How much time is “safe” for children to spend online? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that it’s crucial for parents to set clear ground rules, enforcing them with technology if possible. We’ve teamed up with F-Secure to explain how to set time limits on phones, laptops and tablets.
Step 1: Talk to your children
You need buy-in. Setting rules without talking to your kids first is a recipe for resentment. They should know why you want to limit their online time and have some say on how long it is.
Incidentally, if they aren’t old enough to have the conversation then all guidelines suggest they shouldn’t really be staring at screens unsupervised…
Step 2: Draw up your timetable
There are three crucial times to consider. First, bedtimes. These may vary depending on whether it’s a school night or not, but it’s a good rule of thumb to keep these times similar.
You should also consider total time online. There’s no point limiting time on the laptop if that means your child then plays on the phone for the rest of the evening.
Finally, think about how much time you want your kids to spend online on a weekday and at weekends.
Step 3: Choose your security software
This is your biggest decision. You need a name you can trust and a package that’s right for your needs. There is plenty of choice out there, but F-Secure has been protecting consumers from security threats for 30 years and has a “TOP PRODUCT” rating for F-Secure SAFE from respected antivirus testing site AV-TEST.
F-Secure TOTAL is the company’s premium package. Not only does it offer internet security via F-Secure SAFE, but also advanced parental controls and a VPN. An annual licence costs £99.99 and covers five devices, but you might prefer to cover seven devices for £119.99 or three devices for £79.99.
Note that F-Secure TOTAL also includes F-Secure KEY. You can use KEY wherever you go, on any device, with the same master password. That means you only need to remember one password — KEY remembers the rest!
Step 4: Set up your F-Secure account
Once you’ve signed up for F-Secure TOTAL, you’ll get access to “My F-Secure”. This is where you can set up user profiles and assign laptops, tablets and phones to each person in your household.
Click on “Add device” and you’ll see this choice:
Click on “My child’s device” and press Continue. You’ll be prompted to send a F-Secure SAFE installation link to your child’s device, either by email or SMS (if it’s a phone).
From here, you can choose a device type for each user. This could be a computer (Windows or Mac), tablet (Android or iPad) or phone (Android or iPhone).
Step 5: Set time limits on your child’s phone and/or tablet
Again, it makes sense to install this with your child so they feel part of the process. If you they see you set the rules that you’ve agreed, they’re more likely to remember them (and not resent them).
The first step, from the “Choose device type” screen shown above, is to click on Phone and then press Continue. You’ll be prompted to provide an email address or phone number.
Next, your child will have received a link via a text message or by email. When they click on the link, they will be directed to download the F-Secure app.
This is a good point to mention the benefits of the app. In F-Secure’s case, it also provides tracking. Most children will have lost their phone at some point, so mentioning that this app means it will be easy to find should be a positive!
Once installed, open the app and click through the various permissions dialogs. You’ll be prompted to set up a new user profile.
There are five age groups, which control the types of content they can see on their devices. For example, 0-6 years blocks anything remotely dubious, while 13-16 years still prevents access to gambling and adult sites, but will give access to social networks.
You can also set times for each individual app if you wish. For example, if they spend way too much time on Snapchat then you can set that to half an hour per day.
To control this, click on “Turn on App control” when prompted. You can set individual time limits for each app from here, although it’s quicker to do it via the My F-Secure portal.
Next, F-Secure offers you the chance to set time limits on or off. Simply drag the slider along for weekdays and weekends. Scroll down this page and you can also set bedtimes for school nights and weekends.
Then you’ll come to content filtering. This will come with recommended settings based on your child’s age, but you can select and deselect different types of content if you wish.
You may be prompted to add the app to your phone’s Protected settings. This means it will even run when the phone is in power-saving mode, when it switches off non-essential apps.
The final two steps involve making F-Secure SAFE an app that your child can’t fiddle with or remove themselves. Follow the steps until you see this screen:
Step 6: Set time limits on your child’s tablet or PC
Head back to My F-Secure and click on your child’s profile. (If you haven’t already set this up in Step 5, then you will need to create a profile during the setup.)
You can now add a second device. In this case, we’re adding a Windows PC, but this could be an Apple Mac, iPad or Android tablet. Add an email address when prompted.
Now log into your child’s email on their computer. You’ll find an email from F-Secure with a link: press it and you’ll be taken straight to a page where you can download F-Secure SAFE for your Windows PC or Mac.
While you can change the daily time limits, bedtimes and content filtering, the device will inherit the settings you created on the phone. Note that your child can see the time limits, but only you can change the times.
What’s more, your child will also benefit from anti-virus protection courtesy of F-Secure.
Step 7: Review and revise
As a final step, we recommend you head to My F-Secure. You’ll now see your child’s profile, along with any associated devices below them. (You may need to refresh the page in your web browser.)
That’s it for now, but remember that nothing lasts forever. Phones need to be replaced, rules need to be revised. And you may find that your children revolt against what they perceive as unfair restrictions. If you feel they have a point, then you can change settings easily via My F-Secure.
You can also add devices, remove licences from defunct devices and revise age profiles.