Minecraft or Minefield? Essential Help with Parental Controls

Parental Controls – Simplified

It’s a nightmare, isn’t it? Knowing what your kids are doing online, and more importantly, knowing that they’re safe. Our children have grown up intuitively knowing how to operate devices, seeing them as sources of fun, interaction with friends, and even – as they get older – educational tools. They’re not scared of them, they’re not nonplussed by technology, and so it stands to reason that they’re not worried about living their lives online.

But for parents – many of whom have had to learn alongside their children, and with media horror stories in mind – supporting children as they develop a digital footprint can seem very scary. My son, like most boys, loves his XBox, creates Minecraft kingdoms to be proud of, and follows his YouTube heroes to fuel new projects every weekend. My daughter, in her first year at secondary school, has seen her digital contact list explode in a few short months, and is involved in online conversations essential to her social confidence, but potentially tricky to navigate.

According to research by O2, the number one worry for parents – ahead of bullying, or academic success – is what their children are doing online. And to some extent, it’s with good reason; the NSPCC says that a third of children are victims of cyberbullying and one in four have experienced something upsetting on a social media site. As a parent, I want to give my children the freedom to experiment, and learn safe online behaviour, but knowing what limits to set, and when to intervene, often feels incredibly confusing.

Demystifying Parental Controls

The first place to start with setting parental controls is usually your wifi router account settings. Most providers have password controlled settings to prevent access to particular sites via your wifi. However, as soon as your child has a mobile phone, they’ll find it simple to switch to mobile data if they want to get past that restriction. Sometimes it’s not practical either. A new addition to my son’s LEGO Dimensions collection at Christmas required a downloadable update on the XBox, and we had to disable our internet restrictions to do it. And it’s easy to say you’ll prohibit all access to social media, but in reality – when teenagers are all living their lives online, they’re going to find a way. So you need help.

Which is where O2 comes in. In partnership with the NSPCC, O2 now have an O2 Guru available in every shop to advise parents on how best to keep their children safe online. It’s perfect timing, with new games consoles, tablets and smart TV’s topping the list of gifts this Christmas. The partnership focuses on equipping and empowering parents with the right digital skills and tools so that they are as comfortable discussing what their child does online as they would be their day at school. I went to meet Charlotte, an O2 Guru, to find out more about the service, and how it helps parents:

The O2 Guru service:

  • Anyone can make an appointment with an O2 Guru. You don’t have to be an O2 customer, and you can see a Guru in any O2 store
  • Appointments are free of charge
  • The appointment involves a half hour chat, during which you can ask the questions that matter to you and your child at this moment. You could even take your child in with you, to discuss openly the best ways to manage their online presence safely
  • As well as answering your questions, if you take in your device, your O2 Guru will walk you through setting up parental controls, and address any specific issues you may have, as well as giving you a heads up on things you might not have considered
  • O2 Gurus are all trained by the NSPCC
  • Children and parents can call the NSPCC/O2 Child Safety Helpline (0808 800 5002) for information on apps and privacy settings, as well as advice on how to stop online bullying, what to do about who your child is messaging, and how to talk about sexting, or other difficult subjects
  • There’s also an online hub for access to training and videos, and a live chat facility to get answers when you’re setting up parental controls at home
  • You can visit Net Aware for quick tips on 50 of the most popular social media sites, apps, and games, that young people use, designed to help parents talk to their children about socialising safely online. What’s great about Net Aware is that all the sites are rated not only by the creators, but by parents and children as well, so you can get a real life idea of whether they are suitable for your child.

Even though I work in digital media, I have still found internet security issues confusing over the years, so it’s small wonder some parents feel like burying their head in the sand and hoping for safe passage. But that’s a huge risk. A Facebook thread I was involved in recently was full of parents quoting some frankly horrifying things they’d seen their children’s friends posting online, and despairing at the lack of vigilance. But chatting to an O2 Guru was seriously empowering for me.

Firstly, none of my questions felt stupid. Everything I worry about was acknowledged by Charlotte as incredibly common, and she stripped out all my confusion over my approach. She also opened my eyes to a few things I didn’t know about my children’s online presence. For example, did you know that when your kids play Minecraft, other gamers can request to join their game? I didn’t, but rather than panicking, I took Charlotte’s advice, and now have a straightforward way to make sure my son is safe.

So what can you do right now?

Aside from setting up parental controls on devices, the most important thing parents can do is start early, informed discussion with their children about their activities online. The trick is for the conversation to be two-way from a young enough age that children feel comfortable talking to parents about internet safety going forward. O2 and the NSPCC advocate a four step approach to managing your family’s digital footprint: explore what your children are doing online and get them to show youtalk to them about it; manage the technology to work for your family and finally agree family boundaries.

Don’t restrict their access to the internet in response to things that worry you as a parent. I recently went through a phase of reading my daughter’s texts. All it achieved was her deleting threads and taking her conversations elsewhere. So instead, she’s promised to show me if I ask, and I’ve promised not to ask unless she’s showing signs of being worryingly secretive. We talk about online behaviour as and when each of us sees things that concern us, and as long as that conversation continues, I’ve chosen to trust her. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but there has to be balance. So if your child does come to you with a question or issue, reassure them that between the two of you (and possibly with the help of an O2 Guru), you can make their time online productive and safe.

