5 Ways to Block Porn on Your Kid's Devices

From SafeSearch to Circle, tricks and tools to limit adult content on phones, tablets, and computers. By Caroline Knorr
5 Ways to Block Porn on Your Kid's Devices

Here's the thing: Porn is all over the internet. You can't totally get rid of it. Still, most parents want to do what they can to prevent kids from seeing explicit content. But here's the other thing: You can set all the blockers, filters, and parental controls in the universe, and not only will your kids still see porn, you still have to talk to them about what porn is, why it exists, and why it's not for them. In fact, using tech tools to limit adult content works best when combined with conversations that convey your values about love, sexuality, and relationships. (Get tips on talking to tweens and teens about internet porn.) Here are five ways to block porn as much as possible.

Turn on Google SafeSearch

Pros: Easy to enable
Cons: Easy for kids to turn off

  1. Set your search engine to Google. Check the settings on whichever browsers your kids use (Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) and make sure they use Google as their default search engine. (On an iPhone, go into your phone’s settings, scroll down and tap on Safari, and then choose Google under Search Engine; in Chrome, tap or click on the three dots either at the top or bottom of the screen).

  2. Enable SafeSearch. On mobile devices, open your Google app (you may need to download it). Tap on the gear icon, scroll down and tap on Search Settings, and then tap "Filter explicit results" under SafeSearch filters. On desktops and laptops, go to www.google.com and click Settings in the bottom-right corner; click on Search Settings; and click Turn on SafeSearch and then Lock SafeSearch.

  3. Check all devices, and recheck periodically. Perform steps one and two for all devices your kids use. Regularly check the Google app or preferences section to make sure SafeSearch hasn't been turned off.

Use Screen Time on iPhones and iPads

Pros: Built right into the OS
Cons: May require frequent fine-tuning

  1. Decide how you want to enable the settings. You can either put restrictions on your kid's devices (and lock them with a pass code so they can't change them back; see Part 2 below). Or, you can manage your kid's phone remotely through Apple's Family Sharing feature, similar to other parental-control products (see step 3 below).

  2. On your kid's phone or tablet. Open Settings on your kid's device. Scroll down and tap Screen Time. Select Content & Privacy Restrictions and then toggle that feature on. Go through each setting and determine what you'll allow and what you want to limit. To cut down on porn, drill down into the Content Restrictions section and turn off all explicit content for all media, including Web Content.
    Part 2: Pass code-protect the settings. In Settings/Screen Time, tap Use Screen Time Passcode. Type in a four-digit code that your kid doesn't know and won't guess. (If your kid has already created a pass code, you'll need the number to change it to something only you know.)

  3. On your device. Open Settings, tap your name, scroll down, and tap on Family Sharing. Follow the instructions for adding a family member. Once they're set up, you can control all of iOS's Screen Time features -- including all Content & Privacy Restrictions -- from your phone.

Ask your internet service provider (ISP)

Pros: Depending on your service, settings can apply to TV channels as well as the internet
Cons: Some cost money; controls can be confusing

  1. Check the website or call your ISP. The folks you pay to bring you your internet connection may offer parental controls, content filters, or other screen-time-management features that will effectively limit exposure to porn. Xfinity, for example, offers parental controls, website blocking, and device limits through its customer portal and app. Verizon offers a program called Smart Family that provides parental controls for a monthly fee. Every company designs its own features differently, so figuring out how they work can take some effort.

Install parental controls

Pros: Provide a lot of control, including website blocking, screen limits, and even social media monitoring
Cons: May not work across all platforms (for example, PCs and Macs) or all devices (for example, phones on Wi-Fi and network-connected desktops); kids can get around them using a variety of easily searchable methods

  1. Explore the offerings. A wide range of parental-control products means you'll need to do your research to find the one that really works best for you. This chart offers a good overview of available products and what they do.

  2. Review the settings. Plenty of features -- such as the ability to block specific websites, restrict certain domains (such as those from porn producers), and alert you to search terms kids might use, such as "sex" -- give you a lot of options. Take advantage of free trials (from reputable companies) to get a sense of whether the products address your specific needs, work with your existing devices, and feel manageable to you. 

Go the hardware route

Pros: Can monitor every device on the network, including those that are Wi-Fi-enabled and network-connected
Cons: May lack advanced features such as ultrafast connections and download speeds; can include pricey subscriptions; don't cover kids' devices on other networks

  1. Determine your existing setup. Internet routers -- the devices that bring the internet into your home -- are typically not user-friendly at all. In fact, many people simply use the one supplied by their ISP and don't worry about it unless its lights stop flashing. Your router may already have built-in filtering services you don't use because you haven't wanted to muck around in your network settings. Don't be intimidated. Open the network icon on your main computer to see whether it includes anything that looks like parental controls (filtering, blocking, etc.) in its software.

  2. Check out the available products. New products that either replace or work with your existing network router, such as Circle with Disney and Torch, are popular with families because they offer appealing designs and easy-to-use software. If you're buying a new router, look for one that has advanced features and parental controls (here's a good guide). You'll want to buy the most state-of-the-art product within your budget to keep up with your family's growing needs. Streaming services, gaming, new phones, and tablets will all put demands on your router.

  3. Determine which devices you want monitored. The big advantage of router-based solutions is that their settings can apply to all your devices, from the game console to the family PC to your kids' phones. You may not want to monitor your own devices -- unless there's a chance your kids will use them. Remember, if your kid goes off your network, such as at a friend's house, it's not covered (although some products, such as Circle, offer mobile monitoring through an app you download on your kid's phone).

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About Caroline Knorr

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As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (4)

Parent of a 9 and 11 year old written by Matt R.

You should also check out Google Family Link. This works well on Android devices and enables a parent to centrally manage kids accounts and devices via the Family Link app. You can block certain apps, restrict access to view apps based on age rating, all app installs need your approval, enable safe search (maybe not great but better than nothing), disable YouTube and only enable YouTube kids, set daily device usage limits and curfew times, track usage, track device location, and probably a whole lot more.
Adult written by Lori S.

I completely agree with MTMommy2. Google SafeSearch is ridiculous, and I'm as frustrated as she is about the lack of decent parental controls that don't throw the baby out with the bath water! Circle is definitely not it--lots of baby being thrown out.
Adult written by MTMommy2

Google SafeSearch is a joke. Type girls in the search bar and click images. Straight up inappropriate. As far as I can tell, that's what Disney Circle uses to filter. That's what the Netgear nighthawk router uses, since Circle is built in. I have spent many hours in the last few weeks researching this and I am so frustrated that there is not an easier way to filter the smut. I have phones, laptops, Roku. Why can't there be a one-stop solution? All I know to do is disable everything Chrome on my kids phones. Delete apps that would allow searching. Kidz Search has worked well so far for safe searching. Would love to hear easier recommendations. Just saying "use Google SafeSearch" is like peeking through your fingers while holding your hands in front of your face watching a horror movie.
Parent of a 9, 12, and 14 year old written by Mackenzie H.

I have been using Screen Time for my 14-year-old for about 3 years. It is GREAT and definitely worth the $4/month. I now have it installed on all three of my children's devices (Two have phones, and our 9-almost-10-year-old just got a tablet). It helps block undesirable content, but is also a great tool to show kids just how much time is spent on devices.

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