By Larry Magid
I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with parental control tools that monitor or limit what kids can do with technology.
I love that busy parents can access tools to help them carry out their responsibility to control when and how long their kids can use devices, and make sure they’re using them appropriately. But I hate that, over the years, some companies that market these tools use fear tactics to sell them to parents. I’m also a bit concerned about over-reliance on technology as a substitute for in-person parenting.
Having said that, I’m glad to report some recent developments that help empower parents. Microsoft has recently updated its time management tools in the new Creators Edition of Windows 10, while Amazon just upgraded its FreeTime child-friendly content subscription service with a Parent Dashboard and more insight to help parents better understand the content that their kids are consuming.

FreeTime requires a compatible Amazon device such as an Amazon Fire Tablet. Starting at $39.95,  Fire Tablets represent the best-value proposition in the tablet world. There is also a $79.99 Fire Kids Edition which is ruggedized and comes with a 2-year “no questions asked” warranty if they break.

Neither of these are revolutionary enhancements – both Microsoft and Amazon have long offered tools to make it relatively easy for parents to take some control over how their kids use their devices.
Other major companies, including Apple and Google, also offer parental controls. Parents can turn on content and time controls on any iPhone or iPad. There are numerous third party control and monitoring tools for all platforms and, as I wrote about recently, Google has launched the ability to create accounts for kids under 13 that gives parents lots of control over how they use their compatible Android device. Check with your mobile provider to see what parental controls it offers.
Some internet routers have optional built-in parental controls, which have the advantage of controlling all the devices on your home network, including TVs and game consoles. Another solution is the Circle with Disney, a $99 device that you add to your network to manage content to all your devices.
Facebook has some additional privacy tools for teens under 18 as well as a parents’ portalwith lots of safety, security and privacy resources including a Bullying Prevention Hub. The Google Safety Center has advice for everyone, including families. Snapchat also has an extensive safety center. Full disclosure: All three of these company’s safety centers list my Internet safety non-profit, ConnectSafely.org, among their partners and provide some financial support for the organization.
There are some limitations and cautions when it comes to any parental control tool. To begin with, they only work on devices or networks that are protected. All bets are off when your kid is visiting a friend’s house. And even if you have a tight rein on your home network, it may not carry over if the child connects their device to a cellular network or another WiFi network.
That’s why, speaking at an internet safety conference in 1996, I made the comment, “the best internet filter is the one that runs between the child’s ears,” and that’s just as true today. No matter how hard a parent tries, it is almost impossible to use technology to completely protect a child from anything that can go wrong with their use of technology.