Making the Most of School Days with Screen Time

by Anna Hughes on November 22, 2017
How do we keep our children focused in school? We all remember what school was like back in the day, and that was before the era of smartphones, portable game consoles, and other items that can suck in our attention and keep it firmly away from the teacher, no matter how good they are. Yet kids also need phones to contact you, look up directions, and make use of other features. How do you balance those needs with the need for focus?

iPhone parental controls

Teaching, And Enforcing, Responsibility

Often, in situations like this, it’s a balance between education and enforcement. Just like anybody else, kids will often object, strenuously, to rules they see as unfair or unevenly enforced, and want to know the justification for a rule. Some might even complain about a lack of trust. So, before you give them a phone, have a plan and rules in place.

Start with a family meeting before handing over the phone. Lay out the rules of owning a phone and how the obligations of school come first. These will depend on the family and your children: Some make phone time dependent on grades, others make phone usage outside of communication and emergencies a privilege. Think about how you want your kids to use their phones, and make a point of asking them how they plan to use them.

Don’t hesitate to set specific boundaries. Young minds are still developing the experience and tools they need to grasp the consequences of their actions, and as we all know, that can make them all about the immediate experience with no understanding of the long term. So they’re not necessarily going to see the long-term good, requiring you to step in.

iPhone parental controls

So, before you hand over the phone, install tools that let you control how it’s used and when. Screen Time, for example, lets you block off times where kids need to focus on school, not on friends. Make it clear both why these blocks are in place and that it’s a matter of education, not punishment. Give kids the space to ask questions about rules and why you’ve implemented them.

Also, make it clear what violating these rules will entail. Consequences should be both positive and negative, and there should be a clear line between actions and their results.

Changing Rules Over Time

Any system you lay down will need to be flexible. They might ask you to loosen up the rules for vacations, days off, and other situations where they’re not at school or have nothing to do. So work out what’s acceptable on days off, what’s contingent on homework, and other rules.

Remember, your rules will change over time. As kids get older and take on more responsibilities or after-school actions, it may become a bit fuzzy as to what’s school and what isn’t. Should kids have their phones free when they’re waiting around on the bench for soccer or softball? That’ll be up to you, and potentially, their coach or the adult in charge.

But, no matter what, have rules in place, and remember that Screen Time can help. For more about Screen Time, try it for free.

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Three easy offline activities to keep the kids distracted this Thanksgiving

by Anna Hughes on November 16, 2017
Thanksgiving, in an ideal world, is a valuable time to be with our families. To laugh, to embrace one another, to joyfully reminisce about the good old days. To make new memories and enjoy a day full of meaningful conversations with loved ones.This scenario is of course completely fictional for most. Anyone with children who claims their Thanksgiving was in any way straightforward or dreamlike, is probably bending the truth quite significantly. Especially if they were the ones hosting the festivities.

There’s the late-night food prep, the cleaning and decorating, the mental preparation for pending potential or inevitable family dramas. Not to mention the daily challenges (to put it politely) set mostly by the smallest person/people who share your home.

It is definitely tempting to give the kids some bonus screen time on their tablet or phone just to keep them out of the way while we dress and stuff the turkey, set tables, quietly glug eggnog etc. With the parental controls Screen Time provides, this is easy to do without the usual fear of overindulgence/online dangers/switch-off meltdowns.

And that’s fine.

Or, rather than lose our children to their devices while we do all of the work, we could always find ways to get them involved with the preparations (bear with us here).

The tasks you set needn’t be anything complicated. Baking something simple or making table decorations for example not only gets them away from their screens, it will also get them using and developing their creative skills, math skills, science, reading, time telling…the list goes on.

Who knows, you might even bond a bit too.

Then once your house is filled with the sweet smells of pumpkin pie and your table is scattered with lovingly crafted decorations, you could treat your offspring to some bonus time on their device as a ‘well done for being so helpful’ reward. Which also means more ‘you’ time later on. Everyone wins 😉

We’ve scoured the pages of Pinterest to find the best Thanksgiving recipes and crafts for you to try with your kids. Not only that, but we at Screen Time Labs have MADE each one to ensure they are as quick and as easy as promised (kids attention spans vs parents patience levels were taken very seriously during the testing period).

