Threats on the internet
Using the internet exposes you to all sorts of threats, and this is particularly true for children. A young person may not understand all the risks they face from malware, social engineering, and cyberbullying, but they are just as likely to be targeted as their parents.
Malware is a constant threat online, and may be delivered to your device through phishing emails, malicious ads, and many other channels. An exploit kit can rope your device into a botnet and use it to launch DDoS attacks, without you ever realizing. Ransomware has the capacity to make your data and devices inaccessible until you pay a ransom fee to a hacker. The dangers are ever-present.
Kids are just as likely to fall victim to these threats as adults — if not more so. If a child follows a malicious link sent to them on social media or clicks on a brightly colored pop-up ad, their device (or the family computer) could soon be infected.
Malware and cyberattacks aren’t the only challenges faced by young people online, of course. They are also at risk of cyberbullying from their peers, malign contact from strangers, and exposure to inappropriate content. That’s why internet safety for kids is so important, and why specialized monitoring and control apps can help.
Statistics: What do kids do online?
To understand how likely children are to face risks online, it’s important to underline how large a role the internet plays in the lives of young people. According to a 2021 report from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), 89% of children between the ages of 10 and 15 use the internet every day.
More worryingly, 17% of young people reported that they had received messages from someone they didn’t know online, and 1 in 50 said that they had spoken with someone in the previous year who claimed to be their age but was in reality much older.
The good news is that parents can still take a very active role in keeping their kids safe online. A 2019 report from UNICEF found that 90% of children who use the internet globally do so from home, which means that most will be using devices which their parents can access.
How to keep your kids safe online
If you want to keep your kids safe online, you should focus on three key areas.
Perhaps the most important step you can take is to talk regularly with your children about their internet use. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, it creates channels through which they can inform you of any risks or negative experiences they face online.
Secondly, it’s a chance for you to raise their awareness of internet threats. Many young people simply aren’t aware of the risks posed by phishing, malware, and other hacking tactics, so regular communication is essential to keep them informed.
Being able to monitor kids’ activity is important, as it can allow you to keep them safe without intruding too much into their daily internet use. Parental monitoring apps offer great tools for unobtrusively viewing your child’s online activity, but many devices come with useful pairing features which let you connect your own device to your children’s.
Even if you have regular communication with your kids about online threats, a parental control app is still important, because it could help you spot risk factors that your children forgot or didn’t know to mention.
You can also take practical steps to track your kids’ online behavior. A special app isn’t needed for social media monitoring, if you make sure you’re connected to your children on platforms like Facebook and Instagram (though remember, young children should not have access to most social media platforms at all).
In tandem with communication and monitoring strategies, you can use a variety of tools and applications to restrict access to risky sites and block inappropriate keywords. For network-wide restrictions, you can turn on parental controls through your router — either by contacting your internet service provider or by editing the router setting directly.
This is a good way to ensure that any device on your home network is blocked from accessing risky pages and adult content. You can enable similar features on individual devices, or use NordVPN’s Threat Protection system to block websites known for malware delivery.
Remember that many services and websites come with their own in-built child protection tools. For example, if your kids regularly use YouTube, you can enable YouTube restricted mode to limit their exposure to potentially harmful content.
Features of the best parental control apps
Picking a parental control app can be difficult because so many are available now. From location tracking to app monitoring, here are a few key features you should expect to see in the best parental control apps of 2023.
- Remote monitoring. Being able to view what sites your kids are using in real time is a useful feature. The best parental control apps allow for remote monitoring, and may also give parents the ability to restrict and lock their children’s devices through the app. However, it is also important to respect your child’s privacy. While remote monitoring is useful, it may be best to use this feature in moderation, and only when it is essential for keeping a young person safe.
- Web filtering. Whatever device the app is used on, website filtering is vital. A parental control application should be able to spot and restrict potentially risky or inappropriate websites. A useful and related function is the ability to customize the web filtering system, allowing parents to add specific websites to the app’s block list.
- Location tracking. If you’re installing monitoring software on your children’s smartphones, location tracking will allow you to keep track of them while they are outside the home.
- App blocking and remote app management. Ideally, you’re looking for a tool that allows you to manage the applications installed on a child’s device. Systems that give you the capacity to block or remove certain apps and limit how much time can be spent on others will help to keep children safe and avoid overexposure to the internet. Being able to apply screen time limits to certain apps — or to a device as a whole — can be positive for a child’s mental health, as well as their safety.
- Text and call monitoring. The best parental control apps can limit threats from texts and calls, as well as from the internet. At the very least, being able to see what numbers are behind texts and calls and having the capacity to block them is important.
Most parental control apps will offer some of the features listed above, but the best provide all of them and more. If you find an app with the features you want, you should also consider whether the app is secure and safe; it will be handling data about you and your family, so do your research and make sure their data protection practices are up to a high standard.
Make sure to pick one that is available across both iOS and Android devices as well, since your child may change their phone over time, and most of these services come with fixed, prepaid subscriptions. Some do offer a free version, while other parental control apps are entirely free, but premium options usually provide the widest array of features.
Should you use free parental control apps? While in some cases free apps are better than nothing, you should carefully research any services (both free and premium) before using them. Free services are more likely to collect and sell user data, and are unlikely to perform as well as paid options.