As the world of technology moves ahead at breakneck speed for all of us, our children are left increasingly vulnerable to screen-time addiction, online bullying, and adult content. We could watch over our kids’ shoulders while they are on the computer, but frankly, the thrill of watching my fourteen-year-old play Minecraft is gone. Fortunately, there are some excellent programs to help concerned parents.
All four of the programs tested offer basic protections for Windows and Mac. They will all allow you to block website categories, such as gambling, violence, pornography, etc. In addition, you can add specific websites to block or allow. The parent will also be able to schedule hours when the child is allowed to use the computer, and the length of time the child is allowed each day.
Norton Family Free
Norton Family Free provides all of the basic tools needed to monitor internet activity and control access. The interface is modern, clean, and easy to navigate. Setup is a breeze.
Norton was the only program I tested that the time restrictions applied to the child’s use of the computer, not just the internet. Another great feature is the remote management. I can make changes to the child’s access from any internet browser, and it takes effect as soon as the child updates their rules. There is even a handy smartphone app.
The reports provided are excellent, except for the over-reporting of blocked advertisements and such. It makes it cumbersome to sort through the blocks to see which are real issues and which are not.
Norton Family Premier
Norton Family Premier has all the functionality of the free version, with a few key additions. With the Premier edition, you can see exactly which videos your children are watching on YouTube, receive weekly detailed reports, and manage Android devices.
The Net Nanny interface is fairly easy to navigate, and installation is simple. It provides the ability to block website categories, with an added functionality to warn. For instance, you may allow a teen to browse to a site about alcohol, but you can give them a warning to tread carefully. You can also mask foul language. So if your child is reading comments on Facebook or YouTube, they will see “What the %@#” instead of the curse word. Pretty cool.
But surprisingly, Net Nanny does not offer a category to block social networking sites. You can create your own category and spend your spare time researching social networking sites to block. Or, if you allow your kids to use social networking, you can monitor that for an extra fee.
I found the Net Nanny YouTube videos and webinars to be useful tools. Check out their video called “8 Tech Tips for Parents with a Clever Kid”. Your clever kid does not want you to watch this video.
Safe Eyes by McAfee provides all of the basic parental control features, but it is difficult to find anything else positive to say about this program. The first impression was the very dated interface. Getting the settings entered was a little awkward, but I managed. We spent way too much time trying to get Minecraft to work until I let my daughter login with my account. The design of this program is such that when the child’s time is up, they lose access to the internet, but they still have access to the computer. However, you could use the built-in parental controls in Windows or Mac to limit access to the computer itself.
Another problem with Safe Eyes is the lack of remote management. The program must be managed on the device. So, if my son calls me at work, and he needs access to a website, there is nothing I can do about it until I get home.
How to Choose?
In some ways, Net Nanny is more advanced than the other parental controls tested. Net Nanny strives to block content, not just specific websites. That is very appealing. But the fact that I cannot totally block social networking makes Net Nanny impractical for our family.
Safe Eyes is rather clunky and since it does not provide remote management, I would not choose this one. The free version of Norton Family provides a better product.
I found Norton Family Premier to be the best of the four parental controls tested. It is easy to use for both the parent and child. Of course, there is the high cost to consider.
Norton Family Free has enough unlocked features to provide a good deal of control for most parents. I have settled on Norton Family Free for now, and if I decide down the road that I would like more reporting, then I will probably upgrade to Norton Family Premier.
What I like best about all of these programs is that every time my children log in to the computer, they are reminded that they are being monitored. That may be enough in many cases to keep them in the safe zone.