 

Evidence is posted below in our quick video tutorials, each lasting less than 60 seconds.

We’d love to see your creations. Feel free to share on here or on our Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter feeds using #kidsunplugged.

Successful AND unsuccessful attempts are all welcome! Good luck 🙂

Mini Pumpkin Pies (Thank you @crafty_morning)

Turkey Cupcakes (Thanks @MarthaStewart)

Turkey Paper Bag Puppets (Thanks @1littleproject!)

 

 

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How to Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores Without Complaining

by Anna Hughes on November 15, 2017
Chores are an invaluable part of childhood — at least according to parents. Kids have a different view. But while kids and parents may never entirely agree on the joys of raking leaves, you can at least get them to lift a finger without complaining. But how?
Parental controls on iPad

Chores build responsibility. But how to get kids to do them?

Build Structure

It all starts with structure. Part of the problem with chores, as anybody who’s ever heard (or said) “I’ll do it later!” is time management. We all know that chores seem like they’ll take longer than they actually do and that it’s more fun to watch TV and text friends. So, build some structure into the day. Set aside a block of time, every day, that’s “chore time” for the whole family. Create a rotating chore schedule so nobody’s doing the same thing at the same time every day. Or set up a game structure where whoever does the most chores for the month wins a prize. It doesn’t need to be rigid, but structure decidedly helps.

Explain Why Chores Are Good

Some kids are obstinate, true, but more often than not, kids are like adults in that they don’t like doing boring things that they don’t understand the motivation for. Imagine explaining your day to your eight-year-old self. Would they jump for joy at the idea of attending meetings, doing laundry, or waiting in line at the DMV? Probably not! But we do these things for what they get us, and if kids have an understanding that they’re building skills and that a cleaner house is a good thing, they’re more likely to get behind the idea of chores.

Parental controls on iPad

Hard work leads to rewards.

Tie Chores To Rewards

A good way to resolve two parenting tasks at once is to tie rewards like time with screens to chores done. You can do this any number of ways; every hour of chores can be “paid” with a set amount of screen time. Or a certain number of chores done leads to a day out at the movies, or more time with friends, or any of a set number of other things kids want. The idea is to get them associating chores with good things, not punishment.

Do Your Chores

Every parent knows all too well kids imitate what they see from the adults around them. If dishes pile up in the sink and the yard goes unraked, kids will assume that housework is somebody else’s job. After all, you don’t do it, why should they? So, if you want your kids to do their chores, you have to ensure you’re getting yours done. This shouldn’t be a source of guilt, however; you shouldn’t be scrubbing toilets while running a fever. Just make a point of setting a good, healthy example.

Chores will always probably be a point of disagreement, no matter how in-step the family is, and no matter how carefully you structure time and set up ways to do it. Push comes to shove; nobody enjoys chores, just the things they do during chores. But with a little conversation and a little agreement, everybody can pitch in and get the house clean. One thing that helps? Taking screens off the table until chores are done. Sign up for Screen Time now!

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Four Ways Technology Has Made Parenting Easier

by Anna Hughes on November 8, 2017
Focusing on the downside of kids and technology is easy. Stranger danger, cyberbullying, and plain old bad behavior, from profanity-riddled rants on Twitter to tasteless pranks on YouTube, seem to be in the news and our lives constantly. That makes it easy to miss the upside of technology and parenting, and how it solves a lot of problems. Stop and consider the following:

Parenting hacks

Libraries Are At Your Children’s Fingertips

While the modern library has become far more than a place to just borrow books, and families still go there to enjoy activities and relax in a lovely public space, when kids need information, they can now easily find it on their smartphone or tablet. Whether they need the full text of a public domain book to find a quote for a book report, need access to government data to make a point in a research paper, or just want to find out more about the world and explore it, they’ve got a vast wealth of data just a few clicks away.

Education Is Handier

One big advantage of phones and tablets is they can be filled with educational games and tools. Kids can point their phone at the night sky and discover constellations, play with virtual chemistry sets, chase Carmen Sandiego around the globe, and more, from their phones. Also useful is the fact that educational materials, like podcasts, are just a click away, letting kids explore science, history, and literature more deeply. It is as if you have your own professor in your pocket.

Parenting hacks

Tablets are keys to learning.

