How to Limit the Time Your Child Spends on their Phone

by Anna Hughes on April 18, 2018
Our phones have quickly become part of the fabric of our everyday existence because they're just so useful. They give us directions, they keep us on task while we're stuck waiting for appointments, they're cameras and research directories and so much more. But they can also suck us in, and kids, even more so. If you're concerned about how much screen time your kids are racking up with their phones, here's how to install some limits.

Screen time

Set An Example

To start with, look at how you use your phone. Make a diary of phone usage and what you’re doing, and sort out how much time you spend with your phone as a tool versus how much you use it idly, and then focus on cutting down on that. Or consider installing a parental control app and locking off your idle time games and the like for a few days and see how things change. It might surprise you how much time you spend looking at your own phone, and if you stop using your phone, your kids will notice.

Design A Schedule

Another method is to set a family schedule for screen time. This schedule can be flexible and tied to needs. For example, if kids have a phone to use as an assistant at the table while they do homework, that use probably doesn’t need to be that restricted. But set a schedule, for the whole family, and make sure everyone holds each other accountable for sticking to it. If your children have a say, and you abide by the same rules, they’ll follow your example.

Parental control apps

Install Parental Control Apps

If usage has gotten out of control, or you simply want to ensure that there’s a method to “ground” kids by shutting down their phones if they break the rules, parental control apps can be a useful method of keeping phones locked off. The phones can be set to be unlocked only during certain times of day, or can be set to only be unlocked when a parent agrees to it. This can also be a good option in cases of shutting down cyberbullying or enforcing other rules, such as discussing what they’re saying on the internet and who they’re talking to.

Disable Their Phones

Another tool, especially if there’s bad behavior, is the “nuclear option” of parenting, namely taking the phone away completely, or simply disabling certain functions physically or with software. For example, if they’ve racked up a large phone bill, you can pull out the SIM card, which will keep them off cellular networks, or you can delete apps that hog data off their phone and block them from being reinstalled. This is a bit drastic, though, and really should only be used when there’s not another solution to the situation. Be sure explain why you’re doing this in the first place, and make it clear which rules were broken and the length of the punishment.

With the right tools, the right conversations, and most importantly, the right attitude, your kids will have a healthier appreciation for screen time, and a respect for when and when not to use screens. To learn more, contact us. Learn how to make your phones work for your family, and not the other way around.

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When Other Parents’ Screen Time Rules Differ from Your Own

by Anna Hughes on April 11, 2018
You're concerned about screen time with your kids. You've set rules, you've laid down schedules, you've installed parental control software, and you think it's all settled. Then they come home from a sleepover where all they did was play on their tablets all night. So, what do you do when different homes have different rules?

Screen time

Ask Beforehand

The first step is to ask the parents of your children’s friends their house rules around screen time. Every house is different, and those differences usually have some fairly important reasons behind them. For example, some kids have hobbies like toy engineering or video game design these days, or they may be taking classes about computers and code, so they need a bit more access to screens to study.

Also, remember that parents aren’t out to undermine other parents. We just naturally assume, unless we’re told otherwise, that rules jump from house to house. We’ve all stumbled over a rule we weren’t told about, such as a limit on certain foods or your children’s friends not being allowed to watch certain TV shows or movies. So, before they head over, make sure you’ve been told the rules of their house and also make sure parents there understand what your rules are when their kids come over.

Talk It Over

Kids know the rules, and they also often know you know if they’re breaking them. This is why discussing the reasons behind the rules is particularly important when laying them down. If kids understand that the rules are there for their benefit, not because you just don’t like their Netflix habits, they’re a lot more likely to abide by them. Before they go to a house with different rules, remind them of why the rules are in place and talk about what they should do instead of staring at a screen.

