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Taking control: how to make the most of parental controls

Posted on 08 April 2020 by the Information Unit (updated post)

Tamariki and rangatahi can access virtually any content on their devices: they play games, watch series and films on streaming services like Netflix, and videos on YouTube and social media but it’s harder for parents and whanau to know what they are experiencing.

But children still  need to be protected from upsetting and harmful content. So what can parents do? Online space is not entirely a free-for-all. There are tools available on popular platforms to help.

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 individual profiles within your Netflix account. 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!

LB manage bar

Click on the user profile circle in the top right corner. You will be able to manage profiles from here.

LB Profiles

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 guide from Common Sense Media 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 a Google 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.

YT restrictions

Click on the user profile circle in the top right corner. A list of option to manage your Google account will come up. Restricted mode is the last option on the list.

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.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime uses classifications of children, 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+. Users are asked to set a 5 digit password and which supported devices and web browsers they would like the restrictions applied to.

AP restrictions

Disney+

Disney+ is the most family friendly streaming site but there is no way to stop children from viewing Mature content. You can set up a kid’s profile but your child can click out of it and into the main profile any time they want.

DP restrictions

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

Apple and Google

Apple devices and Apple TV+

Apple allows 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. Spark offers its customers Net Shield, a free internet filtering tool, and Vodafone has a tutorial on how to set up parental controls on their modems. If you're not with Spark or Vodafone, there are lots of other options out there, with software like NetNanny, SafeSurfer, Kaspersky Safe Kids, as well as hardware such as Clean Router.

If you're worried about who your young people are talking to online and what they might be showing them, Facebook has just released Messenger Kids. This is a messaging app designed for parents to supervise who their rangatahi are talking to. It also allows parents to review images and videos that rangatahi have sent and received.

Non-technological Alternatives

If all of that seems like too much, there are other things that you could try. However, if you want your tamariki and rangitahi to follow these suggestions, they are more likely to do so if you follow them yourself. Like most limitations and rules, they require consistency and communication to build trust with your young people.

Some ideas include:

  • No devices in the bedroom (rangitahi will still need a quiet space to do homework if they have it).
  • Designated device-free time zones – meal times, during face-to-face discussion – or flip it and have designated device time zones.
  • Limit screen time to a certain amount a day (there are apps for this as well).
  • No devices 1 hour before bed (whether you have put a blue light filter on or not).

To find out more about online safety in general, have a look at Netsafe's Online Safety Toolkit.

The world of parental controls is pretty complex, with each 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.

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A child using a tablet device

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