5 Things That Are Not Blocked By Parental Controls
Whether you’re buying your child a first cell phone or just getting comfortable with the idea of allowing some time on a family computer or tablet, parental controls can play an important role in ensuring that your child can’t access any inappropriate or dangerous content online. It’s pretty easy to set up parental controls for your browser, whether you’re talking about an Android phone, an iPad, or a Windows PC. But parental controls aren’t perfect. In fact, plenty of things that you might not want your child to see aren’t blocked by parental controls. Worried about what your child might find on the internet? Read on to learn about the things that your children may still be able to access, and learn about what you can do to keep your family safe online.
1. Websites that haven’t been categorized by your parental control software
Most parental control solutions work by blacklisting, or blocking, specific sites that are known to feature content that’s inappropriate for children. But even the best parental control software can’t possibly know about every objectionable website on the internet. Such software will likely block a few good websites, and will miss a few bad ones, due to the limits either of its blacklist or its keyword-based filtering technology.
A way around the limits of blacklisting is to choose parental controls that operate by whitelisting instead. With a whitelisting system, you approve specific sites for your children to access instead of blacklisting sites that you don’t want them to access. That means that you child will only be able to navigate to the sites you explicitly approve, which may work for young children, but won’t go over as well if you have older kids. Which brings us to our next category of content that won’t be effectively blocked by parental controls.
2. Websites in other browsers if your parental controls are based in a specific browser
You can set up parental controls at the operating system level, through your web browser, via a smartphone app, or at the level of your home network. But you should know that if you opt to set restrictions from within your web browser, a child will be able to get around those restrictions just by using a different browser. A child with good intentions might click on Safari instead of Chrome, or a preteen or teen who wants to purposefully circumvent the restrictions you’ve set could download another browser. That means that you’ll need to either set up parental controls on all of the browsers you have on your computer, or opt for parental control software that doesn’t live inside a browser.
3. Content sent via text messages or social networks
If you allow your preteen or teen access to text messaging, messaging apps, or social networks, it’s going to be difficult for you to control the content that they access via those apps and social networks. Links that open in the browser will still be subject to the same restrictions you’ve already set, but there’s no way to keep your child’s friends from sending your child objectionable videos via Messenger or sharing questionable content on Snapchat. You also can’t prevent your child from sharing personal details like their phone number or their address or where they go to school. And you can never be sure exactly who your child is talking to via social networks, messaging platforms, or email. Some software, like Bark or TeenSafe, will help you monitor your child’s messaging and social accounts, which can help you stay informed on whether your child is being bullied or your teen may be depressed.
4. “Objectionable” content featured in the news or shared on social media
Another way that your child might end up seeing content that you consider “objectionable,” depending on your philosophy, is the news. If your parental control software doesn’t block access to news websites, or you allow your child to visit publications’ websites or follow them on social media, it’s possible that your child could click on headlines about distressing news stories or see images related to violence. Most kids who are news-literate enough to be interested in what’s going on in the world will be able to handle that, but it’s always a good idea to stay aware of what content your child is consuming, even from reputable publications that you may read yourself.
5. Blocked sites that resourceful teens want to access
While parental controls are very effective for young children, they’re less foolproof when it comes to teens, who can find their way around filters if they really want to. OpenDNS filtering can be circumvented by changing the computer’s DNS, installing a proxy or VPN is another easy way to bypass filters, or your child might just figure out your PIN to disable the restrictions you set up on your iPad. If they don’t access the content that’s blocked in your house, they might access it on someone else’s device. What kind of parental controls, if any, you should set up on your teen’s devices is more of a parenting question than a tech question, one you might want to consider in cooperation with your partner.