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How Do Parental Controls Work? Setting Up Devices at Home

Content filtering, screen time limits, and internet usage all fall under the parental controls umbrella. Here’s how to set these up across devices.

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      What Are Parental Controls?

      Parental controls are features on apps, games, and devices that help manage children’s use of technology. Content filtering, screen time limits, and internet usage all fall under the parental controls umbrella.

      As a parent, it’s tempting to exert as much control over your child’s online behavior as possible.

      Adults are about twice as likely as teens to support setting limits on the amount of time minors spend on social media sites (69% vs. 34%) [*].

      But constant monitoring can feel harsh, leading kids and teens to find other more potentially dangerous ways to access the internet.

      {{show-toc}}

      How Do Parental Controls Work?

      The first step in keeping your child safe is understanding what kinds of parental controls exist. Below, we’ll cover how to set practical guardrails on your child’s:

      1. Operating systems
      2. Mobile devices
      3. Web browsers
      4. Gaming consoles
      5. Social media accounts
      6. Smart TVs and streaming services
      7. Routers
      8. Smart home devices

      And we’ll share several third-party app options for additional wrap-around security. Here’s how to set up parental controls on:

      1. On Operating Systems 

      Most personal computers (PCs) are built with parental controls that can restrict a child’s access to age-appropriate content and limit their screen time, but these features aren’t enabled by default.

      And there are distinct differences between how to activate them on Windows and Macs.

      Windows 10/Windows 11

      Microsoft’s Family Safety features give you insight into how your children are using their computers, when they’ve shared their locations, and more.

      First, create accounts for you and your child. Make your account the “administrator account” to adjust parental control settings whenever necessary. 

      If you have multiple children, making a profile for each of them may be beneficial — you can better tailor content and time limits to their ages. Follow these steps:

      1. Go to Settings, and click on Accounts.
      2. Choose Family & Other Users.
      3. Click on Add Account, and then click on Create one for a child.

      During the account creation process, Windows 11 will ask for the child’s birthday and auto-generate restrictions based on their age. To modify these controls:

      1. Go to Settings, and click on Accounts.
      2. Choose Family & Other Users.
      3. Click on Manage family settings online or remove an account.
      4. In the Your family section, click on your child’s profile.

      From the left navigation, you can limit screen time, adjust content filters, only give access to specific websites, and restrict online spending.

      🥇 Have you set up parental controls, yet? Aura’s family safety app has received accolades and been rated #1 by Mom’s Choice Awards, Forbes, Money.com, and more. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      macOS

      To enable Mac parental controls, you’ll need an administrator account, and your child needs a standard user account. Here’s how to create your kid’s account:

      1. Go to Apple’s system settings.
      2. Click on Users & Groups.
      3. Click on Add Account and enter your administrator password.
      4. Select Standard from the New Account menu, and fill out the required fields.

      To activate the account, log out of your computer and log in with the credentials you used when setting up your child’s account. 

      A setup assistant will help you set up the rest of the account. Remember to log out of your account and into your children’s whenever they use the computer.

      From here, you can configure Apple Screen Time, which has features like:

      • Downtime: Periods when kids can only use apps that you’ve enabled.
      • App Limits: Time limits on specific apps or categories of apps.
      • Communication Limits dictate with whom your child can communicate.
      • Content & Privacy settings limit content, downloads, and purchases.

      If you have macOS Ventura, you can also activate Family Sharing to share subscriptions (without sharing personal information) and set up Ask to Buy to have your child seek in-app permissions before signing up for subscriptions or apps.

      2. On mobile devices

      Research shows that children between 8–12 years of age spend an average of four hours and 44 minutes on smartphones [*]. 

      Without set boundaries, they could rack up in-game purchases, accidentally respond to phishing texts, or view violent or explicit content. Thankfully, both iOS and Android phones include online safety features that are relatively easy to toggle on.

      Android

      Android has two options for enabling parental controls: through self-serve or Google’s family safety app, Family Link. Family members who manage their own accounts need to:

      1. Open Google Play.
      2. Tap on the profile icon.
      3. Tap on Settings, then Family, and then Parental Controls.
      4. Toggle on Parental Controls.
      5. Create a PIN that your child cannot guess.
      6. Pick the types of content that you want to filter.

