Ultimate Parent’s Guide to VPN (Virtual Private Networks)

Parents VPN guide

If you are even slightly clued up about online privacy and security, it is likely you have already heard something about Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

If you haven’t, it is also quite likely that your kids have already tried to talk to you about VPNs.

They probably looked aghast when you had to say you didn’t know much about them. A lot of them could well be using a VPN already.

But don’t worry.

That’s precisely why we have written this guide – to tell you everything that a parent should know about VPNs, so you can have an informed talk with your child about them and ensure that your child is getting all of the benefits of a VPN with none of the risks.

You can also benefit from this guide yourself.

VPNs are increasingly essential for internet users of any age who want to keep their internet-enabled devices secure and private. If you aren’t already using one on your smartphone and computer, you probably should be.

This is a fairly comprehensive guide and if you can read it from start to finish, you will come away knowing everything you need to know about VPNs.

But don’t worry if you don’t.

There is a lot of information to take in, so don’t worry if you want to take it one section at a time. This guide isn’t going anywhere and we will be keeping up-to-date with all the relevant information, so feel free to bookmark us and dip in and out when you need to brush up on something.

Part One: All about VPNs

All about VPNs

We will begin with the basics.

In this section, we will explain all of the key facts about VPNs to enable you to have informed and authoritative conversations about them with your kids.

Even if you are a total novice and have never even heard of a VPN before, this section should get you quickly up to speed.

What is a VPN?

What is a VPN

VPN is an acronym that stands for Virtual Private Network.

That is usually enough for some beginners to give up but stick with us because although a Virtual Private Network sounds like a hugely complex thing, they are actually remarkably simple.

When you connect to the internet with your computer or mobile device without using a VPN, your device will establish a connection and then send data to the websites and online services you want to use.

This data travels freely between your device and the sites you use. But often there is nothing protecting this data and any hacker who wants to, could intercept and copy this data and use the information it contains.

It's worth noting, this is the extreme case. Many websites now use HTTPS which secures this data, but there are plenty of other examples where the data isn't secured.

A VPN is a security tool that protects your data while it is moving between your device and the websites and services you are using.

When you connect to a VPN, your internet data is redirected to a private and secure server – a server is really just another large and powerful computer.

The connection between your device and this server is secured using something called encryption. Encryption is a method of codifying the data you are sending. This means that if any hacker intercepts it, they can’t actually read it.

The best VPNs use a type of encryption known as 256-bit AES encryption.

You don’t have to worry about the name – the important thing is that this encryption in completely uncrackable and this means your data is totally secure.

Once your data has travelled down this encrypted connection and reached the VPN server, it is then unencrypted and redirected to the websites you want to visit.

But crucially, before it goes, the IP Address that it is stamped with is changed.

Learn More

An IP (Internet Protocol) Address is an individual code that is unique to every internet connection around the world.

It is your IP Address that lets websites work out where you are located and lets government’s, companies and others track your internet activity back to you.

By changing this IP Address, you are helping to ensure that your online activity is private and cannot be traced back to you.

Any website you use can only trace your data back as far as the VPN server, while your internet provider cannot see where anything goes after it reaches the server.

In other words, a VPN ensures that everything you do online is secure and private.

What can you use a VPN for?

What can you using a VPN for?

Now you know what a VPN is, you are probably thinking that it works like a simple online security tool, in much the same way as anti-virus software or a firewall.

But actually, VPNs have a wide variety of different uses.

We will outline what you kids are most likely to be using them for in great detail in part two of this guide, but briefly, the most common uses for a VPN include:

  • Online security – As we have already discussed, a VPN encrypts all of your online data which keeps it safe from hackers and other prying eyes.
  • Online privacy – When you are connected to a VPN, websites cannot see where you are logging on from, your ISP cannot see what you are doing online, and any other prying eyes cannot monitor your online activity either. In other words, you are much more private online.
  • Use public Wi-Fi safely – Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously insecure. But if you are connected to a VPN, the security and privacy protections they afford you mean you can use these networks with far more confidence.
  • Access geo-blocked websites – Some websites and online platforms are only available to users in certain countries. The most common example of this is online streaming services but in authoritarian countries where governments practice online censorship, this can refer to far more websites. But by using a VPN, it is possible to unblock these geo-restricted websites and access them from anywhere.
  • Access business networks when travelling – A lot of companies require users to access content on secure intranets. If they are travelling overseas or working remotely, a VPN can provide a secure connection to these networks.
  • Access home network securely – In a similar way, a VPN can also be used to establish a secure connection to your home network and share content and files, or even play online games, securely.

Are VPNs legal?

Are VPNs legal?

VPNs and encryption more generally have garnered plenty of headlines in recent years and there has been no shortage of criticism from governments and law enforcement bodies about the impact they claim it has on criminal investigations.

Both the UK and US governments have called for the likes of Facebook not to introduce encryption onto their products.

Developments like these have led to a lot of people questioning whether using a VPN is actually legally allowed or not.

Let us reassure you that if you are reading this in the UK, the USA, the EU, or just about any other free and democratic nation on earth, connecting to a VPN is absolutely 100% legal.

Indeed, most cyber-security experts from countries like these will actively recommend it.

There are a few countries where it is currently illegal to use a VPN.

These are all authoritarian countries where the regimes in power use information control to maintain their grip on power and suppress the rights of their people to freedom of speech.

At the time of writing, there are just a handful of countries in the world where using a VPN is classed as illegal, disallowed or questionable. These are:

  1. Iraq
  2. Belarus
  3. Turkmenistan
  4. North Korea
  5. Communist China
  6. Russia

There are also severe restrictions on the use of VPNs in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.

If you are found to be using a VPN in these countries, you are likely to face criminal consequences with the precise punishments varying depending on the country and the nature of your VPN use.

Are VPNs safe?

