How to keep children safe online on any new gadget

Julian Gavaghan

With Christmas only 20 days away, millions of parents will be weighing up whether or not to buy that must-have gadget their child wants.

A key factor in making a decision might be to know how safe these devices are for youngsters.

For example, do they offer access to adult-only content online and can this be blocked? How good is the gadget at protecting children from predators?

Here’s our child safety guide for this year’s hottest devices:

                            [Related: Microsoft unveils its new Facebook rival]

Apple iPad

The iPad is this is this year’s most wanted gadget by far. A whopping 48% of children will ask for one, according to a recent U.S. study by Nielsen.

All iPads – including the latest 4 or Mini models – can access the Internet.

However, parents should be wary of buying children 3G devices, which can surf the web away from homes and schools.It is much easier to supervise them if they can only log on via a wireless network.

Some Internet service providers will block adult-only content - although, this may also block innocent items and stops parents from viewing what they want as well.

Also, you can easily alter the iPad’s settings to provide child safety measures.

You can switch off and restrict Safari, its web browser, and allow apps to only be downloaded based on their age-rating.

There is also a £2.49 child-safety browser called F-Secure Child Safe, but tech-savvy children will get round this pretty quickly.

It may be worth buying filtering software, such as £13—year AVG Family Safety, which you can control from another computer. Although, it will not apply to apps due to restrictions by Apple.

It is also worth setting up an iTunes account with parental control settings – and ensuring that they have stored credit and not access to your credit card.

Apps such as Netflix, which streams movies, can be restricted also.

Apple iPhone

The iPhone 5 has similar access to the web and parental control as its Apple cousin, the iPad.

So you can take all the same measures to protect children as outlined with the previous device.

The crucial difference, however, is that it can be used for phone calls and text messaging.

If you really feel you can’t trust your child – but still want them to have a phone – for £31.39 you can buy spying software PhoneSheriff.

It allows you to listen to their conversations and read text and instant messages.

The hidden software, which stays on the phone even if the SIM is replaced, will also let you restrict phone numbers, wipe messages and track your child via GPS.

Android phone

Most smartphones on the market now use Google’s Android operating system.

This means a whole host of devices, ranging from the Samsung Galaxy to a T-Mobile own-brand one, have most of the same functions.

For example all apps are acquired from Play Store and they all have the same web browsers.

The good news is that Androids are widely considered safer for children than iPhones.

The parental control settings are similar for both.

But childsafety software like Norton Family Parental Control and NQ Family Guardian, allow parents to limit both web browsing and apps downloaded.

There is also a much larger range of spy software, including Android Spy and MobiStealth, where you can track your child’s every word and move.

Nintendo Wii U

This latest edition of the Wii also poses a threat to child safety if unprotected.

Children can use the console to acceess the internet, play unsuitable games (swapping between friends is commonplace) and multi-play with potentially dangerous strangers.

Luckily, the password-activated parental control settings are pretty thorough and easy to deploy.

Parents can easily restrict games played by rating, control access to the Internet, limit multi-player friends, bar inter-game conversations and other communications, put a ceiling on eShop purchases and curb video streaming.

There are proxy methods of bypassing these controls, but it is very hard to do and only the older, more technologically more capable children would manage.

Xbox 360

As with the Nintendo, Microsoft’s console offers a host of potential child safety pitfalls, including web use, movies and multi-player gaming.

The good news is that there are password-activated parental controls that will allow you to restrict games, movies and also the amount of time children use the Xbox.

Parents can also block access to the Internet and give parents the right to refuse friend requests.

The bad news is that the controls can be hacked by anyone clever enough to look up how on the Internet.

Sony PlayStation 3

With Internet access and ability to play violent games and movies, the PS3 poses similar risks to all games consoles.

There are, however, parental controls that let you allow only certain ratings. Unfortunately, these are not the obvious PG or 18 because Sony uses its own certificates – from one to 11 – which is somewhat confusing.

Fortunately, the controls are relatively secure – as long as you don’t leave your password as the default 0000.

Kindle Fire

Amazon's Kindle Fire a tablet computer like an iPad – only it runs on Google’s Android operating system. Parents might be fooled into thinking it's only built for books and films from Amazon, but it has access to the Internet.

Its FreeTime function allows you to limit the time children spend browsing the web, viewing movies or anything else they might use the Kindle for (including reading e-books).

You be selective about the type of content viewed too and arrange specific times to each.
But the system had some way to go and so Amazon today launched a more child-friendly subscription service called FreeTime Unlimited.

For between $2.99 and $4.99, children can amass as many age-restricted TV shows, books, games, movies and apps as they like – with access controlled by parents.

As with any Android tablet or phone, there is also parental control software you can install and control remotely, such as the free Norton Online Family.


Another popular Android tablet is the Barnes and Noble Nook, a rival to fellow book retailer Amazon’s Kindle.

The range of devices on sale, including the Nook HD+, will allow children to surf the web – but as it only comes in Wi-Fi-only format, they cannot browse anywhere.

While it maybe seen as a disadvantage to many, because apps are found via its own service, Nook Market, there are likely to be far fewer unsuitable ones available.

Parental controls also allow you to limit what is viewed on the web browser and ensure that only age-related content is viewed.


Finally, the ever popular personal computer – be it a desktop or a laptop – is likely to feature in your child’s Christmas wish list.

It could, of course, enable youngsters to view all manner of unsuitable content, such as websites, games and movies.

But, if purchased with the Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest operating system, parents can take steps to limit access.

It will also provide regular activity reports, which will allow parents to tweak the control settings.

There is also a range of software – both costly and free – that will allow you to keep tabs on and curb their usage.