      If multiple kids use the same phone, make these adjustments on their profiles, too. Keep in mind that parental controls only apply to the Android phone you’ve configured.

      For those who’ve already downloaded and started using the Family Link app:

      1. Open the Family Link app and select your child.
      2. Tap on Controls, then Content Restrictions, and then Google Play.
      3. Select the type of content you want to filter.

      Alternatively, you can manage your child’s account online at: g.co/YourFamily. To set up or alter any of these settings, a parent in the family group has to enter their Google Account password. 

      These controls will work on any Android device to which your kid is logged in with their Google Account.

      📚 Related: How To Set Time Limits on Apps

      iOS

      iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch all have Screen Time settings that you can control. Set them up by:

      1. Go to Settings.
      2. Tap on Screen Time.
      3. Tap on Turn on Screen Time, and tap again. 
      4. Choose This is My Child’s Device.
      5. Follow the prompts and enter a unique passcode. You’ll need to enter this passcode whenever you want to make a change to Screen Time settings.
      6. Tap on Content & Privacy Restrictions.
      7. Enter your passcode, and toggle it on.

      In Screen Time settings, you can also:

      • Restrict explicit content and content ratings for Music, Podcasts, News, Fitness, Books, Apps, and TV shows.
      • Limit gaming settings.
      • Block websites and Siri web search.
      • Prevent iTunes and App Store purchases.

      📚 Related: How To Put Parental Controls on Your Child's iPad

      3. On web browsers

      For the most part, the sites your children access on their laptops, Chromebooks, or smartphones are harmless. But not always. 

      Surfing the internet, kids may encounter spam sites designed to steal personal information and perpetuate negative stereotypes or misleading advertising. Controlling search engine and internet access in your home reduces their chances of exposure.

      Chrome 

      Chrome activity and access are managed exclusively through Google’s Family Link app. Once you’ve downloaded and set up the app, open it, and then:

      1. Select your child.
      2. Tap on Controls, then Content Restrictions, and then Google Chrome.
      3. Choose from three options:
      1. Allow all sites
      2. Try to block explicit sites
      3. Only allow approved sites

      You can also manually approve or block select sites in the Google Chrome Content restrictions settings under Manage sites. When a site is blocked, this overrides all other browsing settings.

      Safari

      Safari is Apple’s default browser and can be accessed on a Mac or any iOS device. Safari’s settings are dictated by the Screen Time settings that you choose on any device.

      If you want to turn off Safari altogether, go to the Content & Privacy section of Screen Time and click on Allowed Apps. Toggle Safari off.

      DuckDuckGo

      Head to the DuckDuckGo settings page and find Safe Search. Choose from Strict, Moderate, or Off. You can also instruct your kids to use safe.duckduckgo.com for their searches. Browsing through that URL defaults to the Strict safe search setting.

      📚 Related: 12 Internet Safety Tips For Kids and Teens

      4. On gaming consoles

      Roughly 76% of kids under the age of 18 play video games [*]. Some of these games are multiplayer, meaning that your child plays with several other people — who may not be fellow kids. 

      Playing online games for extended periods can also expose players to widespread cyberbullying [*]. To blunt the edges of this tendency, Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo have all added parental control features to disable specific games, and manage your child’s in-game spending.

      Xbox

      First, consider regulating purchases from the Microsoft Store by setting up a PIN. Start by pressing the Xbox guide button in the center of one of your controllers. Then:

      1. Navigate to the Profile & System tab.
      2. Select Settings.
      3. Click on Account, then Family settings.
      4. Enter your PIN or passkey.
      5. Select My sign-in, security & PIN.
      6. Select Change my sign-in & security preferences.
      7. Choose Ask for my PIN.

      To set up other parental controls like age restrictions, communication settings, and multiplayer restrictions, download the Xbox Family Settings app. Sign in with your Microsoft or Xbox account, and then:

      1. Tap on Add Child.
      2. Tap on Create a new account if your child doesn’t already have one.
      3. The app will run you through:
      1. Age content restrictions
      2. With whom a child can communicate
      3. Spending
      4. Multiplayer gaming

      Note that the Xbox Family Settings app is only available for Android version 5 or higher and iOS version 10 or higher.

