The Internet has become a crucial part of modern life, but that doesn't mean you want your kids to be able to connect to any part of it at any time. Parental controls give you a measure of authority over when and how your children connect to the Internet at home. In addition to setting parental controls on individual devices, you should also set parental controls on your home router. Router restrictions are easily forgotten, but they offer a powerful extra layer of protection.
Accessing Router Controls
Routers allow you to access their controls through your Web browser. Simply launch your preferred browser and type your home network gateway IP address. This is usually "192.168.1.1" (without quotes) or "192.168.0.1." If these addresses don't work, you can look yours up. Click on your Internet connection icon, right-click on your home network, select "Status" from the menu and then click the "Details" button on the Status pane. From there, look for the line that says "IPv4 Default Gateway." That's the IP address you want to type into your address bar. Depending on your home setup, you may have to enter credentials to access the router control panel. Some manufacturers print the default username and password on the router itself, or you can check the user manual or the router manufacturer's website.
Common Parental Control Options
On your router control panel, look for the parental control options. These may be located in the security settings section. The specific parental controls available depend on your brand and model. In general, you can restrict Internet access at times of the day and days of the week when you don't want your kids to be online. You can also restrict specific websites altogether -- or you can restrict all websites except for the specific ones you allow. Additionally, some routers offer a tiered system of pre-programmed restrictions that you can choose from as an alternative to entering restrictions manually. When you configure the parental controls, also make sure to set a password on the router control panel itself, so that your kids can't go in and undo the restrictions you set.
The Router as a Choke Point
Your home router serves as a choke point. Anytime any device connects to the Internet using your home connection, it has to go through the router. This applies not only to your computers and mobile devices, but to those of anyone else who visits your house and connects through your network, such as your children's friends. This makes the router a powerful means of controlling Internet access in your home, and it offers an extra layer of protection from the problems that might ensue if your kids used your Internet connection to commit illegal activities like piracy. If you want to limit your children's Internet access, you should definitely include the router settings as part of your strategy.
A Limited Scope of Protection
Parental controls at the router level have significant limitations. The restrictions won't apply if your kids connect to the Internet somewhere else, like at a friend's house or a restaurant. The restrictions also won't apply if there are other unsecured wireless networks near your home and your kids connect to one of these instead of your home network. But most importantly, mobile devices like tablets and smartphones can typically connect to the Internet through a cell phone provider network as well as through your home Internet connection. Parental controls on the router won't apply to a cellular connection at all, so if your kids have mobile devices you'll have to set their parental restrictions individually -- which is a good idea anyway.