How to set parental controls on broadband use

Setting up parental controls on your wifi ensures younger members of the household can’t stumble across age-inappropriate content.

Monday, 11 July, 2022

It’s well known that the Dark Web is populated with content that’s NSFW (not safe for work).

In truth, some of it isn’t suitable for anywhere, even though the Dark Web can be a force for good.

The surface web is also full of content which impressionable young eyes would be better off not seeing.

A full list would extend to many pages, but category headings include hate speech, pornography, niche humour, dating and coverage of world events like war or famine.

In the face of so much adult-oriented content, chaperoning youngsters through the online world often feels like an uphill struggle.

Fortunately, ISPs routinely filter domestic internet connections at source, allowing users to set parental controls on broadband to weed out unsuitable or inappropriate material.

Sifting through the filters

The UK’s biggest ISPs all provide parental control tools, following an agreement reached some time ago with the UK Government.

These tools monitor incoming web traffic and selectively block sites or content deemed to be adult-only, using network-level filtering that’s enabled by default – but easy to disable if required.

Network filtering runs in parallel with (or as an alternative to) unconnected protections like restricted-access web browsers, parental controls on a child’s device or antivirus software.

Parental controls don’t stop content existing, but they do ensure it isn’t distributed into protected homes via the broadband routers that act as a domestic gateway to the internet.

These routers are blunt instruments. They might stop you visiting one porn site but not another, if the latter isn’t included in their database of prohibited URLs.

They can’t differentiate between users, so adults might be prevented from accessing gambling websites even if they wanted to.

They can’t monitor how long kids are online, restrict app installation, monitor social media activity or avoid kids checking the “I’m over 18” box on sites with a variety of content.

How do I set parental controls on broadband accounts?

The process varies by ISP, and instructions are usually available on that company’s website.

Here’s how to activate parental control settings using the UK’s largest ISP, BT – assuming you’re not using recently installed technology whose parental controls are already turned on:

Are these controls foolproof?

Sadly not.

A recently published report Ofcom revealed six per cent of children have successfully circumvented ISP-supplied parental controls, often by guessing weak administrator passwords.

More worryingly, almost as many youngsters have engaged proxy servers, showing a level of technical know-how their parents may struggle to replicate.

Many homes lack parental controls entirely. According to Ofcom, almost twice as many consumers believe ISP filters block too much content as those who feel they don’t block enough.

Even among router-supported devices, only computers, tablets and smartphones can really access the full gamut of online content.

Games consoles, smart TVs and other web-enabled devices may have web browsers, but they’re clunky to use and often too slow to be practical.

A considered decision about which devices to give to children can further reduce the risk of them stumbling across age-inappropriate content.

On that note, mobile data carried over the 4G and 5G networks is unaffected by domestic ISP restrictions.

That’s worth bearing in mind, especially if your child has a smartphone or SIM card-equipped tablet in their possession…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!