Parental Control Apps Help Kids With News Stress

by Anna Hughes on 06/12/2018
Helping kids to engage with the news in a healthy, productive way can be a struggle.

Teaching kids to engage with the news may be the best thing you do for them.

Even the most enthusiastic news fan may want to keep certain headlines away from their children, or at least discuss the issues the news is going to bring up in depth and in a way they can understand. Adults can also struggle with this; it’s colloquially known as “headline stress,” where the news overwhelms your emotional capacity to keep pace.

Managing headline stress is becoming harder and harder as TVs proliferate, radios become louder, and, of course, when there’s a constant stream of news alerts and breaking headlines in your pocket. It’s important for kids to want to engage with the news, but they also need to learn how not to be carried away by an endless torrent of headlines. How can parental control software help kids manage the flood of news?

Blocking Notifications And Apps

Parental assistance apps can help by blocking notifications. App notifications can take away our ability to engage with it at a time of our choosing, by prompting us to take out our phone and look at the latest antics. Instead of following that prompt, blocking the notification will allow your children to focus on schoolwork, and let you intercept upsetting headlines first so you can talk them over with your kids first.

Similarly, there may be questionable apps that try to exploit news, whether it’s serious topics or celebrity gossip, to gather data from kids or mislead them about certain topics. Some apps even offer outright propaganda. Parental control apps will allow you to filter these questionable apps out.

Screen time is better shared

Creating ‘News Time’

Another effective tool is that you can create “news time” with the family where everyone can look at digital newspapers or listen to news podcasts and alerts and discuss the major issues. This is particularly useful if there’s a homework assignment involving the news, as you can help teach your kids to approach the news with critical thinking and use your phones to research unfamiliar topics.

Remember that you too should abide by ‘news time.’ Headline stress can affect everyone, and kids will be able to pick up on whether you’ve seen an upsetting news item.

Limiting Engagement

There’s also a time and a place to read the news, especially upsetting news. We all know the temptation to look at your phone when an alert goes off, and parental control software can not only block alerts, but lock off a phone except for emergency calls between certain hours of the day. This will keep kids from staring at their phones after bedtime, reading the news when they should be paying attention in math class, and otherwise controlling engagement to keep it at a healthy level.

There’s no perfect solution to headline stress. We’re more aware, more informed, and have more access to current events than any other time in history, and it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to keep children away from something so omnipresent. Instead, you can keep the torrent of information from overwhelming your kids, and teach them how to critically evaluate and otherwise approach the news. To learn how Screen Time can help, try it for free.

 

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Three easy offline activities to keep the kids distracted this Thanksgiving

by Anna Hughes on 07/11/2018
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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Smartphone Use by Age: Setting Appropriate Limits for Your Kids

by Anna Hughes on 17/10/2018
Kids want smartphones younger and younger these days, but when a parent finally makes the decision, the next question is how often they should use it and for how long. It's a key part of the rules, and parental control apps for cell phones can enforce it, but when it comes to formulating those rules, that's a tougher discussion. Here's what we know about kids, screens, and time limits.
Parental control apps

What age is the right age for a child to have their own phone, and how long should they use it?

All Kids

First of all, there are certain times of day and night that should be no-phone time, no matter what. School hours, family dinner, bedtimes, and any other structured times where kids need to focus and don’t need any more distractions should be strictly phone-free.

Another point to consider is screen time means all screens, not just phones. Laptops, television, game consoles, and other screens need to be included in with the phone.

0-5 Years

It’s generally recommended by pediatricians and others that very young children be largely kept away from screens of all types. Up to one hour of screen time is fine, but it should be carefully curated by parents and done under their close supervision, with a view to educational, age-appropriate content.

6-12 Years

As kids get older, you can loosen up the rules, slightly, but you should still keep overall screen time at two hours or under, according to experts. They also don’t recommend issuing kids a smartphone. If safety or contact is a concern, kids on the older end of this range can be given a flip-phone with no internet access.

Also important is content monitoring. This is the age when marketing machines and abusive app and game design really kicks into overdrive, which can hook self-aware adults, not just kids. Parents should know exactly what apps kids want to download and how they work. Parental control software can be invaluable in this situation.

Parental control apps

Parental control apps for cell phones can help tremendously when kids are in the 6 to 12 age group.