Communication Has Never Been Easier

Think back to when you were in middle school or high school. Remember having to be near a phone, in case your parents needed to find you? Now, you probably just send your kids a text, call them, or contact them on WeChat, Facebook, or a host of other messaging tools. One of the nice side effects of a phone in every pocket is that you and your kids can always be in touch, instead of having to lurk near a phone or keep track of a suite of phone numbers.

You Know Where They Are

Thanks to GPS, mapping capabilities, and other tools, it’s never been easier for kids to find their way home, or for you to find your children. Even setting aside child-tracking apps, finding a phone, even a phone’s precise coordinates, is a simple task. Some parents even use “geofencing” apps to set limits about where teens can go; if they wander outside those limits with their phone, you get a ping.

Having complicated feelings about technology is normal. Even as it makes our lives easier in some respects, it introduces or aggravates new problems. We’ve all had to deal with the misbehaving family member on Facebook, where before we just ignored them the few times a year we saw them. But technology has upsides, and it’s important to remember and embrace those. Kids reading more books, playing more games, learning more about the word, and being in touch is a good thing. Of course, when it’s time for screens to be put away, the right tools can help you find that balance. Contact us to learn more about Screen Time.

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The Top Benefits of Using a ‘Bedtime Blocker’ on Your Child’s Phone

by Anna Hughes on November 1, 2017
Why use a “bedtime blocker?” Parents often find themselves wondering how to best control phone and tablet use, especially when kids need tablets for schoolwork or use them as part of a bedtime routine. But there are many, many good reasons for a bedtime blocker.

Bedtime blocker

It Helps Us Sleep

Scientists are still arguing over how our screens are affecting our health, but it is clear that using screens around bedtime just isn’t the best idea. Current science points to the light from screens making it harder for us to get to sleep, keeping us awake longer, and disrupting our sleep rhythms. Most screens have a bluish light which, in absolute terms, reads to the eye and brain like sunlight. In people, that generally means our production of melatonin, which helps us regulate sleep, is slowed down, making it harder to doze off and making our sleep more fitful. Screens are essentially telling our eyes that it’s daylight out, no matter how many other cues it’s time for bed there are.

That’s true of adults and kids alike, so disabling phones and tablets around bedtime will ensure that kids get the sleep they need.

It Prevents Temptation

It’s easy for children or adults to get wrapped up in something. Whether you’re binge-watching a TV show, reading a gripping book, or can’t put down a game, we’ve all lost track of time and paid for it the next day. The simple truth is, our brains are rarely that good at avoiding indulging themselves. If they find something that engages positive feedback, our minds will go back to it until either the show’s over or we absolutely have to catch a nap, and it takes decades to learn enough self-control to just watch two episodes and go to bed. Bedtime blockers cut down on temptation and sleepy mornings.

Bedtime blocker

It Establishes Routines

Habits and rituals are a part of learning how to sleep, and teaching kids healthy bedtime habits can be a bit of a task in of itself, especially when there are distractions available. If you’re trying to establish a bedtime routine, wrestling away the tablet in order to get kids in their pajamas probably isn’t something you want to add to the mix. Bedtime blockers allow you to create a natural schedule and end point to using screens during the night and build that into your bedtime routine.

It Builds Discipline

Parents know all too well that even the best-behaved child has their id lurking just below the surface. Kids do need freedom, but they also need structure built into their behaviors, whether it’s having dinner at the same time every night or going to school at the same time every morning. When kids can look at a clock and know that they won’t be able to play games or watch TV after that point, they start to learn better discipline, to use their time effectively now so they can have fun later.

Keeping a handle on screens can be a tough job, so let us help. Screen Time offers a bedtime blocker feature that allows you to regulate your child’s mobile device usage, so it doesn’t interfere with their sleep. Try it for free now to explore this useful feature and much more!

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How to Help Your Kids Beat Boredom

by Anna Hughes on October 25, 2017
“I'm bored!” It's the cry no parent wants to hear because it usually means a long day, and probably an argument or two over how much TV to watch or how many video games to play. But you don't have to resort to screens. There's a lot of ways to engage kids and teach them about the world.

