There are a few things parents often fret about when it comes to their children playing video games: Is the game’s content appropriate for their child? Are they having trouble tearing themselves away from the console? Just who are they talking to online in that headset?
Compounding these concerns is the fact mom and dad can’t always be around. Some consoles are portable, too, such as the Nintendo Switch, which a child can take to their bedroom and close the door.
Most kids play video games – about 38.5 million U.S. kids (aged 2-12), or 74 percent of all U.S. children do, according to research firm EEDAR.
And more than one-third (36 percent) of them play on video game consoles.
The good news is you can take control of your kid’s console – and no, you don’t need to be super tech-savvy to know how to do it.
Here’s how to easily enable parental controls, whether you’ve got a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch.
A parent’s guide to enabling controls on PlayStation 4
Whether you have a PlayStation 4, PS4 Pro, and PlayStation VR, go to the Settings menu on console’s menu displayed on your TV screen – the icon looks like a briefcase – and select Parental Controls>Family Management. Once inside, select PS4 System Restrictions.
You’ll first need to type in a four-digit passcode. By default, it’s four zeros, but be sure to change it so no one can easily guess it. You can change the passcode by selecting the last option: “Change Passcode.”
Select “Default Parental Controls,” which lets you set what games your kids can play, based on their age: The lower the level, the tighter the control.
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For example, Level 2 is for Early Childhood, for games rated as having content intended for young children, according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Level 3 is for games with content generally suitable for “Everyone,” or ages 6 or older. Level 4 is for games rated “Everyone 10+,” for ages 10 and older, Level 5 allows for “Teen”-rated games for 13 and older, and Level 9 is for games rated “Mature” by the ESRB, for those 17 and older. These suggested ages are merely ESRB guidelines, so you can decide if your child is mature enough.
Once these controls are set, if your kids try to play, say, an “M”-rated game, they’ll have to type in the passcode to play.
You can also set age restrictions for Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, to prevent young kids from watching inappropriate movies and TV shows on disc, as well as restricting access to PlayStation VR content, or the use of the PS4’s web browser, if you like. To implement those controls, it’s a simple choice of yes or no. Return to the PS4 System Restrictions area and you can also use a web filter to block certain websites from being displayed.
You can also control the amount of time family members can play games. To do so, you’ll want to set up a user profile for everyone in the home, under the Family Management tab. You can also choose to disable text, video, and voice chat messages, block user-generated video and pictures, as well as restrict content displayed in the PlayStation Store.
Parental controls on Xbox One
To set up Family Settings for Xbox One (as well as Xbox One X and Xbox One S consoles), you must be the administrator on the game console, and then set up an account for everyone else who uses it. This is handled by selecting your name in the top left corner of your Xbox home screen, and under Account, choose Family Settings and then select Manage family members to add new accounts. (Inside, you’ll also see a section here called “Family on the web” to set restrictions to online content, and you can review it in the Web filtering area under Content Restrictions.)
You can now set up permissions per account by navigating to “Privacy & Online Safety,” under Account; there you can manage the privileges and permissions for Xbox Live and control what apps are allowed. Under the Xbox Live Privacy section, you can choose “Child defaults,” “Teen defaults,” “Adult defaults” or “Custom,” if you want to customize the options per user.
In the App Privacy section, you can manage advertising, web use, location information, camera and microphone permissions, pricy settings per app, and more.
To set or review the parental controls and family settings per Xbox One user, select Content Restrictions from the Account page and you can see what’s allowed and what’s not, as well as what web filters are in place, per user.
Family Settings on Xbox can even create an Activity Report for kids, so they can see their own gaming habits, including screen time limits. Kids can also request extensions to their time on the console or PC, which parents can approve or decline.
Many of the privacy and online safety settings can also be managed from Xbox.com on a computer’s web browser, too.
Switch-ing on video game controls for your Nintendo Switch
Once you power up the Nintendo Switch, select the System settings icon from the main menu, and then select Parental Controls from the list on the left-hand side of the screen.
Here you can watch the full Nintendo Switch parental controls introductory video, which will tell you to download the free Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app, available for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices. You can find the app at the App Store, the Google Play store, or go to p.nintendo.com.
The first step is to sign into the app with the same Nintendo account that’s on the Nintendo Switch – you’ll need to know the login name or email address and the password. If you don’t have an account, you can create one. To link the app on a mobile device to the Nintendo Switch, you’ll need to type the six-digit code provided by the app into the Nintendo Switch.
Now, on the app, tap Set Parental Controls. The first choice you’ll have is to set the daily limit on play time. You can choose one or two hours, for example, less or more, or no limits at all.
That is, by enabling the Play-Time Limit feature for your Nintendo Switch console, you can set how long and how late the console can be used by your family. Once the time limit is reached, a notification will pop-up on the Nintendo Switch screen to inform the current player.
Next, you select the age restriction (such as Child, Pre-Teen, or Teen) and select what you want to restrict, such as games and other software, posting screenshots or videos to social media or you could restrict communicating with others over the Nintendo Switch.
For games, if you choose to restrict Mature-rated titles, a 10-year-old, for example, won’t be able to load a game rated “Mature.”
Of course, you can make changes to these restrictions at any time – such as when the child ages and you may want to loosen some of these restrictions – but you will need to know the four-digit PIN code on the app, which is emailed to you once you register the app.
The app also lets you track the amount of play time for each family member on the system.
Finally, you can use the parent or guardian Nintendo account to set purchasing restrictions on the Nintendo eShop, which has downloadable games. To do so, visit accounts.nintendo.com and sign in using the Nintendo account used to create the child’s account.
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Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at www.marcsaltzman.com.