A recent study found that four in every five youngsters hide internet activity that parents may find inappropriate.
Also, a third of parents make no effort to monitor what the children are doing online.
So what simple steps can adults take? Here’s a guide to the best methods out there.
Parental controls in Windows and Mac OS X
A good first – and free – step to protecting your child while using a home computer or laptop is by changing the settings in its operating system.
Windows 7 lets parents block access to 18-rated films and television, and to 'block' programmes from children - and to set timers.
Windows XP has very limited settings and, strangely, Vista, the precursor to Windows 7, actually includes the most controls.
Mac OSX’s controls are similar to Windows 7.
Windows 8, which was released last month, uses a slightly different method. Rather than instantly filtering, by switching on the Family Safety setting, parents first monitor their children’s activity with weekly reports and then decide what specific limits and blocks to impose.
Internet Service Provider options
It’s worth checking with your broadband Internet service provider (ISP) about blocking sites.
The countries biggest ISPs – including BT, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk – have recently made it easier to launch parental controls to block 'adult' sites such as pornography and gambling.
However, doing this would also limit what adults can view on the Internet, as it operates through your router, affecting every device on your wi-fi network.
Microsoft Family Safety
This free software, which you can easily download on the web, offers in-depth control for Windows PC users. Functions include:
- Blocking a range of content of your choosing and manage their access individually.
- Setting specific time limits for when and how long children are allowed to log on
- Blocking access to specific games based on age-rating and block specific programs
- Using a web filter to limit or block the types of sites children can access
Its advantage is that it allows you to do it remotely – i.e. control your children’s computers from yours.
However, the system has been plagued by reports of bugs that mean time limits and other blocks may not always work.
Users have also complained that it does not work with the Firefox 3.6.3. browser.
Also, older children may be able to get around its Internet controls - there are hi-tech workarounds, and if your child is tech-literate, may need additional supervision.
AVG Family Safety
This £13-a-year software, which you can install via the AVG website, will protect a wide range of devices – including PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads and Windows Phones.
It allows parents to remotely:
- Monitor browsing history with regular reports.
- Set specific times that children can log on
- Control for videos, games, and music based on age rating
- Monitor instant messages and social networking use
- Chose one of four age categories if you don’t want to go through all the steps
- Override blocks immediately with master password.
However, it doesn’t filter apps or programs outside of an internet browser on iPhone or iPad – although this is due to restrictions by Apple.
Norton Online Family
This is easily the most comprehensive of the parental control software. It works on PC, Macs, Android and iPhone devices.
It uses a web-based interface that allows parents access from anywhere, although users have to install the software on every device they want to control.
Deborah Preston, a Norton online safety expert, said: “The service is visible to the child so there is no ‘spying on your children’.
“Instead families work together to create a safer Internet experience - the idea being that when children have a say in setting the rules, they’re more likely to follow them.”
On the negative side, it only controls web access and savvy children can override them using flash drives -
although this can be overcome by disabling USB ports.
For the parent who has to know everything about what their child is doing on their smart phone, PhoneSheriff is the ultimate spy software.
The software, which costs $49 (£31.39) and available on every smart phone.
You can remotely:
- Block websites
- Set daily time limits
- Restrict phone numbers
- Remotely lock the device
- Know where your phone (and your child are) with its GPS tracker
- Read text and IM messages
- Wipe messages
- Monitor conversations
- Hide software so child doesn’t know it’s there
- Keep software on phone even if simcard is changed
Though there are technically few disadvantages, it is relatively expensive and this amount of snooping could seriously damage the relationship you have with your child.