      📚 Related: Online Gaming Risks: Are Your Children Susceptible?

      PlayStation

      Like other apps and devices, PlayStation parental controls depend on having an account for you and your child. After you’ve created your account, sign in to the PlayStation Account Management settings and select Add a Child.

      Enter your kid’s date of birth, accept the User Agreement, and then follow the prompts to set up parental controls. Content restriction levels will automatically be updated based on the child’s birthday. 

      To add more child accounts, sign in as the family manager, and then head to the Family and Parental Controls area in Settings. Click on Family Management, and then Add a Family Member.

      Within each child’s profile, you can also adjust:

      • Playtime settings
      • Age level
      • Use of PlayStation VR and PlayStation VR2
      • Allowed games
      • Privacy settings
      • Web browsing
      💪 Take control of your family’s online safety. Aura combines parental controls with full-family digital security, fraud, and identity theft protection. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Nintendo

      You can adjust parental controls through the Nintendo Switch console or through the Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app.

      In the Nintendo Switch console:

      1. Go to System Settings.
      2. Scroll down to highlight Parental Controls and pick Parental Controls Settings.
      3. At this point, you’ll be directed to download the Parental Controls app. Press the X button and select Next.
      4. Select Restriction Level.
      5. Pick from preset restrictions (child, pre-teen, and teen) or select Custom Settings to change the settings manually. Available settings include:
      1. Software ratings and restricted software
      2. Posting to social media
      3. Communication
      4. VR mode
      1. Select Save, and then OK.
      2. Enter a PIN number between 4–8 digits, and then select OK.

      In the app:

      1. Link your Nintendo Switch console to the app.
      2. Select Console Settings.
      3. Follow the steps to adjust various settings related to play times, restrictions found within the console, and whitelisting.
      4. Tap on the orange checkmark to confirm.

      Changes will be reflected the next time the Nintendo Switch establishes an internet connection. You can link up to three Nintendo Switch consoles to the app.

      📚 Related: Qustodio vs. Bark: How To Choose Which One Is Right For You

      5. On social media

      According to Pew Research, 35% of teens say they are using at least one social media platform “almost constantly,” and younger kids are quickly catching up [*]. 

      Too much time on social networks can lead to alterations in swings of mood regulation, broken sleep patterns, and broader psychological and emotional distress.

      It can also put young people in other kinds of danger — cybercriminals may seek out sensitive data from children, send them adult content, or message them links that download malware onto their phones or computers.

      Instagram

      Instagram requires all of its users to be above the age of 13. Between the ages of 13 and 17, parents with an Instagram account can enable teen supervision by sending their child a supervision invite. Here’s how to do it:

      1. Click on More at the bottom left.
      2. Click on Settings, and then Supervision.
      3. Click on Create invite in the left menu.
      4. Review the information on the screen, and click on Continue.
      5. Click on Copy invite and send it to your teen on whichever messaging app you use.

      Once a teen accepts the invite, parents can:

      • See how much time their teen is spending on Instagram (across all devices).
      • Set Instagram time limits and schedule breaks.
      • See which accounts their teen is following and which accounts are following their teen.
      • Adjust sensitive content settings.

      Note that only the latest version of the Instagram app has these supervision features.

      TikTok

      Parents can manage their kid’s TikTok through the Family Pairing function on TikTok’s mobile app. Doing so allows parents to modify:

      • Screen time.
      • Direct message settings (which are defaulted to “off” for all account holders under the age of 16).
      • Liking and commenting settings.
      • Search settings (based on specific hashtags or videos).

      To pair your account with that of your child:

      1. Click on your profile.
      2. Tap on Menu.
      3. Tap on Settings and Privacy and scroll to Family Pairing.
      4. Select Teen or Parent and follow the prompts.

      In 2019, TikTok came out with a limited-experience app for children. Today, any child under the age of 13 who signs up for TikTok will automatically receive the TikTok for Younger Users experience — with stricter content restrictions, no commenting, sharing or direct messaging, and no data sharing.

      If you don’t want your child to download TikTok at all, enable age restrictions on your child’s iPhone or Android so they can’t download it — the app is rated 12+ in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. 

      Discord

      Unlike other social media apps, Discord has very limited parental controls. You can make Discord safer by joining its Family Center, which displays a dashboard of weekly activity. 