Are VPNs safe?

There are hundreds of different VPN companies on the market. Each is a separate company, offering a different service, and using different terms and conditions.

As a result, it is not really possible to answer this question with and short and simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

The best quick answer we can give is that VPNs can be safe – but it depends on which one you choose.

The best VPNs use uncrackable encryption which means that all of your data is secure and safe.

They will also have robust and verified privacy policies that guarantee that they do not collect data about what you do online or how you are using the internet.

This is known as a no-user logs guarantee.

Most VPNs claim to offer this, but the devil is frequently in the detail, and when you dig into the details of the privacy policies of many VPNs, they are often recording far more information than you would like.

Then there is the thorny question of so-called free VPNs.

We will go into this in more detail below, but essentially free VPNs have to make their money somewhere and this will usually mean compromising either your privacy, your security, or both.

We would confidently go so far as to say that ‘free’ VPNs are not safe. The key is to do your research.

Read the detailed VPN reviews we post on our site and see what conclusion we have reached. Each review will outline where a VPN delivers and where it doesn’t.

If we feel a VPN isn’t safe to use, we are never afraid of saying so.

If security and online safety are of paramount importance to you, there are certain features you can look for in a VPN.

What is the difference between a corporate VPN and a personal VPN?

With the outbreak of coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown that was put in place in most countries around the world, many found themselves suddenly working remotely.

This has led to a spike in VPN use generally, among people of all ages. Still, it has also created some confusion in the minds of many people about the difference between a corporate VPN and a personal VPN. And there is a big difference.

The most critical distinction is who the VPN is designed to protect. A corporate VPN is designed to protect the privacy and security of the company or organisation using it. It is not intended to protect individual users.

A corporate VPN will usually only protect the connection between your device and your company’s network. Any other online activity you are doing is likely not to be protected.

Inside a corporate VPN, you are also still subject to the network policies of your company.

This may well mean that your online activity is being monitored or recorded by your company. It is also likely to mean that your access to some sites and online services will be restricted.

A high-quality personal VPN is designed to protect individual users. It will encrypt everything you do online, which means that no-one can see the websites you are visiting or what you get up to online, not even your ISP.

It will hide your IP Address to help you use the internet anonymously and it will also keep no record of what you are doing online. Personal VPNs will also help you to unblock censored content.

So, if you use a VPN with your work, it could well be a very different tool to the one your kids are using. And frankly, if online security and privacy are important to you, it is the personal VPNs that deliver.

Free VPNs

Free VPNs

Another regular question we are asked about VPNs is why people should bother paying for them.

A quick Google search will show you that there are hundreds of free VPNs out there that claim to offer the same service as a premium VPN without the fees.

If your child is already using a VPN, there is a good chance that it is one of these free ones.

Most premium VPNs require adult payment and if your kids are using one without your knowledge, they are therefore likely to opt for a free one.

But the old saying that “nothing comes free” in life definitely applies here.

VPNs cost money to run. There is a lot of technical infrastructure that needs to be in place and a fair few clever people are required to keep it running.

Premium VPNs cover these costs and make their profits through user fees. A premium VPN will cost you a couple of pounds and if you are happy to sign up for a longer time period, there are often great deals available.

If you are not paying a fee for your VPN, you will be paying for it in some other way. And this will usually involve compromising your privacy and security in one of the following ways:

  • Data – Free VPNs will frequently harvest user data and sell it off to anyone willing to pay. This means that records of your online activity will be available for advertisers, governments, hackers, and anyone else willing to buy it.
  • Malware – There are scores of examples of free VPNs that come packaged together with dangerous malware. When you download the VPN app, you are also allowing this malware onto your device. It can then set about harvesting all your data, injecting adverts, or even hijacking your device altogether.
  • Adverts – Some VPNs make their money through advertising. When you use them, they will inject adverts not only into your VPN app but also your browser and other apps too. These adverts will often take over and no-one wants to spend half their time online closing annoying pop-up ads.
  • Security – Encrypting your data and keeping it secure is expensive, so some free VPNs don’t bother. Their website might say they are encrypting your data, but analysis has shown that more than a few simply don’t bother and your data is no more secure than it would be without using a VPN. A growing number of free VPNs are also owned by companies based in Communist China, where the law requires all data to be made available to the regime.

Where a free VPN doesn’t compromise your privacy and security in some way, it will often compromise the service you receive instead.

This can include things like:

  • Speeds – Free VPNs frequently offer painfully slow connection speeds. They will also regularly throttle the speeds of certain data-intensive sites such as online streaming platforms that place a high demand on their infrastructure.
  • Data – Premium VPNs almost all come with unlimited data usage. This means you can do anything you like online, regardless of how much data you use, and still be protected by their service. Free VPNs often have very small data or bandwidth limits which invariably limits what you can do online to little more than emails and browsing.
  • Servers – Most premium VPNs will offer users a choice of multiple servers in a variety of different locations all over the world. This is not the case with free VPNs. They will usually only offer a couple of servers at the most, often just one. With thousands of users likely to be using these limited servers, speeds and reliability are almost always poor.
  • Features – A premium VPN will come with a variety of different features that you can use to customise their service to suit your needs. This is not the case with free VPNs where connecting to the server is often as much as they can do.

The standard advice from most experts is that free VPNs are more trouble than they are worth. They place users at risk and all they will save you is a couple of dollars or pounds a month.

Don’t waste your time with them and don’t let your kids either.

If they are going to use a VPN, make sure it is a good and reliable one, even if that means paying a small amount each month.

VPN alternatives

VPN Alternatives

If you have read this far, you are hopefully feeling a lot more confident about VPNs than you were. But there is one more swerve ball we need to throw.

There are some other tools which offer either the same or a very similar service to a VPN that you should also know about:

Tor

The Tor network is perhaps the best-known alternative to a VPN.

