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Parental controls are tools which allow parents or guardians to place limits on a child’s online activity and thereby mitigate the risks that the child might be exposed to. Examples include:

  • setting time limits or bedtimes;
  • restricting internet access to pre-approved sites only;
  • restricting in-app purchases; and
  • monitoring a child’s online activity or tracking their physical location.

The Children’s code parental controls standard outlines considerations for ISS using parental controls, including recommendations for what transparency information to provide for children, depending on their age. The links below gives examples and information on how parental controls impact children’s rights under the UNCRC. We also offer code recommendations on how to positively support and mitigate risks to these rights:

Article 5: Parental guardianship and the evolving capacities of the child

The rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians to provide appropriate support to children to exercise their rights must be respected. Services must recognise that this support changes as children grow and their capacities develop.

This right is at risk where services provide parental controls that are untransparent (which may lead to a breakdown of trust between the child and parent), or they are used against the wishes of the child when they are at an appropriate age to object.

Article 13: Freedom of expression

Children have a right to seek, receive and impart ideas of all kinds, through any medium of their choice.

Services can risk this right where they use parental controls to disproportionately or untransparently monitor children on relevant services , inhibiting their ability to express themselves freely.

Article 15: Freedom of association

Children have a right to freely associate and gather with others in the real world and in the digital environment.

Parental controls pose risks to this right where they are used for monitoring and tracking a child’s engagement with online communities without adequate transparency for the child.

Article 16: Protection of privacy

Children have a right to be protected from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy.

The use of parental controls pose risks to a child’s privacy, where they are used without adequate transparency for the child, or gather more data than is needed – for example if a service for monitoring a child’s journey collects data that is not relevant to their location or movement.

Children’s code recommendations on use of parental controls:

  • Provide information at the point of sign-up, and each time a child accesses the service, that alerts them to the use of parental controls. The service should prompt the child to discuss this with a trusted adult if they don’t understand what it means.
  • If your service allows a parent or carer to monitor their child’s online activity or track their location, provide an obvious sign to the child (such as a lit up icon or a pop-up) when they are being monitored.
  • Provide parents with information about the child’s right to privacy under the UNCRC, which explains why children have a right to know where their online activity is being tracked.