I've been busy playing Grand Theft Auto III on my iPad and I don't want my kids to accidentally boot it up. It got me thinking about the rest of my electronics; is there a way to set up parental controls for everything I own that won't be annoying for me when I want to use it?
Photo remixed from IvanWalsh.com.
Dear Worried Parent,
Nearly every modern electronic device has parental controls, but what they actually block and how they work varies from device to device. Let's break it down and look at how you can set up parental controls on each of your gadgets and how they actually work.
Set Up Parental Controls On Your Smartphone
If you have a smartphone or tablet you let the kids use now and again, it's a good idea to set up parental controls not just to restrict access to adult content, but also to ensure they don't accidentally purchase anything on your account.
iOS: Under Settings > General > Restrictions you will find a number of different settings you can adjust. First, you need to enable the restrictions and type in a four-digit passcode so you have access to everything when you need it. If you disable any app restrictions like Safari or YouTube, it will completely remove it from the screen when restrictions are enabled. The same goes for if you set age restrictions for apps and games. If you set the restrictions to block 17+ rated apps, they simply won't appear on the home screen. Be careful though, some apps, like Wikipedia for instance, are rated 17+, so they'll be blocked too.
The problem is that once you remove the restrictions, your apps come piling back into the home screen and you lose any folders you may have had them in before. It's not exactly a deal breaker, but if you appreciate a finely-tuned home screen, you need to accept it may get ruined.
Android: As far as our tests were concerned, many out-of-the-box Android users do not get parental control settings. You may find content-filtering under Settings on some devices, but it does not appear to block web content, restrict apps or lock down purchases. Android Parental Control is a free app we had success with to restrict access to apps that have ratings. Like the iOS restrictions, it makes restricted apps invisible. You might be able to find additional restrictions under the settings menu depending on your operating system and device.
Windows Phone 7: You need to Mango to get access to parental controls on a Windows Phone 7 and they work in tandem with your Windows Live account. If you occasionally just hand over your phone to you child, you need to set up a special account with parental protections. This blocks the usage and downloading of rated apps, but doesn't control web browsing.
Set Up Parental Controls On Your Consoles And Set Top Boxes
Game consoles and DVD players have had parental controls for a long while, but as many are expanding the content available on them, the basics of just setting a console to disallow games with specific Classification Board ratings aren't enough to keep your kids from viewing something you don't want them to. As the content has expanded, so have the options.
PS3/PSP: The PS3 has several different settings, all of them are under Settings > Security Settings. Here you can find the option to restrict games, DVD and Blu-Ray playback, website browsing and access to the PSN Store. The weird thing about the PS3's settings is that you choose based on a level between 1 and 11. They're a little confusing, but the options are broken down in the user agreement. With parental controls enabled, you are always able to enter in a four-digit code to regain access to any content you'd like and content that is locked shows a lock icon on it when inserted into the disc player. Parental controls are located in the same place on the PSP.
Xbox 360: The Xbox's parental settings are significantly easier to understand than the PS3's. You need to head over to the Settings tab on your dashboard and then hit the Family icon. You are able to set content control to block specific ratings, timers and access to online functionality. You can also set exceptions under the Ratings and Content tab, so if you don't mind your child playing a specific game or two, you can give them access. Like the PS3, you get a four-digit code to access content at any time. It's also worth noting that some games have mature content filters (Gears of War 3, for example), but there is no way to discern this based on the box alone.
Wii/DS/3DS: While the Wii doesn't exactly have a tonne of mature content available for it, you can still restrict access to games and the internet. You can find the parental controls under System Settings > Parental Controls. Here you can block the web browser, online functionality and games based on the rating. Like the PS3 and Xbox, you get a four-digit code so you can regain access at any point. Parental controls are located in the same place on both the DS and 3DS handheld systems.
DVD/Blu-Ray/Television: Most modern DVD and Blu-Ray players have parental controls built into the devices that should be easy to locate under the Settings menu. The same goes for televisions.
With parental controls enabled, you can set which level of each you want viewable. However, it's worth noting that not every show, movie, and broadcast is rated. While it doesn't happen often, you may find that a harmless children's show is being blocked because it doesn't have a rating. Like the gaming consoles, most disc players and television sets have a four digit access code so you don't have to restrict yourself when restricting your kids.
Set Up Parental Controls On Your Computer And Browsers
One of the more complex places to set parental controls is your computer. After all, it's usually connected to everything, so even if you set basic settings in your OS, it's not always going to restrict content online. Thankfully (for parents) browsers can also be set up with restrictions.
OS X: From the Apple Menu click System Preferences > Parental Controls. Here, you are able to either convert or create a new account with parental control settings. When parental controls are enabled, you can restrict access to websites by using the Automatic setting, which blocks adult internet content based on filters provided by The RTA and SafeSurf. These won't be perfect, but it will at least keep you from having to set it all up manually. If you prefer, you can also set up a whitelist here, which means the user will only be able to access the sites you approve. You can also block specific applications, utilities, mail, chat, and set time limits for use.
Windows: Windows has some basic parental controls as well. By clicking Start > Control Panel > User Accounts and Family Safety > Set up parental controls for any user, you are able to set time limits, control access to certain games, and block certain programs. It doesn't do much else, but if you want to control access to programs, it works by making them impossible to open when the settings are enabled. If you're using Vista, you can find an automatic web filtering tool here as well, but it's missing in Windows 7.
Browser Settings and Extensions
Chrome: Chrome has a few great options for filtering web content in a variety of ways. StayFocused is technically a productivity extension, but as it can block websites and domains with a few simple clicks, you can set it up to restrict access for your kids. TinyFilter is an extension that filters out profanity and has a content filter for various types of web content people may find offensive. Both can be disabled temporarily if you want to check out an unfiltered web yourself.
Firefox: For parental control in Firefox you have two great add-ons that will do most of the work for you. FoxFilter blocks web content based on your criteria and specific words. You can set it block all of the content on a site, or just the words you define. Disabling it is as easy as typing in your preferred password. brOOzi takes a different approach and instead only allows a child to visit sites the parent approves. Depending on the age of your child, either of these should do the trick.
Internet Explorer: Internet Explorer uses a browser-based content filter available under the tools menu. Click Tools >Internet Options > Content, and then click the Enable tab under the Content Advisor menu. Here, you are able to filter for specific types of possibly offensive content like language, nudity, sex and violence, or blacklist sites completely.
OpenDNS: If you prefer to just block as much internet content as humanly possible in one swoop, OpenDNS's Parental Controls options might be what you're after. OpenDNS will block content on the internet from any browser on any device as long as it's connected to the router in your home. The setup process is very simple, but depends on the brand of router you're using. It boils down to limiting your network access to the two OpenDNS addresses at the router level and all of the filtering happens there so all devices connected to the network are cut off from content. With this enabled, no computer, tablet or phone connected to the router will be able to access mature content blocked by OpenDNS's blacklist.
Deciding on how to filter content is going to depend on what your needs are. Blocking on a system or app based level may very well be enough, but if you want to go deeper, you now know the scope of your options.