Tor (which stands for The Onion Router) redirects your data via multiple different nodes (other computers or servers) to protect user anonymity.

It helps to ensure you can access data during an internet shutdown and evade censorship, but it is not perfect and it can slow your internet connection down a lot.

Tor is often known in relation to the ‘dark' or ‘deep' web, allowing users to access websites and services hidden from the traditional web.

Smart DNS

A Smart DNS (which stands for Domain Name Server) can help you access blocked content, usually TV streaming services.

It works by rerouting your requests on the service's end through servers in other countries, similar, but not the same as a VPN.

A Smart DNS can be faster than a VPN but this is because it doesn’t encrypt your data, nor does it send it all down any special routes.

Psiphon

Psiphon uses VPNs but also other obfuscation technologies that can help evade censorship.

The layered protection offered by Psiphon has made it popular in authoritarian countries where online censorship is common such as Communist China, Iran, and Turkey.

The downside to Psiphon is that it only works with web browsers and cannot protect other apps.

Lantern

Lantern is a technology that uses peer-to-peer connections to enable you to access the internet when connections are down.

It can unblock censored content and is popular in countries such as Communist China for precisely this reason.

But beware. Lantern doesn’t deliver anonymity or protect your privacy. Indeed, its privacy policy makes it clear it collects a great deal of information about your online habits.

Orchid

Orchid is still technically a VPN but it is what is known as a ‘decentralised VPN‘.

Rather than pay for a service per month, you use tokens to pay only for the data that you transfer.

A significant difference is you're not tied to one central provider and is where the term ‘decentralised' comes from. You can move between providers based on your usage.

As you can see, all of these alternatives do part of the job that a VPN can do. Some do more, some less and others do things slightly differently.

Part Two – What are your kids using a VPN for?

What are kids using a VPN for

By now, you should have a fairly clear idea of what a VPN is and what it can do. But what you might not be so clear about is what your children might be using it for.

You would be forgiven for thinking, based on what you have read so far, that everything about a VPN is positive. But this isn’t strictly speaking true.

While VPNs have been developed with the best of intentions and serve a lot of excellent purposes, there is no denying that they can also be used for less salubrious purposes.

In this section, we will delve into the things that your kids are likely to be using their VPN for in a little more detail and be open about both the potential positive and negatives uses of a VPN:

The Positives

VPN positives

#1 – Online Security

A VPN is one of a suite of tools that internet users of all ages should be using to stay safe online.

Kids are increasingly taught about cybersecurity from an early age in schools and VPNs are a regular feature in most online security resources that are aimed at kids.

While there are quite a lot of adult internet users that have never heard of VPNs before, the percentage of kids that are unaware of them is a lot lower. The same can also be said about the importance of encryption.

It is therefore quite likely that your kids have learned about how VPNs can help to enhance their online security and decided to start using one.

If they have, they have taken a wise and responsible decision because there are a great many online security threats out there and with kids spending longer and longer online these days, they are increasingly vulnerable.

What are the primary online security and privacy risks for kids?

The type of risks that kids can face online are not too dissimilar to everyone else. They include:

  • Hackers – Hacking is an increasingly profitable profession. As a result, there are a growing number of people who choose to make a killing by hacking and stealing from other internet users. Kids are often an easy target for hackers as they are less security-conscious than other users.
  • Malicious software – Hackers will often attempt to persuade kids to download files that contain malware, spyware, ransomware, or other malicious software. Once downloaded, this malware can steal data, hijack devices, take over online accounts, and do many more nasty things.
  • Phishing attacks – A popular method of cyberattack is known as phishing. Victims receive an email that looks genuine but when you click on the link or download the attachment, it installs malware or compromises your online security in some way. Kids can be less aware of phishing attacks and therefore fall victim to them much more easily.
  • Data theft – Your children probably do more online than you ever dreamt of but this also means their data is an attractive target for cybercriminals. Personal or financial information is valuable and can be sold to third parties or even used to blackmail your kids.
  • Corporate data harvesting – Kids use a lot of social media and other online services but sadly, some of these are less than transparent in what they do with their user’s data. Sites like Tik Tok harvest almost every available piece of user data and will sell it or profit, share it with unpleasant governments, or both.
  • Online surveillance – Governments, law enforcement agencies, even your own ISPs and mobile data providers will often record what you do online and store this data in a format that can be accessed later. There is a risk of this data being stolen and used for nefarious purposes.

VPNs are not a panacea for all of these threats. But by encrypting all of your online data, they can help you to stay safe online as part of a suite of online security tools that everyone (including you) should be using.

#2 – Online privacy

If you had spoken to any child ten or even five years ago and asked them about online privacy, it is quite likely that you would have got little more than a vacant stare by way of reply.

These days, fortunately, things are different and online privacy is something that everyone is more aware of. Kids are no different.

The myriad of privacy risks kids have to contend with these days are substantial and include things like:

  • Government surveillance – Both democratic and authoritarian governments have developed a worrying habit of hoovering up people’s internet habits under the guise of keeping us safe from terrorism. The merits or otherwise of this is a debate for another time. Still, either way, the privacy implications are enormous with everyone’s internet activity being logged by their ISPs for a year under current legislation.
  • Data hungry companies – It’s not just governments who collect user data. It is hugely valuable information and companies like Google and Facebook have built their entire business model around processing this data for profit. These profits come at the expense of their user’s privacy and kids tend to use these sites more than most.
  • Identity theft – The wealth of personal data that is available online makes identity theft an even bigger threat to kids. Hackers aplenty are trying to gather as much information as possible and they can use it to open up fake accounts, steal money, and much more.
  • Law enforcement agencies – Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which the US law enforcement agencies invade their privacy of their citizens. There is plenty of evidence that UK agencies are similarly intrusive and despite Snowden’s revelations, these practices are still commonplace.
  • Authoritarian regime – The regimes currently in control of China and Russia are endlessly hostile to the UK and its democratic allies and this hostility extends online. They have armies of hackers gathering information on everyone they can and no-one is immune, regardless of age.