Screen time

Shift Schedules

Another trade-off you can do is simply to shift around the screen time available. If they want to go over to a friend’s to play video games, that means that when they come home, video game time is over with. Don’t forget, especially for when kids need to do homework with friends, that parental control software can, for example, allow sites needed for homework while blocking social media sites and games. So, if they’re going over to do homework, you can ensure they stay on task with a few clicks.

Limit Available Screens

One useful strategy, especially when your kids are going over for fun, not to do homework or work on tasks, is to exercise the ultimate in parental control software: Namely, telling them the tablet or phone stays in the house. Granted, this technique won’t make you the most popular, and it may not guarantee, entirely, that the screens stay off. But if it’s a concern, and the screens aren’t strictly necessary, there’s no reason to send them over.

Navigating other households and their rules doesn’t have to be tricky. With some good conversations, and good parental control software, you can send your kids over to a friend’s house confident they’ll stick by the rules. To learn more, try it for free.

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Good News: Kids Generally Resilient in the Face of Online Risks

by Anna Hughes on April 4, 2018
If you’re the parent of a teen who has internet access, you know the dangers. Cyberbullies. Explicit images and videos. Trolls. Solicitations from strangers. It’s enough to make any parent want to pull the plug on the internet entirely – but this generation is growing up in a digital culture, and it’s impossible to ignore it entirely. However, there’s good news – research suggests that your kids probably have more resilience against these online threats than you’ve been giving them credit for.

Harmful Effects Are Limited

Screen time

While teens may encounter common online hazards, they’re also pretty good at coping with them.

recent study from the University of Central Florida, Pennsylvania State and Ohio State reveals some interesting things about how teens cope with the dangers they encounter online. The research shows that it’s true that teens do regularly encounter many of the online risks that you worry about.

However, the study also shows that the negative effects of encountering such dangers are limited. In fact, in most cases, any negative emotions that the teens being studied experienced as a result of their online interactions had faded within a week. Much has to do with how your kids use their screen time.

Extreme Cases Aren’t the Norm

You’ve no doubt heard some terrifying stories in the news. Teens cyberbullied into committing suicide. Teens groomed by predators. Teens engaging in risky behaviors with devastating consequences.

It’s not that these stories are untrue. These things can and do happen. But research suggests that these are extreme cases, not the experience of the average teenager. As a parent, it’s important to be aware of the signs that your teen might be in trouble and alert for the suggestion that your teen might be more easily influenced or upset than the average teenager. But you shouldn’t assume that your teenager will be in trouble solely because they’ve had a negative experience online. In fact, if you place too much importance on these types of interactions, you may just be creating additional stress for your teen.

How Are Teens Coping?

Screen time

While the internet has its dangers, it also allows teens to form friendships and join supportive communities.

Interestingly, researchers aren’t sure where teens are learning the coping skills that allow them to handle these encounters without any lasting harm. Some researchers theorize that it’s the positive online interactions with friends or supportive online communities.

It’s also worth remembering that this generation of teenagers has grown up with digital media as a part of their everyday lives in a way that other generations have not. Social media and online communication come much more naturally to today’s teens than to older adults who had to learn to navigate these spaces later in life.

What Parents Should Do

Of course, none of this information means that your teens should be left to navigate the internet without any parental input. In fact, open communication between parents and teens about the things that teens may encounter online and how to deal with them is important to helping teens prepare themselves and develop healthy strategies for dealing with online dangers.

Make sure that your kids understand how to protect themselves online – for example, how to manage their privacy settings and report harassment or unwanted contact. You should also make sure that your kids are getting plenty of offline socialization and entertainment as well. It can be easy to spend too much time online, and it’s important to take breaks now and then.

Parental control apps can help you keep tabs on your child’s screen time and help them learn to set healthy limits and boundaries on their internet use. To find out how it can work for your family, learn more.

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5 Apps You Need to Talk About with Your Teenagers

by Anna Hughes on March 28, 2018
The internet is full of both dangers and things your kid shouldn't see. And since apps are part of the internet, some of them aren't great for kids, or even adults. Here are five apps you need to have a conversation with your kids about.

