20 Sep 2018
As a parent in the digital age, we live with the knowledge that our children are growing up as digital natives. Where you might have asked your parents, “Why is the sky blue?” when you were younger, your child is likely to head straight to Google with their questions. This can be helpful, especially when you don’t know the answers to these questions, but it can also be difficult knowing that your child’s life is integrated with technology in so many ways that you cannot control.
Parental control apps give you back some of this control. These are software or applications that act as a virtual nanny, stopping them from doing anything too dangerous or upsetting, and reporting back to you what your child has done online over the day. Of course, people realise the demand for such apps is only growing as kids start using and owning devices at younger ages, so you have hundreds of options!
What should I be looking out for in an app?
You can skip forward to the apps, but it might be helpful to know what you want in an app while making your choice. Different parents look out for different user experiences, combination of features, or even budget. However, there are some things that most parents want. Here are some key features that you can keep an eye out for when making your choice.
1. Content filtering
Content filtering is the one feature that most parents automatically look out for. It is inevitable that your child will come across content that you do not want them exposed to. What this content is might differ between families – it may be violence, gore, gambling, substance abuse, pornography, or sexual content. Regardless of the type of content you are concerned about, it is natural to want to protect your child online just as you would offline.
Most parental control apps have their own browser that comes with the app, and instruct you to delete or block any other browser options on the device. This way, the browser automatically blocks access to websites that fall under the categories of dangerous, hurtful, and inappropriate. Some apps even allow you to make your own filtering categories.
2. Time limits
Time limits are not a concern unique to Singaporean parents, but they are possibly more emphasised here than elsewhere. For good reason, too! 8 to 12-year-old children in Singapore spend 35 hours a week online for entertainment, compared to the global average of 32 hours.
Parental control apps vary hugely when it comes to how they restrict time spent online. Some apps let you specify how much time your child is allowed to spend on their device during the day, or which hours of the day they are allowed to, i.e., not during school hours. Other apps offer time limits on their Internet usage, or specific app usage, or even their usage across all the devices linked to your child. If your child has many devices or is prone to overusing one specific app, this may be a useful feature to look at more closely.
3. App blocking
App blocking is an important feature of a parental control app as it prevents kids from accessing content that you do not want them to (just yet or possible ever). Since most apps have content filtering on browsers, your child might not be able to find inappropriate content on a browser. But they might be able to find this content by downloading an app. App blocking stops that from happening. Some parental control apps might give you the option of having to approve an app before your child is able to install it on their phone.
When they are younger, app blocking also prevents your child from downloading social media apps until they are old enough to use them wisely.
4. Location tracking
Many parents give their child a mobile phone because they begin travelling between home and school alone, or attending tuition or other enrichment classes. Although many phones offer GPS tracking and monitoring for joint phone accounts, parental control apps also offer this feature. Knowing where your child is, and making sure that they are where they should be, can provide great peace of mind. Many apps also have an emergency or SOS feature built in. If your child is ever lost or in a difficult situation, they can click a button to automatically send you a message with their location.
5. Remote locking
Remote locking refers to the ability to lock your child’s phone when you are not physically next to them. For example, if you realise your child is at school and also using Instagram on their phone, you can lock the device from the comfort of your workplace. Remote locking has also been used during countless family functions, when a child is too distracted by their phone to interact with the people around them.
The remote locking function can apply to the phone – such that they are unable to use it at all – or to specific apps on their phone. This customising is useful if your child uses specific apps for schoolwork and non-entertainment purposes, like WhatsApp and Google Maps, so that you can lock their access to the others. Some apps also allow you to remotely turn off the phone’s data usage, so that your child can use their phone, but not functionally use most of the apps on it.
6. Social media/text monitoring
Social media monitoring is becoming increasingly necessary as children start using social media at younger ages. After all, even WhatsApp is a type of social media, with an age limit of 13. Given that children express the need to use social media to connect with their friends, do school work, or for entertainment, it is important to be able to keep an eye on this aspect of their lives. Check if the app you decide on gives you this function. Even if your child is not using social media right now, you might change your mind in a few months or a year, making it helpful to check this box off early.