VPNs will not solve all your online privacy concerns in one fell swoop either. But they are a crucial online privacy tool that allows you to be somewhat (although not wholly) anonymous while you are online.

#3 – Access legitimate content at school / at home

It is not just kids who are more computer-savvy these days but their schools are as well.

Many schools operate secure internal networks (intranets) that allow their pupils and staff to access the various online resources and services that they need securely.

But there are two obvious drawbacks to these school intranets:

  • Kids cannot always access these online resources when they are off the school site.
  • School intranets often restrict access to external resources that kids need for their work.

Some schools will provide a type of corporate VPN to allow their pupils to access the school intranet remotely. If your child is lucky enough to attend a school that gives their pupils’ laptops or tablet computers for their work, this is particularly common.

But, as we mentioned earlier in this guide, these corporate VPNs are very different from a personal one. They can often log information about what pupils are doing and restrict access to certain services.

A lot of pupils will choose to use a personal VPN alongside these tools to protect their own privacy and allow them to access everything they need.

This might feel like they are breaching their school’s rules, and technically this might be true. But there is a strong logic behind taking this step.

The other issue is trying to access legitimate content inside schools which falls foul of schools censorship regime, which can often be totally overbearing.

By connecting to a VPN inside school, pupils are able to bypass school filters and access essential online materials that would otherwise be blocked. It is quite simple to do:

  1. Sign up for a VPN – we suggest you use one of the VPNs recommended in this guide. If possible, try to sign up and download the VPN app on a separate network as some schools will try to block VPN sites too.
  2. Connect to your VPN – Once you have established an internet connection in school, connect to a VPN server.
  3. Go online – With a VPN connection established, your kid’s school network administrators will be unable to see what you are doing online beyond your connection to the VPN server. This means they are unable to identify and block access to any site you need to visit.

Parents should be aware that most schools will actively discourage pupils from using a VPN in this way. Some may ban their use like this altogether.

But they have their own agenda and it is up to you as a parent to decide whether you think that is more important than the stated advantages of using a VPN that we have already discussed.

#4 – Using public Wi-Fi safely

Public Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere these days. Every shop, café, and library offers it. It is available on buses and trains. Some town centres even have their own networks that let you get online anywhere.

But all of these public Wi-Fi networks have one thing in common; they are notoriously insecure.

Public Wi-Fi networks are, by their very definition, open for anyone to connect to. They either have no password protection at all, or their password is widely advertised, which makes it next to meaningless.

Statistics

Recent data shows that 81% of people are happy to use public Wi-Fi connections.

With kids spending more time online than any other demographic, this suggests they are more likely than anyone else. But just 1% of these people use a VPN to protect themselves on a public Wi-Fi network.

What this means is that hackers can access these networks as easily as any other user. And if a hacker wants to use this access to spy on other network users, it is very simple to do.

While things have improved with the likes of more websites using the secure ‘https' system, it is still possible in some circumstances for a novice hacker to use tools to do some snooping.

Another popular hack is to set up a rival public Wi-Fi network.

This can have a very similar name to the real thing and will often be easier to connect to. Users will connect without even thinking and once they are, hackers can intercept all their data, upload malware or worse.

Depending on where the public Wi-Fi network is located, people will use them for almost anything, including:

  • Web browsing
  • Social media
  • Online chatting/messaging
  • Video calling
  • Online gaming
  • Streaming movies and TV shows
  • Online shopping
  • Managing money online

For kids, an additional risk of public Wi-Fi is the lack of any form of parental filter.

Very few public Wi-Fi networks will control what type of content users can or cannot see online. As a result, public Wi-Fi networks are a simple way for kids to access inappropriate content.

Many of today’s computer-savvy kids will be well aware of the risks of using public Wi-Fi networks. They may well also know that if they connect to a VPN, they can make public Wi-Fi networks much more secure.

When you connect to a VPN, everything you do online is encrypted.

As long as your VPN offers strong enough encryption, this means that you can be confident that no hacker can access your data.

And because your data is all rerouted through an external server, the public Wi-Fi network and whoever is controlling it, cannot see what websites and online services you are using too.

As a result, if your kids connect to a VPN, they can use public Wi-Fi with confidence, knowing that they are both secure and private when doing so.

Just be sure they check no-one is looking over their shoulder!

The Negatives

VPN negatives

#1 – Evading parental filters/controls

If you have already read our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide for Parents, you will know that parental controls or filters are a key tool for parents to keep their kids safe online.

There are various types of parental controls.

A lot of browsers come with content filters that allow you to stop kids from accessing inappropriate content.

There are download controls that allow you to limit what your kids can download and spend online. And device controls let you manage what you kids can and cannot do on their devices.

However, if your child is using a VPN, it can render some parental controls you are using meaningless.

This is precisely because of VPNs main security features which are so useful in keeping your kids private and secure online.

Because a VPN encrypts internet data, it is impossible for parental controls enabled on your internet provider to enforce limitations because they can not see what is being accessed.

You may fare better by using dedicated software or app-based parental controls on your child's device.

A VPN also hides the websites you are visiting because it redirects your data through an external server. This is great for stopping your ISP logging your every move but it also prevents your ISP parental filter from controlling what you can and cannot access too.

If you are dependent on your parental controls alone to control what you kids can and cannot do online, you will have to ensure you're using an app or software based filter and test it still works when connected to a VPN.

As things stand, an ISP filter isn't compatible.

Although there has been some pressure applied to major VPN companies to develop some kind of parental filter system, to date, we are not aware of any that have.