12-14 Years

Thirteen is around the age many parents give their children their own smartphone, but this should be treated on a case by case basis. Ask yourself what your child needs the phone for, and set some rules about what can and can’t be found on the phone, paired with reasonable punishments for breaking the rules. The two-hour time limit should largely remain in place, but more mature kids may be able to “earn” time in front of a game console or a phone by doing chores or completing homework.

15 And Older

This is the grey area, for many parents. Their teens are getting driver’s licenses, holding down jobs, applying to college, and are transitioning to adults who can make their own decisions. Again, there will be some degree of judgment call here; how mature is your teen? Limits should still be in place, but you can begin relaxing them if you find your concern is lessening. Make sure to talk with teens about who they’re speaking with and what they’re doing online, though, and keep an eye out for cyberbullying.

There is some degree of leeway, here, and we shouldn’t forget screens are good in some respects. Kids can explore all sorts of scientific and artistic realms that were formerly difficult for them. So treat these as guidelines, while making sure you’re the one who makes these calls. To learn more about how to enforce the rules, sign up for Screen Time.

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Staring at screens is bad for eyes short-term, but what about the long-term?

by Anna Hughes on 10/10/2018
It's something that parents have told their children for generations: “You'll ruin your eyesight!” For Baby Boomers, it was sitting too close to the TV. For Gen Xers, it was portable video game consoles. And for modern kids, it's their smartphones and tablets. But what's the real science? Is there a point of concern? And can parental control apps spare kids eye injury as well as the darker side of the internet?
Teenage girl looking at her mobile phone.

It’s not just the content on social media that might put strain on teens.

 A Near-Sighted Controversy

The short answer is that there is, indeed, a rising incidence of myopia, the medical term for near-sightedness, in the world. In fact, in some regions of the world, it’s risen to 90% of both adults and teens. But it’s an issue with more than one cause, and doctors are hesitant to lay any blame.

First of all, we should remember that not many people are blessed with 20/20 vision in the first place. Only about 35% of the population has it, in fact. So in many cases near-sightedness will be an issue to some degree, iPhone in their faces or not. But is it exacerbating the problem?

Doctors are fairly certain part of the problem is what’s called “near work.” When your eyes need to focus on something that’s close, such as a smartphone screen, over long periods of time, it works much like a muscle. As the near vision gets more use, the far vision tends to atrophy. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to technology. Reading books, or really looking closely at anything for a long time, might also cause an issue.

Conversely, the more you use your far vision, with methods like playing outside, the stronger it gets. Whether it actually prevents or forestalls myopia is an open question. But on the other hand, it’s hard to argue with stepping away from social media for any number of other reasons.

Young girl looking at her mobile phone.

Smartphones can pain the eyes, not just the neck.

Short-Term Problems

While the current answer is a big maybe, there are short-term issues that heavy smartphone use can cause. Staring at any screen for long periods of time without a break can cause dry eye, eye strain, and other problems. They may not be damaging over the long term, but they do hurt and can cause problems, especially if kids need to use screens at school or for homework.

The rule of thumb is every twenty minutes, you should look away from your screen for twenty seconds at something at least twenty feet away. This both shifts your vision off the screen and gives your far-sightedness a bit of a workout. Also, you should put down a screen every hour and take a brief overall break.

Parental control apps can help enforce breaks, and also remove apps that ask kids to stare continually at their screens. But just as important is that kids see you take these breaks and show healthy attitudes towards screens. Even stepping away for a few seconds to stretch and stare off into the distance will model good behavior.

While the jury may be still out on the medical causes of myopia, there’s no reason to take risks, with your eyesight or your kids. Institute a break schedule, ensure apps are paused every twenty minutes for a break, and talk to your kids about why these breaks are important. If you want help setting healthy limits for screens, we invite you to try Screen Time for free.

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How to Protect Your Teen from Porn and Sexting

by Anna Hughes on 03/10/2018
One of the downsides of the rapid changes in technology we've seen is that it creates new complications to some very old problems. Even before the internet, explaining the differences between physical and emotional intimacy, or addressing the differences between porn and reality were problems parents struggled with. Now, parents have the internet, sexting, and social media built on sharing sexual content to deal with, and parental control software and smartphone addiction is only one part of what's an important conversation. So, what's changed, and how can you deal with it?
Person using their phone.

They’re not going to put down the phones entirely, but they can understand how to use them intelligently.