Parental control apps

Chores

Yes, we know, our parents did this to us too, but it’s a fair response. We all know kids put off their chores until they absolutely have to do them, and it’s a good moment to teach your children that getting their chores done now instead of rushing to do them later pays off in the long run. Or, if you’ve got a big task to tackle, like sorting out donations, and they’re responsible enough, put them in charge and let them go at it. If you’re discussing screens, consider paying them in screen time, so they learn games and TV are a reward, not a right.

Volunteer

Pitching in is a good way not just to fight boredom, but also to show kids the wider world and develop a greater appreciation of what they have. It’s easy to find volunteer work for the whole family, whether you help out at an animal shelter, work in a soup kitchen, or clean up in a local park. You can get some fresh air, see parts of your town you may not be familiar with, and show your children the rewards of working for others.

Parental control apps

Cooking

Especially if a rainy day is in the forecast, cooking is an excellent way to both fight boredom and teach life skills. Pick out something that’s a project to build, like a slow-cooked roast or a long-simmering stew, and have the family help you prep, cook, and serve. The best meal is one you learn about together and work on as a team, so challenge yourself to make something new. It’ll be fun and educational not just for them, but for you as well.

Crafting

Another way to stop boredom is to be constructive. There’s a host of crafting ideas on the internet, and you can pick out a few with your children that they can get to work on. Especially if the holidays are approaching, kids can make their own Christmas gifts, or design new cards. They can scrapbook their year at school, or older kids can learn textile arts or woodwork.

Book Club

If you know a rainy, blah weekend is coming up, take the family to the bookstore and pick out a book you can all read together and discuss. Or, if there are a lot of families in the neighborhood, you can put together a kids-only book club, supervised by the adults, where they can read and discuss something they’re all interested in.

There’s a lot for kids to do, whether it’s bright out or the skies have opened up. Parental control apps can help you teach your kids to balance online and real-world fun. Interested in learning more? Try Screen Time for free.

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What To Do When Your Pre-teen Is Addicted to Online Gaming

by Anna Hughes on October 18, 2017
"Is my child addicted to video games?" The line between a hobby and obsession can be a painfully thin one for many of us. And the word “addicted” is a loaded term. But concerned parents should familiarize themselves with the standards of addiction and how to ease their kids off the game.

Screentime

What Is “Video Game Addiction?”

“Addiction” is flung around a lot as a term. There’s a difference between “addiction” in the clinical sense, where regular use of drugs changes the brain chemistry; and “addiction” in the colloquial sense, which is becoming too obsessed with something. There’s still enormous dispute around whether these obsessions, and they could be just about anything, not just video games, cause any major change in the brain’s structure. There’s also some dispute over what causes these obsessions.

In some cases, the game is designed to appeal to our psychology. Many mobile games are designed to be “Skinner boxes,” stimulating reward centers for simply hitting a level.

However, there is a standard of behavior we can measure, and that’s whether your hobby is beginning to compromise other aspects of your life. If you see grades slip, if friends stop coming over, if they steal from your wallet to pay for games, if they do nothing but play games, then there’s a problem. In fact, the American Medical Association has a threshold; more than six hours a day represents a problem according to their standards.

The good news is the problem is relatively easy to solve.

Solving Video Game Addiction

Internet monitoring software

Games are supposed to be fun, not work.

Sit down your child and explain the situation. They will likely be unhappy with you, or even act out, over having their games taken away. But be firm. Take them off the games completely, for at least ninety days. Take away or lock out games on phones, consoles, and other gameplaying devices, and make it clear they won’t have them back unless certain rules are met. Be sure to contact the parents of friends and let them know what the rules are. If you feel overwhelmed, consider discussing the matter with a child psychologist, who can walk you through effective strategies.

Model good behavior, as well. If you’re playing a mobile game on your phone a lot, delete it. Discuss the situation with siblings, so they understand what’s happening and why. You may have to curtail gaming for the whole family for a while.

Make it a requirement that your child joins an after-school activity, whether it’s a sport, a club, or something else that makes them get outside and meet friends. Once that’s been going for a while, have a second discussion, and explain again why you took the actions you did.

At your discretion, you can reintroduce gaming to the family. Also set certain standards where game time can be a reward, like good grades allows some gaming privileges. You can use internet monitoring software to help monitor how much time your child is spending on gameplay. Don’t, however, lift the locks set on various gaming machines; keep tight control of screen time going forward.