But as we explained in our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide, parental controls are not a panacea to managing what your kids are doing online. VPNs are not the only tool that can get around them either.

Instead, you should focus on communicating with kids openly about the potential risks they can be exposed to online.

It pays to agree on a family contract on internet usage, and keep internet-enabled devices in communal spaces so you can monitor what they are doing in person rather than relying on an automatic tool to do the job for you.

#2 – Accessing inappropriate content

All kids will try to access inappropriate content online at some point, whether that is sexually-explicit content, violent content, or something else.

If they are using a VPN, it becomes a lot easier for them to hide this fact from their parents.

Because VPNs mask what websites and online services you use, it becomes more difficult for you to monitor precisely which websites they are visiting.

Even if your kid is using a dodgy free VPN that logs all their online activity, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to see these records.

This is a major asset for these VPNs and access to any data of this kind will come at a price.

It is important to note that VPNs are not the only way that kids can access inappropriate content without their parent’s knowledge.

For example, there are no shortage of proxy sites out there that will allow kids to enter a URL and have their search redirected through a proxy server much as a VPN does but without the security and privacy benefits.

As we referenced in the previous section, the key to preventing your kids from using a VPN in this way is not to rely solely on automatic tools to control what they can and cannot do online.

Take a read through our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide to see other collaborative ways that you can work with your kids to give them a safer and happier online experience. Also let them enjoy the same security and privacy benefits that a VPN offers you.

As we note in that guide, if you simply try and control what your kids do online, this computer-savvy generation will always find a way around it.

A VPN is just one of the tools at their disposal.

#3 – Streaming / Downloading Content Illegally

One of the most significant selling points of a VPN is its ability to unblock streaming services around the world.

This is really useful if you are travelling abroad on holiday or for business and want to be able to access your own Netflix account or stream your favourite shows on things like the BBC iPlayer and Sky Go while you are away.

But streaming sites also contain plenty of content that is inappropriate for your kids.

You probably already use the parental filters that most streaming sites use to control what they can and cannot watch.

There is also no shortage of illegal streaming sites, that pay no heed to copyright and are packed full of violent, explicit, or otherwise inappropriate content out there.

The advent of streaming has impacted on the popularity of downloading content a bit. Still, there is no denying that torrenting movies, TV shows, and music, as well video games and other content is a still a huge deal online.

There are lots of legitimate torrenting sites out there but some still allow users to download content that is under copyright and therefore illegal to download.

As a parent, you obviously don’t want your kids to be breaking the law by torrenting movies and music illegally. But torrenting is also a means of them downloading or streaming content without your knowledge too and this could be another way that they are accessing inappropriate content too.

While the process of torrenting, streaming, or downloading files is not illegal itself, it is illegal to download content that is under copyright.

Learn More

As far back as 2016, the UK government launched a crackdown on illegal downloading (Source: BBC).

There are plenty of cases of movie studios or TV companies prosecuting people found downloading and uploading content in this way.

Some VPNs know this and don’t permit torrenting and other forms of P2P file-sharing on their service. But many more don’t and some even make torrenting a powerful feature of their service, with optimised servers especially for the task.

If your kids are torrenting or downloading files illegally, they could use a VPN to hide the fact from you. So it is essential that you communicate the risks of this with them clearly.

Torrenting is not a safe pass-time. It involves downloading content directly from other internet users so you are placing a great deal of trust in that user, who you often cannot identify or trace.

It is not unknown for torrented content to come with malware and other unpleasant addons.

There are also the obvious legal risks which it is easy to dismiss when you are sat at home in front of your computer screen but becomes all too real when there is a knock at the door from a bailiff serving you a writ.

Be sure to communicate clearly with your kids about what is and isn’t allowed and make sure that they know what is meant by copyrighted content and illegal downloading.

Explain the personal risks to them as well and apply the various techniques we discussed in our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide to monitor what they are doing online and help to keep them safe.

#5 – Unblocked illegitimate content in school

In the positives section of this part of the guide, we discussed how kids can use a VPN to access legitimate online content that might be blocked on their school intranet for one reason or another.

The flip side to this is, of course, that they might also use a VPN to access illegitimate content too.

School intranets will usually block access to any sites that might contain inappropriate content.

They also often block gaming websites, social media, streaming and video hosting sites, and other things that help kids procrastinate and can distract them from their work.

Often, these blocks go too far and end up blocking sites that kids actually need to access for their work.

Learn More

A study discovered that filters aimed at stopping pornography also blocked sexual health information (Source: Telegraph).

Then there are sites like YouTube, which contain lots of useful, educational content but are also full of non-educational entertainment content schools don’t want their pupils watching online.

While your kids could use a VPN to access important educational content, they might also use it to access other illegitimate content too.

Schools are well aware that kids use VPNs in this way and many will try to block VPNs from their network.

But if even the likes of the Netflix and the Chinese Communist regime have failed to successfully block VPNs, the chances of individual schools being successful are remote at best.

The key here as a parent is teaching your kids personal responsibility and giving them a clear understanding of what they should and shouldn’t be doing online, both at home and in school.

In our Complete Kids Online Safety Guide, we outline a range of techniques to communicate the potential risks of going online to kids.

This includes using tools like VPNs sensibly and responsibly, something that you should emphasise has to extend beyond the home and into school and other environments too.

#6 – Online gaming

You probably already think that your kids spend far too much time playing video games online and may not be entirely sure how using a VPN could exacerbate this issue.

Hopefully, if your kids play video games already, you have placed some limitations on what they can and cannot play.

As we explain in more detail in our Ultimate Parent’s Guide to Video Game Safety, there are various things you should be doing to help keep your kids safe when they are playing video games. These include things like:

  • Age Ratings – Video Games will come with an age rating if they contain any inappropriate content and it is essential that parents follow these.
  • Time limits – Control the amount of time you kids spend playing video games each day.
  • Parental Controls – Games and devices will come with different parental controls that allow you to limit the time spent playing, prevent kids from spending money on games or add-ons, and stop them from accessing inappropriate content.
  • Monitoring – Parents should keep an eye on what their kids are playing and engage with their kids over their gaming. Being part of their video gaming experience is the ideal way to keep them safe.