It’s Awkward. That’s OK

Many parents are surprised to discover it’s not the mechanics that are the most awkward or embarrassing. To sit your kids down and discuss sex means you’ll be discussing some personal intimate emotions that you probably don’t share with even your closest friends. Most of us don’t have much practice in talking about how sex makes us feel, but that’s OK. Really, that’s the point you should be making: Sex is about far more than the physical act. One of the problems with porn and sexting is that they can’t capture the unique emotional fingerprint each person has when it comes to sex. This can leave adolescents more confused than ever.

Many, if not most teens don’t necessarily have the emotional tools or the will to discuss their most intimate part of themselves with you.

Closeup of person sitting at a table using their cell phone.

Parental control apps should be accompanied by strong parent-child communication.

Talk About Your Concerns And Expectations

Anybody can talk to teens about peer pressure and cyberbullying, but they tend to think, fairly or not, that only their peers understand what they’re going through. What you can do is be honest with them about what you’re concerned about, what you expect from them, and why. Teens want to be treated like adults, and avoiding treating them like children will go a long way. If you level with them, they’re more likely to level with you. Sex is a complicated topic, and if you give them room to discuss their feelings, they’re more likely to do so.

Expect Some Rule-Breaking

Unlike many, many other topics, this is one in which rule-breaking of some sort may well be inevitable. Teens are curious about sex, and as we said, they’re still shaping the mental tools they have to deal with it. So are their friends, and the parents of your teen’s friends, and a united front is extremely rare. While you can’t control what they do everywhere, you can anticipate and block some rule-breaking with parental control apps. In some cases, it’s better to remove temptation until teens know how to handle it.

How Parental Control Apps Can Help

The texting associated with the phone itself may not be a primary communication channel for your teen. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and other downloadable messaging apps often become their de facto communication channel. Some parental control apps, like Screen Time, allow parents to approve or reject the downloading of apps, so you can be confident that you know which texting channels are available to your child. Screen Time also provides information on app usage, so you can see which apps your child uses most.

While you may not be able to read individual  messages, you do have oversight over which messaging apps kids use, and can keep up with how often they use them, which can tip you off to potential problems. The content of the messages is something that warrants a one-on-one conversation with your teen, so it’s important that you maintain regular communication about rules, sex, and smartphone use at all times.

Sex isn’t a simple topic, even for adults. For teens, it’s even harder to sort through the many conflicting demands placed on them. It’s going to take patience, honesty, respect, and listening to help your teens through a challenging stage of life. The Screen Time parental control app can help;  try it for free.

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Should Parents Worry About Radiation from Smartphones?

by Anna Hughes on 26/09/2018
As long as there have been smartphones, there have been claims that they're dangerous. Sometimes, this danger is real and concrete. For example, there's a reason police officers pull you over if you have your phone in your ear while you're driving. Other times, dangers can be psychological. And sometimes, claims of smartphone danger can be vague yet frightening, like claims that “radiation” from your cell phone can cause cancer. Are our phones a radioactive risk to our kids? No, probably not. But it's worth knowing why these claims are being made, and lessons we can learn.
Teenage girl holding up her mobile phone taking a selfie.

Is there a risk of radiation from their smartphones?

Radioactive Phones? Not So Much

First, we need to understand a few scientific terms and concepts. First of all, “radiation” is simply a term that means “emitting electromagnetic energy.” Almost everything that exists emits some form of this: Human beings, for example, emit heat, or infrared radiation. The “radiation” that allegedly causes cancer is called “ionizing radiation,” extremely high energy radiation like x-rays, which can damage DNA. Your phone doesn’t have a battery powerful enough to emit ionizing radiation; think about the size of the x-ray machine you see at the dentist.

Some will also say they can “feel” the electromagnetic waves, that smartphone signals or WiFi signals cause them discomfort or even extreme pain. Whether this is a medical condition or psychosomatic is under heavy debate, but it’s a rare phenomenon, regardless.

The case is not necessarily closed, however. It’s possible, if perhaps unlikely, that perhaps a specific wavelength of non-ionizing radiation, if you’re exposed over an extremely long period of time, might cause cancer or other medical problems through a mechanism we haven’t discovered yet. This is the basis of those statements you read about keeping your phone in a bag or on your desk instead of in your pocket. The logic is simple: If there’s no risk, then it’s a mild inconvenience. If there is risk, you’ve thought ahead. Besides, there are good reasons beyond a possible health risk to consider a “bag rule” in your household.

