE free for 12 months. This is an additional security software product that adds an extra level of control on your devices by blocking certain harmful material, and it allows you to have different levels of control for each profile on your computer. After the 12 months free trial, you will be able to renew F-Secure SAFE for £25 a year. Non-Virgin Media customers are charged £79.99 a year to protect 5 devices with F-Secure.
TalkTalk HomeSafe was the first online security software in the UK to block harmful content on a network level, when it was launched back in 2011. It comes with three main features – Kids Safe, Homework Time and Virus Alerts – with the first two dedicated to parental control.
Kids Safe allows you to block harmful websites by choosing which categories to block. Categories of content you can restrict include suicide and self-harm, pornography, gambling, social media and online games. You can also block or unblock certain websites at your discretion.
Homework Time is a feature that allows you to set certain times of the day where online gaming websites and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked.
While most internet service providers will offer you some form of parental control software when you sign up to their broadband deals, there are more options available for that added level of control and peace of mind.
Both Windows and Mac computers have parental control software already installed. The Windows version, Family Safety, includes controls such as harmful content filtering, daily time limits and safe searches, while Mac computers have a similar system.
Parental controls at an operating system level allow you to control your children’s use beyond the internet. It can also block certain apps or games that have already been downloaded and installed.
You also have parental control options on paid-for anti-virus software such as Norton and McAfee. They work in similar ways to both the parental controls offered by broadband providers and operating systems but are still worth using as not all systems are perfect. The higher level of control you have, the more difficult it is for harmful material to get through the system.
While parental control software can be very useful and beneficial in terms of restricting what your children can see online, it’s also important to talk to them and educate them on the dangers of the internet. After all, parental controls aren’t perfect, and kids will be kids – they’ll find ways to bend the rules out of curiosity. Educate your children on what’s out there and why it can be harmful, and make sure you involve your children when setting parental controls.