In that same guide, we also warn of the potential privacy risks of playing online video games and recommend the use of a VPN to help combat these risks.

However, VPNs can also be used by some kids to try and break the rules you put in place.

If they play video games while connected to a VPN, it is much harder to monitor how much time they are spending on them because you may not know they're playing games.

As we have discussed already above, it is possible to use a VPN to evade parental controls too.

It is also much harder to monitor what games they are playing and whether they are age-appropriate too. VPNs mean there will be no record of which online sites they are visiting and therefore which games they are playing.

The key to countering this is the fourth point.

Parents need to stay engaged with their kids while they are playing games. Talk to them about the games they like and even play with them. Keep their gaming devices in a communal space so you can see and hear the games they are playing too.

The privacy risks of playing some online games are significant so using a VPN is important. But that does mean you have to find a way around these potential downsides too.

As you can see from the information contained in this section, there are some pretty big risks involved in giving your kids' unrestricted access to a VPN.

This is one of the reasons why, while there is no age restriction on using a VPN, premium VPNs often require a form of payment that generally means only adults can sign up.

But despite the potential downsides to giving your child a VPN, we would argue that the benefits of a VPN are clear and overwhelming, while the risks can, by and large, be mitigated by responsible parenting.

We will address the topic of how to let your kids use a VPN safely in part four of this guide, but in the following section, we will look at our view of the top 10 family-friendly VPNs that are on the market right now and explain how to pick the right one for you.

Part Three: The Best VPNs

Best VPNs

In the previous two sections, we have gone into detail about what a VPN is and answered some of the most common questions that parents put to us about VPNs and what their kids are likely to be using them for.

One of the key takeaways that parents should have so far is that, if you are going to let your kids use a VPN, make sure it is a premium VPN that offers the best possible protection for its users.

So, the next question you probably have is, which VPN should that be?

This is where VPNCompare.co.uk comes into its own.

Our very purpose in life is to review all the top VPNs on the market right now to inform our readers about which VPNs are the best available and which leave something to be desired.

So, we set our reviewers the task of identifying which VPNs we should recommend for parents (and their children) to use.

How to choose the best VPN for you and your family

Family VPN

Our team have tested all of the top VPNs and crunched the data to create a definitive list of the best VPNs on the market for parents right now, which you will find below.

But it is important to note that different VPNs suit different users.

There are several different factors that you should use to decide which is the right VPN for you. These include things like:

  • Devices – Think about which devices you and your kids use to get online. You will ideally want to choose a VPN that offers dedicated apps for all these devices.
  • Speeds – Consider how fast your internet connection is and whether the things you and your kids do online require fast connections: this means things like online gaming and streaming HD movies. If so, you need to choose a VPN with the fastest possible connection speeds.
  • Security – Think about how important security is to you. All of the premium VPNs we recommend come with a minimum of 256-AES encryption which is uncrackable. But others come with different features that can keep your connection even more secure. Consider these if security is a priority to you.
  • Usability – Some VPNs are simple for beginners, while others lend themselves better to more experienced users. Be honest with yourself about your abilities and how quickly you are likely to pick up more advanced features and choose a VPN accordingly to suit your level.
  • Privacy – Every VPN has a different privacy policy. We recommend everyone should choose a provider with a verified no user logs guarantee. But some providers will go way beyond this while others do the bare minimum. Research the details and be sure you are making the right decision for you.
  • Location – Think about which countries you are likely to be using the internet in, and which countries you want to access content from. Then take a look at the server locations different VPN providers offer. You need to choose a VPN with servers in all the right places for you.
  • Unblocking censored content – If unblocking content in countries like Communist China and Russia is important to you, be sure to opt for a VPN that can do this. Not all are able to.
  • Unblocking streaming sites – Streaming sites often go to great lengths to try and block VPN users so if you want to unblock them, you need to be sure that you are choosing a VPN that can.

Top 10 VPNs for you and your family

Top 10 VPNs

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is one of the longest established VPNs and they've been at the top of the pile for a long time now thanks to their combination of essential services and features.

ExpressVPN retains no user logs meaning it ensures your privacy and hides your online identity. PWC has verified this claim in a comprehensive independent privacy audit.

It has robust 256-bit AES encryption and a whole host of additional security features bundled in too. And as the name implies, the connection speeds offered by ExpressVPN are among the fastest of any VPN on the market.

Dedicated apps are available for Android, Apple iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Amazon Fire TV / Stick, Linux and some select routers. There are also web-browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox.

A standout feature of ExpressVPN is how well it works at unblocking streaming services. You can watch anything from Netflix to BBC iPlayer no matter where in the world you are.

It is not the cheapest VPN on the market, but there is a huge 30-day money back guarantee offered which allows you to try their service risk-free. And if you sign up now, you can save 49% off exclusively for our readers.

Read our full review of ExpressVPN to find out more.

2. CyberGhost VPN

CyberGhost VPN is a provider that has seriously upped its game over the past year or so. It has matured from a mid-ranking VPN to a provider that has earned its place at the top table.

The usability of their apps confirmed their place on this list. They are among the most beginner-friendly we have encountered and we challenge anyone to struggle to use them.

The CyberGhost VPN apps are available for all devices including Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Routers and the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

We particularly liked the Amazon app, which makes unblocking services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and others easy. Indeed, if you want a VPN to use with streaming services, CyberGhost is an excellent bet.

Their privacy and security provisions are an area that has seen plenty of recent improvement and they now rank up there with the best.