Young teenage girl looking at her smartphone with a surprised expression.

Keep Phones Away

Even if there is no risk for cancer due to smartphone radiation, it’s still a smart idea to mandate phones are kept out of pockets and in bags. Part of this is the idea of “friction,” that is, the more steps and the harder it is to do something, the less likely people are to do it. If somebody has to reach into their bag and pull out their phone, it’s a little more effort than reaching into their pocket, and a little less convenient to take out in situations where they should have them, something adults and kids alike should consider.

Another aspect is that it prevents grabbing a phone from being an automatic action. We can fairly easily fall into a behavioral loop when it comes to our phones, using them to fill every free moment and to fill in every awkward silence. If we have to work a little harder to fill those emotional spaces with phones, we’re a little less likely to do it. Parental control software is another tool parents use to place limits on kids’ smartphone use.

In the end, once you set aside the preliminary and inconclusive science of smartphone radiation, what you’re left with is a reminder that we simply don’t know the long-term effects of these technologies. But why take the risk? Parental control apps for smartphones can perform double duty, by enforcing smartphone behavioral boundaries with kids, and by helping kids to interact with the world without having a phone in their hands at all times. To learn more about keeping your family’s smartphone use in line, contact us.

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Key Insights from Latest Pew Study on Teens and Social Media

by Anna Hughes on 19/09/2018
The Pew Research Center is a non-partisan think tank that takes a hard look at, among other things, the media and how we interact with it. Its latest study on this topic focused on teens, and it has a collection of insights parents should pay attention to.
Two teenage girls using their mobile phones.

Teens are more ambivalent towards their phones than you might think.

Teens Are Almost All Online

Pew found that 95% of teens at least had access to a smartphone, a 23% jump from four years ago. It also found that 45% of the teens interviewed were connected to the internet, in their words, “almost constantly,” although we should remember this is a value judgment, to some degree. Think about how we use our smartphones as tools to navigate, make plans, and stay connected to work, and most parents might be surprised to consider how much “almost constantly” applies to them. Parents might consider leading by example, to help their kids form a more healthy perspective on the internet.

Teens Are About Visuals

The most popular networks among teens were based around visuals: YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat were far and away the social media networks teens were using the most. It’s worth becoming familiar with these sites, especially if you’re using parental control apps to monitor usage, and even opening an account with them to figure out how they work, and what you might be concerned about.

It’s More Distributed

That said, the idea of teens being on one network exclusively is a thing of the past. Many teens are using multiple networks to stay in touch with friends and share various forms of content. Pew has found these platforms tend to divide up teens’ time to varying degrees, instead of teens making more time in the day for these platforms. That means competition for eyeballs is more intense.

Person lying down using their mobile app.

Connecting is key, but not all teens think connecting is good.

Teens Aren’t Necessary Fans Of Social Media

Intriguingly, Pew found most teens are ambivalent about social media. 45% of teens in the survey said that social media had neither a positive nor negative effect on their lives, while 31% said it had a positive effect, and 24% said it had a negative effect. This lines up with the research elsewhere, which indicates the effect of social media on your emotional state lies mostly in how you use it.

Most interesting was what teens primarily viewed as the benefits and drawbacks. By a wide margin, those who liked social media felt that the ability to stay in touch with friends and family that aren’t nearby, at 40%, was the biggest benefit. Conversely, those who didn’t like it said that bullying was their primary concern, at 27%. Close behind that, at 15% was that it “harms relationships.

In other words, social media can be great for kids if they’re staying in touch with people they know, but teens also seem to feel it can spin out of control quickly. The lesson here for parents is to talk with their kids regularly about what’s happening online, who they’re talking to, and make sure the door is open to help.

Social media, love it or hate it, isn’t going anywhere, and the overall trend, according to Pew, is that it’ll keep growing to be an even bigger part of teens’ lives. For parents, this means being a sympathetic ear and keeping an eye out for signs of negative behavior. To learn more about parental control apps, and how they can help, sign up for Screen Time.

