How to Set Up Parental Controls on Your Router
One of the simplest ways to set up parental controls for your kids is to use the ones that come with your existing router. These come preinstalled on almost every modern router, so they’re already there.
Still, using these features can seem a bit daunting at first. We’ll walk you through the basics of setting up parental controls for your home network using only the tools that come with your router.
Setting up parental controls on your router
Most modern routers have some form of parental controls built in, but they can vary a bit from router to router. Here are some of the most common ways to set up parental controls:
- Accessing your router’s settings
- Using an app
- Using your online provider account
Accessing your router’s settings
Using your router’s settings is the most common way to set up parental controls on your home network, though it can also be the most intimidating way if you’re not used to accessing your router’s administrative console.
The first step is to log in to your router, as you would to change your network name and password. Once you’ve logged in, look for an option for parental controls or access restrictions. Not all routers have these options, and the location of these options can vary depending on the router you’re using.
If you don’t see a Main Menu option that looks like parental controls, it can often be found in a menu labeled “Tools,” “Firewall,” or “Advanced Settings.”
Using an app
Many internet service providers (ISPs) offer apps that allow you to manage your router and home network settings from your phone. AT&T’s Smart Home Manager (Google Play, App Store) and the Xfinity App (Google Play, App Store) are good examples, but many nationwide ISPs are moving toward apps, as are some router manufacturers.
Once installed on your phone, the app will walk you through the steps of connecting to (or setting up) your home network. The app will also give you access to all your router’s network management and parental control options.
Using your online provider account
Some ISPs, like Google Fiber, allow you to control your network and home router simply by using a web browser. To do this, log in to your user account and click on the Network menu. This will give you access to your router and other devices on your network.
What can you do with parental controls?
The amount of control that you have over your network depends on the kind of router that you have, but common tools allow you to do the following:
- Limit screen time
- Block specific devices
- Filter web content
These tools are most effective when used in conjunction, though each of these abilities has its own merits.
Limit screen time
Limiting screen time is one of the most basic ways of restricting a child’s internet access and is available on many routers. This feature allows you to shut off internet access during certain hours of the day.
You can shut off your entire wireless network, but more often you want to block only specific devices. That means you can block internet access to your kids’ iPads after bedtime or during homework hours, while leaving the family TV or work laptops connected.
Block specific devices
The ability to target specific devices, sometimes called MAC filtering, is another common network control on routers. Every device on your network is given a media access control address, or MAC address, which can often be found listed alongside its IP address.
Home network tools will usually try to list devices by their nickname (Windows computers, for instance, usually prompt the user to set up a nickname like “Family Computer” or “Mom’s Laptop” on installation). If a name for a device hasn’t been set up yet, you’ll just have to go by MAC address.
Usually you’ll want to schedule restrictions on devices during certain hours, although it can be useful to block certain devices completely. A child’s tablet that is used only for offline apps, for instance, needs access to the internet only to download updates or install new software.
Filter web content
Some routers also have the ability to filter web content, though these controls are usually less robust than those from dedicated parental control software. The best content filters give parents precise controls and a high degree of customization options to fit their family’s needs. This includes the ability to blacklist and whitelist specific websites, as well as the ability to filter based on keywords or topics.
Most built-in web filters on routers are less sophisticated, often relying on a sliding scale from “no restrictions” to “maximum restrictions.” For parents not using other parental controls, these can still be very useful, but since they have no control over how websites are categorized, sites you want access to are sometimes filtered out at lower restriction levels, while undesirable sites still get through.
Old-school options for parental controls
Change your Wi-Fi password frequently
If your router doesn’t have any good tools for managing network access, you can still manage your kids’ devices the old-school way by rotating your Wi-Fi password on a daily or weekly basis. This way, your kids have to ask for the new Wi-Fi password before connecting, which means that you can keep them off their devices until after homework and chores are done for the day.
Obviously, there are a lot of drawbacks to this plan. It puts the burden of changing and remembering an ever-changing list of passwords on the parents. It also means that every device on your network will get kicked off every time you change the password and will have to be manually added again. If you use this method, you should always make a second home network for permanently connected devices like smart TVs and thermostats so you don’t have to manually reconnect them every day.
Password-cycling is an option that’s available on any home network, regardless of the type of router you have. But, if you’re going to these lengths to control access to your Wi-Fi, we recommend investing in an easier and more effective solution.
What if my router doesn’t have parental controls?
If you don’t have the parental controls you need built in to your router, you have several options. First, you can upgrade your router to a model that was designed specifically with parental controls or network security in mind, such as the Gryphon Smart Mesh Router.
Second, you can buy parental control software that fits your family’s specific needs. This is by far the most flexible option and, depending on the software you choose, can fit any range of needs and devices.
Paying for an additional service is a more expensive option, so when considering the advantages and disadvantages of different control software, be sure to compare them against the tools you already have available on your current router.
When to use built-in parental controls
The built-in parental controls that come with most routers aren’t usually the best on the market, so if there are specific tools you’re looking for to manage your kids’ internet usage, you’re probably better off finding parental control software that has everything you’re looking for rather than trying to make due by micromanaging your router settings.
On the other hand, many parents don’t need cutting-edge software to manage their home networks the way that they want. Parents often need just the most basic network management tools, so if you already have them, why not use them?
Author - Peter Christiansen
Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for HighSpeedInternet.com. Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.