      To register, you’ll need to create your own Discord account, and your child needs to be willing to accept your invitation in order for you to follow their activity.

      First, go to your child’s account:

      1. Click on User Settings (the gear icon) and select Family Center.
      2. Click on Connect with Parent, and then Reveal QR Code.

      Open your Discord app:

      1. Tap on the menu icon, and then tap on your user icon.
      2. Choose Family Center, and then Connect with Teen.
      3. Scan the QR code on your child’s device.
      4. Tap on Send Connection Request.

      Finally, go back to your child’s account:

      1. Tap on My Family.
      2. Scroll to Incoming Parent Requests.
      3. Tap on Accept Request.

      You can head back to the Family Center on your Discord app whenever you want to view your child’s activity.

      📚 Related: These 11 New Discord Scams Can (and Will) Steal Your Data

      YouTube

      YouTube has several mechanisms for enhancing child safety. The easiest one to activate is Restricted Mode, which screens out mature content. To turn it on:

      1. Open the YouTube app.
      2. Tap on your profile picture, and then tap on Settings and General.
      3. Find Restricted Mode and toggle it on.

      If you have a Google account, you can also set up supervised accounts for children under the age of 13. This will enable you to customize the videos that your kids can watch.

      1. Create a Google account for your child.
      2. Follow the prompts to connect to a supervising account.
      3. Click on My parent is here and log in to your account.
      4. Set parental controls and content settings for YouTube as well as for Google Play and Chrome. You can choose from Explore (content for kids over the age of nine), Explore More (content for kids over 13), or Most of YouTube (videos that aren’t marked as 18+).

      You may also consider downloading YouTube Kids, a separate app built just for kids. This app lets you choose from preschool, younger, or older content restriction settings.

      For an even greater level of control, the app’s Approved content only feature lets you approve collections, channels, or individual videos.

      📚 Related: Is Snapchat Safe For Kids? What Parents Need To Know

      6. On smart TVs and streaming services

      Widely used streaming services like Hulu and Netflix let you set maturity levels for each of your children. Apple TVs have helpful content and activity restrictions, too.

      Apple TV

      On your AppleTV, you can stop kids from purchasing movies, viewing explicit content, playing multiplayer games, sharing their location, and more. To turn on these restrictions:

      1. Press and hold the TV button on the Siri remote.
      2. Select the General Settings tab.
      3. Select Restrictions.
      4. Turn on the restrictions that you’d like, and then enter a four-digit passcode. 

      Netflix

      To use the latest version of Netflix’s parental controls, you must access your account from a web browser. 

      Once it’s pulled up, open Parental Controls. If you don’t see a link for Parental Controls, you already have the latest version and can customize individual profile content settings. Within parental controls: 

      • Require a PIN to access your profile (or those of other adults).
      • Choose a maturity level for each profile.
      • Review Restricted Titles for each profile, and save your changes.

      Hulu

      Hulu manages kid-friendly content through Kid Profiles. To create a profile:

      1. Open the Hulu app.
      2. Tap on the Account icon.
      3. Select your name.
      4. Tap on (+) New Profile.
      5. Fill out your child’s information, and toggle on Kids Mode.
      6. Tap on Create Profile.

      You can create up to seven total account profiles (including your own). You can also prevent kids from accessing your profile by creating a PIN number. 

      In the Profile section of the app or desktop site, click on Manage Profiles. On your profile, select Turn on PIN Protection and enter your password. Enter a PIN and click on Save Changes.

      7. On routers

      Router parental controls add yet another layer of protection, giving you even more control over what your child views (and does) when connected to your Wi-Fi network

      For instance, NETGEAR, a widely known router provider, has controls that allow only certain devices to connect to your home internet [*].

      For a $7.99 fee, you can upgrade to paid smart parental controls that [*]:

      • Filter out unsuitable content.
      • Set automatic time limits.
      • Set daily bedtimes.
      • Schedule internet breaks.
      • Reward kids with additional internet time.

      The paid plan also comes with an accompanying My Time companion app through which you can control these features remotely and track internet and app usage.