O2 and the NSPCC really help with that, by taking away the unknown, and empowering parents to understand what their children are doing. The NSPCC recommends that parents take a ‘whole family’ approach to online activity, from when and where devices are appropriate, to what needs to be discussed with a parent, and what can be enjoyed freely. Above all, parents should be good role models for their children, using their own devices appropriately. Since my O2 Guru appointment, we’ve implemented a few good practice measures for all of us to observe, to make sure our online lives are not disproportionate to our offline time together as a family.

O2 Guru – the facts:

You can make an appointment with an O2 Guru in store, online, or by calling your nearest store. Visit the website for more information.

Disclosure: I have been compensated for my time in reviewing the O2 Guru service. All opinion and editorial is my own. Images are mine, or belong to O2.

21 thoughts on “Minecraft or Minefield? Essential Help with Parental Controls”

    • It does feel like it when you’re coming at without expertise – even for those of us who have our own online accounts. But honestly, I thought the O2 service was brilliant. I was expecting to feel a bit dim, but she totally put me at ease, and sorted out all my questions. Really recommend it!

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  1. The service from O2 sounds great, mine still don’t play much on tablets as we only have one which isn’t locked down at all, but I really do need to look into what to do.

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  2. I’ve been extra vigilant recently as my daughter plays several games on her own tablet. I have also reported several several Facebook accounts of girls who are at my children’s junior and infant schools!

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  3. Great tips! It’s important to be extra careful when kids have access to laptops/tablets/phones, it’s all about setting boudaries and explaining how important security it.

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  4. Really great tips and I think that the most important message is to keep talking to them about it and keeping an eye on what they are doing without being too intrusive. I agree that you can’t take it all away from them as that will make things worse.

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  5. I think an O2 Guru sounds like a very sensible way that parents can get access to the knowledge they need to protect their kids, and easily accessible to everyone too. Working in a digital realm I keep an eye on what technology is out there and try to stay abreast of it but things change all the time and an open dialogue with my kids has been the best strategy I have used.

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    • Totally agree. You’ll never get them to tell you everything, but if you start early by being open with them, hopefully they’ll talk to you when it really matters.

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  6. This is such a helpful post Helen, thanks so much. I am also slightly in love with O2 at the moment, having been turned down by Vodafone on my return for living abroad for so long. It seems 22 years as a customer counts for nothing for them, but having received excellent customer care with O2, I am secretly glad. The O2 Guru sounds like a fabulous service.

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    • How strange Emma! Sometimes customer service protocols are bananas aren’t they? I recently had an issue with my provider, and it took so much grief to get it sorted. I was really impressed with the O2 Guru service – I will definitely use them the next time I have any confusion over my parental settings.

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  7. This is brilliant reading, my little boy has just become a minecraft addict and is wanting to play with friends on line. So this has been really helpful. Thank you so much for posting it.

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    • I’d really recommend the Guru service. They were really friendly and approachable, non-judgemental. I had no idea about Minecraft, and who has time to play the games their kids play? It’s great to get information that we might not otherwise find out about.

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  8. This is one of my biggest fears right now. My daughter is 10 and rapidly wanting to engage in the usual things most 10 year old are involved in. She plays Minecraft and we’ve already caught her playing others via the online realms. That got shut down pretty quickly, and we’ve given stern instructions if she’s caught online with strangers without our knowledge again we will pull the plug on her beloved game. It’s not that we are trying to smother her but given that we cannot monitor what goes on, it’s not a safe environment. She also has just recently been allowed a phone “just like all her friends” and to be honest I don’t see the point as she just plays games that are exactly the same as what she can get on her tablet. But I suppose it’s the fact it’s that step up in independence by having a “grown up” gadget that makes the difference to her. It doesn’t have a SIM in it but again we have stated if she has one we can check the bills at any time to ensure she’s using it appropriately.
    I felt that 10 was too young to have a phone at all, but my husband wanted to be sure she could be trusted with it, so gave her his old one to see how she was with it. Plus, we also wanted to demystify the whole phone thing so that by the time she goes into secondary next year, when she may genuinely need one, it will be nothing special and we can at least say we have evaluated if she was able to look after it and use it sensibly.
    I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but honestly? Some of the things I hear going on terrify me, so whilst I do not lock her away, the temptation to do exactly that remains strong.

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    • Oh Michelle I hear you! I think it’s a good idea for them to have an old phone to begin with – if only because they will lose it, leave it, drop it etc. and then they can learn the stress of that without it costing you too much money. That said, my daughter’s phone is the only one in the house that’s insured, because I know it’s a risk. The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to control their access to apps once they start secondary, so I actually think it’s a good idea to give them access earlier, so they can make some mistakes with you heavily involved, and hopefully learn from them ready for when they’re really going to need to make their own choices. It really is so hard to give them independence when the world is so scary. But equally, you don’t want them to be the only one of their friends without Instagram etc. Tricky balance.

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