How to . . . keep an eye on your child’s online activity

With all the stories about the dangers children are encountering online, the idea of giving your child a smartphone with unrestricted access to the internet seems foolish. But where do you start? Whether it is access to questionable content you want to try to prevent or around the clock internet access you would like to restrict, there are ways to achieve your goal - or at least make it more difficult for your child to access the banned content.

Web search results

Open Google. ie, and at the bottom of the page, select Settings. Check the box next to SafeSearch Filter, which will strip adult-rated search results - both text and images - from any Google query. Google has made it easy to tell at a glance if SafeSearch is enabled by adding coloured balls to the top corner of Google search pages when it is active. But any child with an ounce of tech savvy sense will know how to turn it off, but you can lock SafeSearch settings by clicking on the Lock link, and signing in to your Google account.

This will only restrict search results on Google, which won’t stop your child accessing the content on a different search engine.

Restrict tablets and smartphones

Apple offers some fairly hefty restrictions on its devices that allow you to block access to everything from Safari web browser and FaceTime to installing apps and making purchases on the App Store. You can restrict access to content by age ratings, or even limit the volume. To access all this, go to Settings>General>Restrictions and set a password to get started.

Android is a little more complex. On newer versions of the software on tablets, you can set up a new user account that shuts down a lot of the features you would rather your child didn’t access.

Open Settings>Device>Users>Add new user or profile. That will give the option of setting up a restricted profile. To name it, tap New profile, put in the name and select OK. You will see a list of apps with switches next to their names; simply choose the ones you want to allow access to.

Only the device owner can set up new profiles, and it’s important they you set some sort of lock on the master profile, or else your child will quickly figure out how to switch back to your unrestricted profile.

On the Google Play store you can restrict purchases and disable in-app spending.

Some manufacturers offer their own restrictions - Samsung has a Kids Mode app for its tablets and smartphones, for example, that will lock out important functions if you want to hand over your phone to your child, for example.

On your broadband hub

The admin interface on your broadband hub usually allows you to set rules for specific devices, so you don’t have to mess around with changing wifi passwords every day. Open the admin interface through your web browser by connecting to your home network and going to the web address specific for your modem - on the Virgin Media Hub 3.0 it is 192.168.0.1, eir’s is 192.168.1.254 - and logging in.

What you can do once you get in here caries from modem to modem. Eir has is parental controls built in so you can control time spent online and also filter out different URLs. Virgin Media offers the ability restrict the ability of individual devices to connect to the internet, but its content filtering is enabled through the My Virgin Media service.

One tip: regardless of who is supplying your broadband, the admin access settings are usually printed somewhere on the hub, so unless you want your children to start changing them themselves, change the admin password from the default as soon as you get the chance.

Third party products

There are a few companies out there that are offering an easy to set up content filtering service. Irish company iKidz is one that claims to be tamperproof. The device plugs into your broadband hub, and parents use the companion app to set the rules for internet access in the home. That includes what can be used and when, blocking apps as well as website addresses, and there is a mobile extension that will work on your child’s phone too. The mobile product also adds geofencing with alerts, so you can tell when your child goes out of a set area.

Be an example

We’re all guilty of “do as I say don’t do as I do” in daily life. But if you want your children to practice healthier internet habits, you’ll have to do it yourself too. That means occasionally putting the phone down - a dinner table ban is in effect here, for example, but other parents ban smartphones and tablets after a certain time or from bedrooms. Your child may still kick off about giving up their smartphone but at least you can put it down to family rules.

Talk to your children

It sounds simple and obvious, but this is the most important of all weapons in the battle to keep your children safe online. You can have all the technology solutions you like on your devices, but they aren’t 100 per cent effective and they are still no substitute for talking to your children and being aware of what they are doing online. Encourage them to talk to you if they feel uncomfortable about something- or someone - they encounter online, and make sure they are aware of the risks of giving out too much personal information to strangers. They may be old enough to realise that not everyone is who they say they are online, but still they may not understand the real dangers.