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Reality Check: Parents Need to Monitor Their Own Phone Usage

by Anna Hughes on 12/09/2018
“Do as I say, not as I do,” has long been a point of contention between parents and their children. But there's nowhere it's more vividly drawn than when it comes to phone usage, which even schools have stopped trying to totally control. Parents are concerned about their kids' phone use, and can use parental control software to limit calls, stop apps, or even lock the phone except for emergency calls during certain times of day. But what should parents do when their kids point out they've banned phones at the table, but they “just have to take this call?”
Man working on a laptop while using his phone.

Kids learn from the example set by their parents.

Setting An Example

The truth is that kids get most of their tools for viewing the world and handling its challenges from their parents. Parents are simply the adults kids see the most, and that makes leading by example key to good parenting.

But by the same token, parents can feel the world is conspiring against good parenting, particularly in the realm of smartphone usage. Smartphones have made us more productive and given us more tools, but it also means our bosses can send us emails at dinner time or clients dial our personal numbers at any time of the day. That leaves many busy parents stuck between the rock of setting a good example for kids and the hard place of the necessities of their job and their lives. How do we balance the two?

Two teenage girls using their phones.

Phones shouldn’t be crutches, for us or for our kids.

Balancing Phone Use, Parenting, And Life

  • First, listen to your kids. Nobody is equipped with perfect introspection and your kids may be pointing out you have an unhealthy relationship with your smartphone too.
  • Ask yourself what your needs are with your smartphone, versus your wants. Does your coworker really need that email returned? Does that call need to be answered? What are the expectations you have for yourself at work and at home, versus what the real expectations should be? If a call or an email comes in, and it doesn’t fall into the realm of need, leave it for later.
  • Sit down with your kids and discuss how you use your smartphone and what your personal boundaries are. If you have to take a call at the dinner table, for example, and your kids object, lay out why this was a need in your career, and apologize for having to cross that boundary. Ideally your whole family will be on the same page, at least in terms of understanding the difference between “want” and “need.”
  • Avoid arguments like “I’m putting food on the table and you’re just playing a game.” Kids simply don’t have the perspective adults do; unless you have an incredibly industrious teenager, it’s unlikely they’re getting work calls at the dinner table or understand deadlines and work stress just yet. Instead, couch it in terms they understand, like homework or schoolwork.
  • The justifications behind the rules should be clear to your kids. While kids may not understand adult life, they do understand arbitrary enforcement of the rules, and if they understand the reason behind those rules, they’re more likely to abide by them.

Putting parental control software on your children’s phones is half the battle. The other half is getting them to understand why you did it. To learn more about control apps and other ways to help your kids manage their smartphone use, contact us.

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How Advertisers Target Your Teen’s Smartphone and How to Cope

by Anna Hughes on 05/09/2018
It’s no secret that teens and tweens have plenty of buying power. Even before they’re old enough to have a job, kids are good at convincing their parents to buy the latest fashions or the newest gadgets. It’s understandable that brands want to find ways to advertise to this valuable demographic. And as television and print media become less popular, more and more advertisers are looking for ways to market to tweens and teens through the device that they use the most: their smartphones.

How Advertisers Are Reaching Teens and Tweens

Group of three teenagers leaning against a tree looking at their mobile phones.

Advertisers know how important smartphones are to teens and tweens.

Traditional commercials are getting easier to avoid all of the time, so brands have to be creative about how they reach out to teens. In many cases, they do that through social media. Sites like YouTube and Snapchat are prime territory for reaching teens and tweens. These popular apps are widely used by this age group, and sometimes it can be tough to tell what’s an ad and what’s entertainment. Frequently, the two are mixed.

For example, some brands partner with popular YouTube personalities, called influencers, to promote their brands. This means that a YouTube celebrity that your child watches for fashion tips, gaming commentary, or humor – possibly a teen or tween like themselves – may also be getting paid to pitch a particular brand of shoes or the latest game console. On Snapchat, brands release their own filters for users to apply to their photos.

Some brands even offer their own apps for kids to shop with. Amazon now offers teen accounts for children as young as 13. Brands like Build-A-Bear and Victoria’s Secret Pink offer games for teens to play on their shopping apps.

Privacy and Data Collection

Brands are also watching your teen’s movements through their various apps and online activities. Social media and gaming sites often sell or share user data with outside companies. This gives advertisers the information that they need to make targeted ads. If your child expresses interest in buying new sneakers on one site, they may see ads for sneakers on the next couple of sites that they visit.