Of course, you can’t control everything. But by modeling good behavior, and making it clear that video games are only for occasional play, not obsessive day-long sessions, you can give your children a healthy relationship with video games. Need help? Contact us.

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5 ways your kids will benefit from using the Screen Time Task feature

by Anna Hughes on October 16, 2017
Do your kids jump for joy when asked to do their homework? Do they leap into action when told to tidy their bedrooms?Neither did ours. Which is why, when we designed the Screen Time app, we threw a Task Setter feature into the mix.

What’s this?

It’s a feature that lets your child earn bonus time on their device in 3 easy steps:

  1. You set a task, any task, for your child, using your Screen Time app. Task details will appear on their device. 
  2. When the task is complete, said child can use their mobile device to notify you, with photographic evidence if they wish.
  3. Once you have received the notification, you can send your child bonus time on their device. This extra time is in addition to their Daily Time Limit, as pre-arranged by you.

 

The beauty of this feature is that the promise of extra screen time motivates kids to complete tasks they’d otherwise avoid like the plague.

“I love all the features on this app. Every time my son accomplishes a task we can reward him with time. He has not missed a single chore around the house. It’s amazing!” – Lillila L

“I like this app a lot. Instead of nagging to do chores [my son] does them without prompting and likes sending me a picture, or if I do ask, he doesn’t argue nearly as much –Nikki P  

We love this feature so much we’ve gone and dedicated a whole list to it. Check it out!

5 ways your kids will benefit from using the Screen Time Task feature

  1. Doing chores = learning valuable life lessons (*whispers* and a break for the grown-ups 👌🏽)

There are so many benefits that come from a child helping out with household chores (we feel another list coming on) It provides them with the insight they’ll need when they grow up and move into a place of their own; It gives them an appreciation of the work that goes into running a household therefore enhancing their empathy skills; It introduces the concept of earning rewards, a valuable life lesson. And of course it means your workload at home is reduced giving you more time to put your feet up for once. #WinningAtParenting

  1. Homework is completed on time

This needs little explanation. A child is rarely going to feel motivated to do homework because of the learning benefits. But throw them an offer of extra screen time and that motivation suddenly appears and that last minute dash to complete homework while eating breakfast on day of deadline is history. Which bring us neatly onto point 3..

  1. They may strive for better grades

If your kid has a test coming up, you could offer them extra screen time depending on how well they do. Or offer an hour for an A, 30 mins for a B, 15 mins for a C etc…

  1. Getting outdoors could become a priority

The main reason Screen Time was invented was to help kids achieve a healthy online/offline balance. There’s a lot to love about mobile devices. But there’s also a lot to love about fresh air! Get the kids outdoors and set a task to collect 10 examples of nature. Perhaps you could offer 5 minutes of extra screen time for every item discovered.

  1. Exercise

31% of kids in the US aged from 10-17 are obese according to stats. Get your kids moving and add ‘exercise’ to their task list. If they’re not naturally sporty, try getting them to dance or jump or skip. For every minute they move, every star jump they manage, they could receive the equivalent in bonus screen time.

So there you have it. What else will you add to your task list? We’d love to hear some more ideas. Tell us in the comments!

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Is Too Much Social Media Bad for Your Pre-Teen’s Brain?

by Anna Hughes on October 11, 2017
Is social media bad for your preteen? It can feel like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat are toxic, sometimes, even for a grown adult who can take the occasional mean remark. But with worrying headlines about social media and mental health, what course should we take with pre-teens?

App to limit phone use

It’s In How You Use It

Research into social media and mental health has a very loud and clear message, in that what you get out of social media is what you put into it. Constructive uses, like support groups, positive interactions with friends, and sharing achievements, have been shown to have a good effect on mental health. Negative uses, like bullying and arguing online, though, can drag you down. Social media use is not the only factor in mental health, we should note. It’s just one of dozens or even hundreds, but it can help or hurt in equal measure.

So, with any social media account, you need to sit your pre-teen down and discuss both how to use it constructively, and why it’s important. Share the research with them, and make sure they understand your concerns. Encourage them to ask you questions, and to keep the channels of communication open.