CyberGhost VPN also lets you connect up to 7 different devices at the same time. Prices are reasonable and there is also an unbeatable 45-day money back guarantee on offer too.

Read our full review of CyberGhost VPN to find out more.

3. NordVPN

NordVPN is a high profile VPN and their sponsorship of football teams and YouTube stars means it is quite likely that your kid will name them when you talk about VPNs.

But these high profile marketing campaigns shouldn’t overshadow what is a fine VPN provider.

NordVPN has a no user logs claim that has also been verified by PriceWaterhouseCooper and is totally trustworthy.

Their encryption is robust and while there was minor security blip with one of their servers in 2019, their response and affirmative actions mean we are confident their security protections can be trusted.

NordVPN offers an extensive range of user-friendly apps covering Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS and the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Their recent adoption of the new, faster, and more secure Wirecard protocol also means they are at the cutting edge of VPN technology.

NordVPN is able to unblock Netflix, BBC iPlayer, NBC Sports, ITV Hub and more while its extensive server network and obfuscation techniques mean it is a service you can use anywhere.

There is a 30-day money back guarantee which gives you plenty of time to test the service and you can use it on as many as six devices simultaneously.

Read our full review of NordVPN to find out more.

4. IPVanish

IPVanish is another VPN that has really upped its game through 2019 in an attempt to restore its reputation, which has flagged a little since 2018 when a historical law-enforcement case raised concerns over their no logs policy.

This policy is now fully reaffirmed and IPVanish says with confidence it does not store any details about your usage or connection information and still offers robust encryption and some tremendous additional security features.

IPVanish has also increased their concurrently connected device limit to an unlimited number of devices meaning they are one of the most generous in the industry and an excellent choice for large families or ones with multiple devices.

IPVanish has long been known for its fast speeds and impressive service and this hasn’t changed. They have a vast range of apps, including ones for Windows, Mac OS, Android, and Apple iOS as well as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Linux, and various other devices.

The service also now offers the standard 30-day money back guarantee and has an excellent customer support service making them a strong choice for parents and kids alike.

Read our full review of IPVanish to find out more.

5. VyprVPN

VyprVPN is another big name in the VPN industry and offers a service that has been built on reliability and security.

Privacy didn’t used to be VyprVPN’s strong suit but they sensed where the tide was heading on that front and at the end of 2018 because a fully-fledged and independently verified no user logs service.

On top of their excellent encryption and security features, including their unique chameleon protocol that unblocks content anywhere, this makes VyprVPN a hugely impressive VPN.

It now offers excellent apps for Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS, decent connection speeds, and an impressive server network.

The popular free trial offer has now sadly been retired but they have also added a 30-day money back guarantee which offers plenty of time to try before you buy.

Read our full review of VyprVPN to find out more.

6. VPN.ac

VPN.ac is a far less high-profile VPN. But this one has been created by security professionals who have focused on service rather than marketing.

The result is an exceptional VPN that delivers one of the fastest services around.

Encryption and security levels are top-notch and they also boast a no user logs policy, although some connection records are held for 24 hours after you use their service.

Specific features have been tailor-made to allow VPN.ac users to access the internet in countries like Communist China, where censorship is rife.

The number of apps available for VPN.ac is smaller, but they still cover all the major operating systems with apps that are visually pleasing and user-friendly.

Their server network is more modest too but again covers all those areas that have the highest demand.

Users also benefit from 6 simultaneous connections with every account. There is only a 7-day money-back guarantee. A one-week trial is available for just $2 but you have to hunt in the FAQ’s on their website to find it.

Read our full review of VPN.ac to find out more.

7. Surfshark

Surfshark VPN made a spectacular entrance into the VPN market in 2018. Despite their relative youth, they still offer one of the most comprehensive and dependable VPN packages around.

Users of Surfshark benefit from robust encryption and a no user logs guarantee that guarantees user privacy.

There is a huge range of excellent, user-friendly apps available for just about every device that you can think of. Surfshark is also able to unblock almost every streaming service. It even works well in countries prone to censorship too.

On top of this, prices are extremely low and there is a 30-day money back guarantee as well as some fantastic rates if you sign up for a longer period.

Surfshark has really shaken up the VPN market since its launch and so far, hardly anyone seems to have a bad word to say about it.

Read our full review of Surfshark to find out more.

8. WeVPN

WeVPN is a relatively new VPN provider so it's worth exercising a little bit of caution if you plan to sign up to them until they're proven over time.

However, they've made our list because in our recent tests they're doing almost everything correct from the get-go.

They're also backed by a team of experts who have been in the VPN industry under different guises over the years and so for that reason we feel they should be one to watch for the future.

Prices are extremely low right now which means you can pick up a relative bargain.

They do have fewer servers than most but work with many popular streaming services. If you're a little apprehensive then you can take advantage of their 30-day money back guarantee if they're not for you.

Read our full review of WeVPN to find out more.

9. PrivateInternetAccess

PrivateInternetAccess is one of the largest VPNs in the industry and there is no doubt that their low prices attract many users.

If you want to get a premium VPN service for less, then there is no denying that Private Internet Access is a good bet, but low prices are not the only thing they bring to the table.

Private Internet Access is now owned by Kape Technologies, which also owns CyberGhost VPN, and given the improvements we have seen in that service in recent years, the future looks exceptionally bright for Private Internet Access.

The present is pretty good too. They offer a solid no user logs policy, strong encryption and decent apps which are available on most devices.

One unique feature is the ability to pay using gift cards which means you can keep your account totally anonymous.

User reviews of Private Internet Access are all generally pretty positive, which means they certainly warrant a place on this list.

Read our full review of Private Internet Access to find out more.

10. ProtonVPN

You may recognise the name of ProtonVPN from their suite of privacy products that includes the highly regarded ProtonMail encrypted webmail service.

