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Taking control: how to make the most of parental controls

Posted on 22 September 2017 by Paul

Restricting access to movies, games and other entertainment media is a lot more difficult than it was in the days before online streaming, and we’re looking to focus more on education and better information to help young people build resilience and the ability to critically engage with the media they choose to view.

Having said this, some kind of restrictions on content are definitely still important, and children especially need to be protected from upsetting and harmful content. So what can parents do? Is the online space really a free-for-all?

Well, not really. We know it’s hard for today’s parents to keep up with what their kids are watching on their phones and other devices, but there are plenty of tools available on popular platforms to help them out. This is a broad overview of some of the main services, and we’ll be providing more info in this space in future. Let’s take a quick look.

Woman wearing a VR headset looking upwards

Streaming and Video on demand (VOD) services

Netflix

Parents can set up a 4-digit Parental Control PIN that is required to access content above a selected level on an account. This applies to all profiles. The levels are: little kids (G), older kids (PG), teens (M-R15), and adults (R16 and above). You can also specify that children can only view titles on the ‘Kids’ section of Netflix.

Image of where the settings button is on Netflix

An arrow points to the link parental controls on Netflix

You can access parental control settings in Netflix from the 'settings' section of the site, which can be accessed from the top-right of the homepage.

Image of what the PIN interface looks like on Netflix

You'll be directed to this screen, where you can make a PIN to access material higher than a certain level. Be careful, the PIN can be bypassed if your child knows the Netflix password!

Read more about how to set parental controls up on Netflix here. A more comprehensive guide written for parents about Netflix’s parental controls can be found here.

Neon

Neon’s parental controls are very similar to Netflix. It uses classifications of G, PG, M, 16, and 18; users set up a 4-digit PIN that is required to access content above the selected levels.

Neon outline how to set up parental controls here.

Lightbox

Lightbox also use a 4-digit PIN like Netflix and Neon – but instead of being used to access content higher than a selected level, it’s used in order to switch between different profiles on an account. A maximum rating can be placed on a profile; the levels are G, PG, M and R. Watch out though – the main profile automatically comes up each time you log in!

Parental controls can be found under settings, highlighted here in yellow

Parental controls can be found under settings, highlighted here in yellow.

Image of what the PIN interface looks like on Lightbox

Once you've pressed settings, you can set up a PIN and determine the age-settings for the profiles.

Lightbox outline how to set up parental controls here.

Twitch

If you have a kid who plays videogames chances are they’re probably watching people play games on Twitch. Unfortunately Twitch actually has no parental controls or age restrictions, which comes with the territory of the streams being live. Streamers can place a warning to indicate their material is suitable for mature audiences but that’s only a voluntary system, there’s also no age verification involved in bypassing that gate.

However, Twitch does set out some guidelines for content it will and will not allow on its site, which includes sexually explicit material and material that focuses exclusively on extreme violence. Take a look at this Twitch guide for parents for more info.

YouTube

YouTube places an automatic restriction on videos that check the age of the account holder. Content is also automatically restricted for users who have not logged into an account. However, there is only a restricted and unrestricted setting, and there is no way to stop children from creating more than one account. An additional option is restricted mode, which helps screens out potentially mature content. Learn more about age restricted content on YouTube here.

Image of where the settings button is on YouTube

This is where the settings button is on YouTube. Click on the little circle in the top-right and this menu will pop up.

Image of settings page on YouTube

The big red arrow shows where you can turn Restricted Mode on.

There is also a separate mobile app called YouTube Kids – a version of YouTube designed specifically for younger children, with parental control features and video filters. Look at the YouTube Kids parental guide here.

Man and woman standing in front of theatre with the logo Electric Cinema

Apple and Google

iTunes and Apple devices

iTunes allow users to set up restrictions for TV shows, movies, and games. TV shows and movies use official NZ ratings. A passcode can be used in order to change the settings later on.

Learn more about setting restrictions on Mac or PC.

In addition to setting up restrictions for content like movies, TV shows and books, you can use restrictions to block or limit specific apps on mobile Apple devices.

Learn more about setting restrictions on iPhone and iPad.

Google Play and Android devices

Parents can set up parental controls in the settings tab of an Android smartphone or tablet, which can restrict downloads and purchases based on Google’s rating system. You can learn more about Google’s parental controls for Android devices in this article.

Google also offer Family Link, an app parents can download onto their own phone (which links up to their children’s phones), which allows them to keep track of what apps they’re using and downloading. You can find out more here

When you’re using a desktop PC/laptop, be sure to sign out of your Google account if your kids are going to use Google Play Movies without your supervision, or they may be able to purchase and view content using this account.

An iPhone being used to take a picture of a vista

Gaming

Steam

Parents are able to set up Family View in order to restrict material in their library on a case-by-case basis, and to decide whether kids have access to the online store. If you decide to give your children access to the online store, remember that Steam doesn’t keep track of users’ ages, and they can put in any birth date in order to access restricted content without further verification checks. A 4-digit PIN is used to leave Family View.

Find out more about Family View on Steam. For more info see the article What should parents know about Steam?

EA Origin

EA encourages parents to create an EA Account and then making a separate account for their child. Child accounts cannot purchase games using the online store front and must redeem product codes bought elsewhere. When redeeming a product code Origin will check the age using the birthdate that is associated with the account in order to decide whether a game is able to be played or not.

Find out more here.

Nintendo

You can place age restrictions on software either through the console itself, or through the associated mobile app. A PIN can be used to override this. The mobile app also tells parents what pieces of software their children have been accessing and for how long. Nintendo outline their parental controls here.

PlayStation

Parents can create a “sub account” (child account) after they’ve set up their own profile. When creating a child account the user must enter a birthdate which restricts the child from purchasing content above their age. Parents can set a monthly spending limit on the child account as well. You can find out how to create a child account here.

It’s also important to set up parental controls for non-digital content (such as disc-based games, DVDs and Blu-rays), as well as games that have already been downloaded to the console by another account. This can be done through the console itself. However each PlayStation console only allows one level of restriction for all of its users.

Find out more here.

Xbox One

Unlike with the PlayStation, Microsoft allows for different levels of restriction for different users. Once a Family Profile has been set up, parents can choose if they want to restrict access to apps and games by classification (such as G, PG, or R13).

Find out more here.

An Xbox controller broken up into its component parts

Internet Surfing

Controls for internet content more generally are a little bit more difficult. However there are lots of options out there, with software like NetNanny, SafeSurfer, Kaspersky Safe Kids, as well as hardware such as Clean Router. This is a good place to start looking at what options are out there.

Obviously the world of parental controls is pretty complex, with each different media platform offering different options for parents to guide their children’s viewing habits (and what would really help is using a standardised set of classifications). Still, it’s great that parents have these options, and we recommend that parents take the time to work out how parental control options work – it’s worth it.

Paul works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

A child using a tablet device

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