Given the rise of social media, texting and calling are less common. However, it is still helpful to check if an app has this function. It is important to note that call and SMS monitoring is far easier on Android than iOS because of the way the systems work.
What are the apps?
1. Kaspersky Safe Kids
Kaspersky Safe Kids has a great reputation for being a leader in parental control software, as well as being very user-friendly. The software includes all of the common features, including content filtering, time limits, location tracking, app blocking, social media monitoring, call and text monitoring, and remote locking. It also has features such as a battery tracker, so that you can know if your kids will soon be out-of-touch, and real-time alerts if they try to access inappropriate content.
The software is very easy to navigate because of a simple and minimalistic design. The dashboard provides information on your child’s device use to the minute, and is intuitive to use on mobile and desktop – changes are easy to make. If your child’s grades fall at school or if they’re two weeks from their exams, you can quickly adjust the settings accordingly.
However, Kaspersky’s call and text monitoring is only available for Android, and there is no application control for iOS devices.
To begin using Kaspersky, you download the app, set up your account, then add your children by adding their name and birth year. Your child’s age automatically sets up some configurations on content filtering, which you can further customise if you choose to. Kaspersky Safe Kids is very affordable, selling on their website for $15 annually with no limit on the number of devices linked. It also has a limited free version, which is a great option to begin with if you are unsure about trying a parental control at all.
2. Qustodio Parental Control
Qustodio is one of the most popular and well-regarded parental controls in the world. They provide features such as content filtering, app blocking, location tracking, social media monitoring, call and text monitoring, and time limits. The filtering technology blocks inappropriate content even if they are browsing in private or incognito mode.
The app combines function with form by providing a dashboard view with a personalised summary of your child’s device, the apps they used, and the time they spent on each. One of Qustodio’s strengths is that it synchronises across devices. Your child’s setting apply across devices, such that you can set multi-device time limits.
However, Qustodio does not provide as many features for iOS as Android and notifications are sent by email instead of text. If you have not synced your email to your phone to receive notifications, this may be troublesome.
Getting started on Qustodio is an easy process. You create a master account and password, install the app on all the devices you want to, enter your account details and link your master account to each device. The software runs in the background of the devices, and if your child tries to remove it, you automatically get a notification.
Qustodia can be bought annually via their website at $72.40 for 5 devices or $96.95 for 10 devices. Qustodio is now also available for Singtel customers at monthly subscription prices of $5.90 and $9.90 for 5 and 10 devices respectively. Singtel lets you try Qustodio for free for 3 months with no contract, and they even have the option of purchasing Qustodio with Spotify Premium or Nickelodeon.
3. Symantec Norton Family Premier
Symantec Norton Family Premier is a popular option for many families as they already use other Norton software, particularly its Security Premium. The software provides many of the same features as the other devices, including content supervision, time limits, supervision of web, social media, texts and calls, and location tracking. Additionally, the app also protects children from giving out their personal information online, like their phone number or school. This is particularly helpful in the long-term, when teaching them about their digital footprints and reputation. It lets children send a request if they disagree with any of the rules you have put in place as well.
However, the app does not support Mac devices, and has limited support for iOS devices. If your family is mainly using Windows and Androids, this would be no problem. Norton also does not provide as comprehensive social media monitoring as some of the other apps, making it more suitable for younger children.
The software is easy to understand and use. You create a Norton Family account and sign in, then add your child. Settings are automatically set based on your child’s age, but these can be changed and customised at any point. Norton is clear on setting up lines of communication between parents and kids, so there is no way to hide the app. Instead, kids will see a list of rules on their online activities that you can later discuss (in case you haven’t already set up some rules on Internet use). Symantec Norton Family Premier costs $29.99 annually on their website.
Are there more?
Too many to list here, these are just the most popular apps that people use in Singapore and around the world, and consistently have some of the best reviews. You can find out more about other apps by searching online, and looking at sites like www.sea.pcmag.com or www.comparitech.com to see other comparisons and ratings of parental control apps.
Before you decide on one, be sure to use the free trial (as most apps have one), and test it out and make sure that you are comfortable and content with the features available to you. Also make sure to talk to your child about the use of this app before downloading it on your devices – this starts an important conversation about what is okay and not okay for them to see or do online.