They entered the VPN market a few years ago and have come up with a product which is competitive but without really hitting the heights of the market leaders.

ProtonVPN has a no user logs guarantee they can honour as they are based in Switzerland. As you would expect, their encryption is also rock-solid.

Their server network is more modest and there is also a more limited range of features, but there is no denying that ProtonVPN does the basics well.

There is a limited free service but this is extremely minimal, so you'll probably need to opt for one of their subscription services. These start at just €4 but it is their €8 package that offers the best value for money in our view.

Read our full review of ProtonVPN to find out more.

Part Four – How to help your child use a VPN safely

Child safety VPN

The advantages of using a VPN are clear. It is not for no reason that just about every internet security expert will advise people to use one when going online.

But as we have discussed in part two of this guide, there are some downsides to VPNs when it comes to kids.

As a parent, this probably creates something of a dilemma for you.

On the one hand, you want your kids to be safe and private when using the internet, but on the other hand, you don’t want them using a VPN to access content they shouldn’t be and getting around any restrictions you have put in place.

That’s why in this section, we have pulled together some simple rules to help you to ensure your kids can enjoy all of the benefits of a VPN without succumbing to some of the negatives:

How to tell if your child is using a VPN already

If you are not sure whether your children are already using a VPN, there are some ways that you can check.

The simplest is to check their devices to see if there are any VPN apps installed. Most kids will be using a VPN through an app rather than installing one manually, so simply scrolling through their apps should give you an answer.

Another way to check is by looking at the settings of their device to see whether there is a VPN connection established or saved.

If you already use ISP provided parental monitoring software, there should also be some telltale signs.

You may find that no websites visited are logged and there is little information on what is being accessed.

How to prevent your child from using a VPN

If you wish, you can choose to try and block your kid from using a VPN completely.

To do this, you will need to block access to the various VPN apps and websites on their devices and hope that would be enough to make them give up.

But we should stress that this is not advisable.

VPNs are an essential online security and privacy tool and are recommended by the overwhelming majority of cybersecurity experts. If you want your kids to be safe online, they need a VPN as part of their online security toolkit.

You should also be aware that there are lots of ways kids will be able to get around blocks like this.

They might download VPN apps when they aren’t connected to their home network, meaning your parental controls aren’t in place.

They might just look for a VPN you haven’t blocked – there are hundreds of VPNs out there and you won’t be able to prevent them all. The most obscure ones are likely to be the most dangerous for them to use too.

And they can also use alternatives to VPNs, such as Tor or a Proxy server. These tools will help them get around your restrictions but won’t offer all the security and privacy benefits of a premium personal VPN.

Helping your child to use a VPN safely

Far better than trying to stop your kids from using VPNs entirely is to try and help them do so safely and responsibly.

VPNs should be a part of every family’s online security toolkit and we would strongly advise all parents to read our Ultimate Guide For Parents to Online Safety and follow the detailed advise it contains.

The core advice it contains is the TEAM method as recommended by the NSPCC. This can be summarised as:

  • Talk to your children.
  • Explore the internet with them.
  • Agree on a family plan to set rules and boundaries.
  • Manage children's access to the internet using parental controls and the relevant tools.

In that guide, we stress that the key to everything is communication and making sure your kids are comfortable talking to you about their online lives and allow you to be a part of it.

This is crucial for VPN use too.

Talk to your kids about what a VPN is and why they should be using them. Discuss the potential risk and negatives that a VPN could be used for and make sure they are aware of the possible consequences.

If you do create a family plan, be sure to include VPN usage, both at home and in school, as part of it.

Perhaps most important is to ensure that your kids are not using a so-called free VPN or a VPN that is not well-reviewed and well-recommended.

Our advice would be to sign up for a premium VPN yourself and share your account with your kids.

The VPNs we have recommended in this guide are safe, secure, and private, and are ideal for your kids and yourself to use.

Almost all of the VPNs we have recommended will let you connect multiple devices to their network at the same time. The lowest simultaneous connections you should find permitted is five while some such as Surfshark will let you enjoy unlimited connections.

Download your chosen VPNs app onto all your kid’s devices and set it up together. Talk to them about how to use it and why it is so important.

Once they are using your VPN, be sure to keep an eye on what they are doing. Try to ensure they are using the internet in a communal area of the home so you can see their screen and know what they are doing.

Most importantly, keep talking about their internet habits and VPN usage on a regular basis. Communication really is the key.

A Visual Guide about VPNs

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Infographic on Silver Surfer online safety

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Conclusion

Conclusion

If you are a parent and don’t already know about VPNs, you need to learn because you can be sure that your kids will.

In this guide, we have compiled all of the information that parents need to know about VPNs into a single guide. It is a lot to take in and we understand that not everyone will read it all in one sitting.

But everything we have written in this guide is useful and we would advise all parents to make their way through it eventually.

It will be staying on our website for the foreseeable future, so feel free to bookmark it and return to dip back in if you need to refresh yourself on anything.

If there is one key message we want parents to take away from this guide, it is that while VPNs are a vital online security and privacy tool, they are not a panacea and do not come without downsides and risks.

In this guide, we have told you all about what VPNs can be used for and highlighted the negative uses as well as the positive. Crucially, we have also explained how you can ensure your kids can use VPNs responsibly.

This isn’t a simple fix. It requires long-term communication and engagement on your part and needs to be part of a broader strategy of online safety that should be applied to all your kids and the entire household.

A premium personal VPN should be at the heart of this and we have recommended the providers that our reviewers feel are the best options for a family.

We hope this guide answers all of your questions and we will continue to update it to reflect any changes or additional advice that may arise.

If you do still have any, please do share them with us below. We always try to respond to everyone who leaves a message on the site.

We would also love to hear your top VPN tips, so drop a comment in the section below to help other parents navigate this online privacy technology.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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