As kids’ screen-time continues its upward spiral, more and more parents say online safety is their number-one concern. To address those mounting fears, tech companies have developed a wide array of child-friendly browsers.
But how effective are they at protecting kids from unsafe searching and browsing? We take a look at some of the most popular options, and consider the pros and cons.
So first, what is a browser?
A browser is the interface you use to connect to the internet: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and the like.
What is a kid-safe browser?
Kid-safe browsers keep searches locked to child-appropriate pages and curate content to prevent kids from finding (or stumbling upon) adult content, violent images and other harmful material. At their best, kid-safe browsers can reduce the risk of accidental exposure to explicit material - but they don’t, and can’t, eliminate it.
What are some of the best kid-safe browsers, and how do they work?
Powered (but not owned) by Google, Kiddle is the original and probably the most popular choice. Kiddle offers in-app parental controls for site blocking and keyword filtering. And when kids search, the first three results they’ll encounter will have been written specifically for children. The first seven results will have been hand-selected by editors. All results beyond seven will have been filtered by Google Safe Search.
The upside? Kiddle is a standout for its visual design, featuring vibrant colors and large, easy-to-read text. For parents who worry about their child's online privacy, Kiddle states that "we don't collect any personally identifiable information, and our logs are deleted every 24 hours."
The downside? Some violent content can still be found depending on the search results, such as those on TV shows. Many parents report that the site is too limited to keep their kids entertained.
A web browser and child-friendly email system all in one, Pikluk lets parents create filters and block specific sites, pages, videos and pics - or simply restrict searching to a few pages. Pikluk can also be used to restrict access to other device functions. This prevents kids from simply using another browser.
The upside? Pikuk’s email system features a Parent Dashboard that lets mum and dad decide exactly who kids can contact. No one else can send them email, including spammers.
The downside? Each site needs to be blocked individually - so parents need to know exactly what they are. And of course there are billions of websites in existence and thousands of new ones appearing every day.
Available in free or paid versions, Kidzui offers a huge database of appropriate, curated content for kids. It limits tagging, friend-finding, and videos, and it restricts chat and email functions.
The upside? Flexibility. Content is filtered based on age group (and the age range is set by parents). This allows students a lot more searching freedom when needed.
The downside? Kidzui The gives users limited access to communities, such as forums. This could be risky.
The verdict on kid-safe browsers
In a nutshell: Better than nothing
The first thing to remember is that these browsers work on laptops and PCs only - not phones or tablets. That’s a serious drawback in a world where most kids are on mobile devices most of the time.
They can also be hugely time-consuming to set up and require an exhaustive knowledge of the internet - especially the white-list- type ones that require parents to know exactly which sites to block or approve.
What’s more, many safe browsers can be easily bypassed by tech-savvy kids, who will waste no time simply downloading Chrome and heading to full-strength Google.
It’s worth noting too that Google’s “safe search” option - which automatically limits searches (although not always perfectly) to child-appropriate results. You can turn this feature on no matter what browser you use. Simply head to google.com/preferences, and you’ll it as the very first option.
A kid-safe browser offers children some protection online. But it can't compete with a holistic parental control solution, like Family Zone - which automatically filters explicit material, features pre-set age-appropriate settings, and can block unwanted apps and sites on every device your child uses, everywhere.
That said, no technology - no matter how “smart” or advanced - can substitute for regular, ongoing conversations and monitoring.
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