      8. On smart home devices

      In the United States, an average home has over 21 connected devices [*]. A good chunk of that number is made up of cell phones and computers; but home hubs like Google Nest and Amazon Alexa have surged in popularity, growing by 38% from 2021 to 2022 [*].

      Google Nest

      The Google Home app controls Google Nest speakers and displays. Once you’ve downloaded and installed the app on your phone, you can block explicit videos and music from YouTube or other radio services. To do so:

      1. Tap on Settings, and then tap on Digital Wellbeing.
      2. Tap on Set up or Add device filter.
      3. Choose how you want to restrict news, calls, videos, music, or podcasts.

      If you’re not seeing some of these settings, check your device for a software or Google Home app update to get the latest Digital Wellbeing features.

      Amazon Alexa

      One way to manage Amazon parental controls is through Amazon’s Parent Dashboard. To create an account, you’ll first be prompted to create a free child profile from which you can control Alexa settings.

      Alternatively, you can use Amazon’s free FreeTime feature. From your Alexa app:

      1. Tap on the Devices button, and select your Alexa Device.
      2. Tap on FreeTime and toggle it on.
      3. Choose Setup Amazon FreeTime and fill out your child’s name, gender, and birthdate.
      4. Tap on Continue and sign in to your Amazon account.
      5. Agree to the Parental Consent terms. 
      6. Toggle on the Alexa services that you want to control.

      9. On third-party apps

      While configuring native parental controls on your child’s apps and devices is a great starting point, it’s tough to track all of them manually.

      Third-party parental control software centralizes all parental controls into one app, helping you keep a close eye on your child’s activity.

      Aura 

      Aura is a leader in end-to-end online family safety — providing AI-powered fraud, scam, and identity theft protection in addition to robust parental controls.

      Besides detailed content filters, screen time clocks, and internet controls, Aura’s Safe Gaming features alert parents to cyberbullying, offering voice and text monitoring of over 200 game titles.

      Aura’s Time Online dashboard helps you to see what your kid is doing online and adjust your controls accordingly. 

      Aura has one of the highest ratings on the third-party review site Trustpilot, making it one of the best parental control apps for iPhones and other devices. 

      And it’s affordable — Aura’s Family Plan supports five adults and an unlimited number of children for only $37 per month.

      Bark

      Similar to Aura, Bark is a parental control tool that monitors your kid’s online activity in over 30 apps, including TikTok and Snapchat [*]. 

      With Bark, parents can choose filters from 19 content categories, such as streaming, social media, and gaming.

      However, Bark lacks Dark Web monitoring, data breach alerts, and family identity theft protection — features for which Aura is best known. 

      And parents can only contact support via email [*]. Unlike Aura’s all-in-one app, Bark has several plans, each covering a different device [*]. Bark Phone starts at $29/month, Bark Premium for phones and tablets starts at $14/month, and Bark Home for TVs and gaming consoles starts at $6/month.

      📚  Related: Is Bark Worth It? What Parents Need To Know

      Net Nanny

      Net Nanny has been around for the past two decades, protecting children from unwanted sites, apps, and content. 

      App setup is fairly straightforward, with options to filter social media content, restrict access to pornography, manage screen time, and receive real-time alerts. Net Nanny works on multiple operating systems and supports up to 20 devices [*].

      But Net Nanny falls short of Aura and Bark when it comes to web filters — which you set yourself — and some iOS functionality is only available with the Net Nanny Family Protection Pass [*].

      The platform can also be more expensive than other options because plans vary based on the number and type of devices that you register [*].

      Modulate What Your Child Can Do Online With Aura

      66% of parents acknowledge that their children face crippling consequences from using social media, including addiction [*]. Yet a startling 60% opt not to use parental control features — and the repercussions are serious.

      In May 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory regarding growing concerns about the effects of social media on children’s mental health, citing the alarming impacts of social media on adolescents [*]. 

      Over 6,500 kids between the ages of 12 and 15 who used social media over three hours per day faced double the risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression [*].

      Games and microblogging applications like Twitter are also ripe for online abuse and exploitation, but only 23–36% of parents enable parental controls for those platforms.

      Apps like Aura can help you protect your child from inappropriate content, online predators, and cyberbullying with built-in filters, real-time alerts, and Safe Gaming features.

      Keep your family safe online. Try Aura free for 14 days
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