Children under 13 are protected somewhat from data collection efforts by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). But children 13 and older are fair game for data collection and targeted advertising. And many sites that require users to be 13 or older to make an account don’t do anything to verify the ages of their users. Tweens can make accounts on these sites by simply checking a box that says they’re 13 or over, even if they aren’t, and there’s nothing to stop advertisers tracking those children’s online activities in order to target them with ads.

What Parents Should Do

Young teenage girl sitting in a grey chair with a mobile phone.

Tweens and teens may not always recognize ads for what they are, and some ads can affect a teen’s self-image.

On the surface, the idea that advertisers are targeting tweens and teens may not seem alarming, or even newsworthy. After all, any parent that can remember watching Saturday morning cartoons as a child knows that advertisers have been targeting children for years.

But the ads that appear on your teen’s or tween’s smartphone could be problematic. Targeted ads are meant to appeal very specifically to individual users. That means, for example, that a teen who is struggling with concerns over their weight could be targeted with weight loss ads, possibly encouraging unhealthy dieting or disordered eating in a teen with self-esteem issues. Ads that aren’t easily recognizable to young smartphone users as ads may especially affect their body image or self-confidence.

It’s important for parents to talk to tweens and teens about how to recognize marketing for what it is so that they don’t take it too seriously or personally. A child who can recognize a pitch from a social media influencer, for example, may be less likely to take their words to heart.

Tweens and teens also need regular breaks from social media and the advertising that goes with it. Imposing sensible limits on your child’s smartphone use can help keep them grounded and prevent them from getting too wrapped up in marketing messages. Parental control software can help you protect your kids from overzealous advertising. To find out how it works,  try it for free.

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Schools Ease Up in Smartphone Policies: Should You?

by Anna Hughes on 29/08/2018
In the battle for the teenage mind, schools across the country are trying to declare an armistice with smartphones. Schools are loosening their policies, either by incorporating smartphones into daily school activities or by simply taking policies off the books as impossible to enforce. So where does this leave parents? Should they lighten up too? Probably not.
Group of teenagers walking and using their smartphones.

Kids now have smartphones in school, but the rules shouldn’t change.

Rules Are Rules

To start with, schools aren’t simply letting kids goof off on their phones during third-period math. There are still a set of baseline rules that schools require kids to abide by, even if the school has dropped stricter policies. What’s changed is the approach, as society accepts smartphones, and the availability of parental control apps for cellphones have given parents better tools for monitoring kids’ smartphone use.

Most schools are dropping outright bans not because the kids have won, but because the smartphone is such a useful tool in the classroom when used correctly. Remember, just a decade ago, the “smartphone” was a novelty and a luxury available only to a select few. If kids had phones, they were mostly used to talk or send texts. While we may have called the latter “passing notes” back in the day, it’s still been against the rules the entire time. But most teachers don’t mind that kids are able to tap into a deep well of human knowledge. Schools instead are increasingly asking parents to put some form of parental control app on their teens’ smartphones.

Besides, the issue was never with the item, but how it’s used. Teens are more susceptible to smartphone abuse, and that needs to be considered by any parent. So, how can we balance the usefulness of smartphones against their addictive potential?

Teenager sitting using their smartphone.

Is a tool or a distraction?

Smarter Smartphone Rules

  • Know the school’s policies, in detail. Especially if the school is requiring any smartphone to have a parental control app installed, parents should know what standards kids are expected to abide by.
  • Remember that school and home are two different places with two different needs. Even if kids have more freedom to use their smartphones at school, that doesn’t mean you should allow them at the dinner table or during family time.
  • Kids need to understand that they need to be respectful and accountable, and why the rules are in place. It’s easy for kids to write off rules as unfair, especially if they seem arbitrary, so explain why you’ve chosen the rules for your family.
  • Always talk to your kids about smartphone use and let them know that they can come to you with any issue, no matter what. Often kids just need somebody to share their concerns with, and being able to talk them over is a relief for them

There’s no perfect solution to balancing the different spheres of life your kids will deal with. School, home, work, and the houses of friends will all have different rules, different requirements, and different standards that kids will just need to learn to balance. But if they know they have a friendly ear and a firm but fair parent, they’ll get the hang of it. To learn more about parental control apps and how you can schedule what your kids use on their phones, sign up for Screen Time.

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