Learn To Spot The Marketers

One decidedly powerful form of social media is Instagram. Mental health research has confirmed two things we’ve all suspected: One, people present an overly cheerful and exaggeratedly positive view of their lives, and in fact might keep the more emotionally complicated parts of their lives off social media entirely, and nowhere is this truer than Instagram. And two, we tend to misinterpret that as being left behind somehow, something unscrupulous marketers and social media “influencers” leap on eagerly to sell products on Instagram. Even ads clearly marked as such can still provoke these emotions.

So, teach your pre-teen about marketing, and discuss with them what people share and what people don’t. And more importantly, how that’s exploited.

App to limit phone use

Be Involved

While you can’t hover over your preteen whenever they use social media, you can keep track of who they’re talking to and who they follow. If possible, you should follow each other, and you can, among other things, model positive behavior. Every parent knows the sinking feeling upon hearing “But that’s what YOU do!”

And don’t hesitate to ask them what’s going on. How are their friends? Have they seen anything funny online? Show genuine interest, and they’ll be happy to keep you up to date.

Limit Screen Time

While the connection between screen time and mental health is controversial, and likely always will be, it’s fair to say that spending all day scrolling through Facebook is just like spending all day staring at a video game or watching TV. It may not be bad for you, necessarily, but it’s probably not good for you, either. So set limits; have certain times social media can be used, and strict cutoffs for it. Phones shouldn’t come to bed with preteens and remember to model good behavior.

Social media is here to stay, but our already complicated relationship with it won’t be going anywhere either. If you need an app to limit phone use in a healthy way, sign up for Screen Time.

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Is Your Child a Victim of Cyberbullying?

by Anna Hughes on October 4, 2017
Can we stop cyberbullying? With increasing reports in the news, and the misbehavior of teens coming out online in our schools and between parents more and more, cyberbullying has been central to political debates, PTA meetings, and arguments between friends. A third of our kids have been bullied online. Fortunately, the answer is "Yes, we can stop cyberbullying." The best defense against bullying, online or otherwise, is you. So what should you look for, and how should you act?

Parental control apps

Teach Cyber Self-Defense

The good news about cyberbullying is that if kids know what to do, they can easily stop bullying in its tracks. Teach kids how to block, unfollow, and mute people on any social networks they use. Sit down with them and learn how the abuse and reporting system for each social network functions, and how to report bad behavior. Make sure they understand that if somebody is pressuring them to follow them, listen to them, or otherwise intrude on their social media, that they should do the exact opposite. Finally, make sure they understand that it’s OK to seek help if they feel overwhelmed or scared.

Ask If They’re OK

The signs of bullying are usually fairly clear. Bullying tends to cause abrupt shifts in behavior, like suddenly avoiding the computer, withdrawing from interaction, acting out, being anxious over text messages or social media notifications, and so on. If you notice this, ask them if they’re OK. Don’t pressure them, but let them know you know something is going on, and that you want to help.

Keep Communicating

Once they hit a certain age, your kids view talking to their parents as a huge imposition. But ignore the rolling eyes and the short sentences and make sure they understand they can always come to you. Bullying is only effective because the bully believes their target is isolated, whether online or in the real world. Even if your children want independence to some degree, they’ll give you clues that they need your help, and just having your support can help them through tough times, whether they’ll admit it or not.

Parental control apps

Teach your kids how to deal with bullies online.

It’s OK To Step In

The struggle between supporting your kids and smothering them will be an eternal one. And it’s fair to want to encourage your kids to stand up to bullies on their own. But sometimes, they’re going to need your help, whether it’s navigating the waters of bureaucracy to report a student at their school for harassing them or for you to speak to the bully’s parents. And sometimes they’re simply batting out of their league. Sadly, if an adult is targeting a teen, and it does happen, the teens don’t have the rights they deserve.

If you’re worried, if your child seems overwhelmed or scared, it’s OK to step in. Perhaps you simply back them up, or maybe you take control of the situation; it’ll depend on what’s happening. Your children may be embarrassed or even offended, but in the end, they’ll likely be grateful.

Set Limits

One final way to stop bullying is to simply limit social media and where and when it’s used. There’s a lot of reasons to close the tab and do something else, and if you keep reasonable limits on social media, that limits opportunities for bullying and helps your kids keep control of how they use it.

Parental control apps can help you learn more about how your child is spending their time online, and help them find a healthy balance between online and offline activity. Ready to get started? Try Screen Time for free.

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