Student in school hallway using smartphone

Musical.ly

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and Musical.ly proves the rule. It turns out the app, which allows fans to sing along to songs and play silly games with music, also has a raunchy side if you search certain terms. The app is presumably tightening up the ship as parents object, but this is a good reminder that not all apps are engineered with kids in mind, which can lead to some awkward situations.

Yubo

Yubo is a friend-making app with an unfortunate resemblance to a far more adult app, Tinder. Kids can swipe to decide if they’d like to say hi to somebody or ignore them. Laying aside the app’s structure, which is a bit unfortunate but seems to be a coincidence, the real concern here for many parents is how judgemental the app forces you to be. There’s not a “maybe” or “get to know” function, and many parents worry it’s teaching kids to be judgemental and shallow. Before allowing Yubo or not, lay out these concerns for kids and why the app bothers you.

Instagram

People tend to carve out their own private spaces on the internet, and Instagram is no exception. There’s a distinct chance that kids have a “finsta,” slang for a fake Instagram, which their parents and family sees, and then a real, private account that’s closely monitored and limited only to a small circle of friends. Really, there’s only so much you can do here, short of deleting the app off their phone, but make it clear to kids that they should be careful what they share online, and who they share it with.

Teenage Students Using Digital Devices On College Campus

Snapchat

Snapchat is the bane of many parents for a number of reasons. But the most glaring one, currently, is SnapMaps, a feature that shows where, precisely, Snapchat users are with a relative degree of accuracy. The feature, fortunately, can be disabled, but it’s safe to say many parents find it poorly considered and a potential safety risk. If you’re letting your children use Snapchat, and that may be a big “if” for you depending on the content, tell them you’re shutting off SnapMaps, and why.

Sarahah

This app allows people to send anonymous messages to each other, and it’s quickly become a locus of abuse online. In the absence of any accountability, Sarahah has become a mess for some parents and kids. It is worth remembering that some kids do need private spaces to talk to other kids, so that might justify Sarahah or a similar app, within certain contexts. But before you let the app into their phone, talk with them about emotional violence and that they can come to you to discuss disturbing messages.

Don’t think the list stops with these apps. Being engaged with your kids and what they do online is key to building a safe place online for them. Parental control apps can also be helpful to parents in setting boundaries. To learn more, contact us about Screen Time

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How to Get Your Kids Outside Again When the Weather Warms Up

by Anna Hughes on March 21, 2018
As the snow melts, the trees bud, and the sun shines more brightly, it'd be nice to think that kids will spontaneously put down their tablets and controllers and go outside. But, unfortunately, a body at rest tends to remain at rest, and it's as true of human nature as it is of physics. Kids have had a winter to get used to sitting down and goofing on tablets, so how do you break that habit and get them moving?
Girl holding balloons of multiple colors outside

Kids need to get back outside.

Set A Good Example

Kids model the behavior they see from parents, so ask yourself if you’re getting outside enough. As it warms up, consider walking to the store or riding a bike over, and bringing the kids along. Instead of reading your book inside, go out on the lawn or on your porch and take in a little sun.

Shift Their Schedules

During the winter, you might have loosened up the rules for game consoles and tablets with the understanding that once the birds sing, those restrictions would tighten back up. Especially with summer break coming up for a lot of kids, it’s a good time to sit them down and discuss new schedules for using devices. Homework time shouldn’t become goofing off time, for example. You might also set standards such as device time is paired to chore time, and enforce that with software locks.

Boy on mobile phone sitting  in blue chair

Perhaps take the phone away as part of sending them outside.

Go Outside On Weekends

Another tried and true parental technique is making them leave the phones behind and come with you also works. It can be as elaborate as a spring camping trip or an outing to a local museum, or as simple as heading over to the park for a few hours. You might also consider embarking on a family project like building some outdoor play spaces or knocking together a treehouse. But as long as it’s outdoors, and kids have something to engage in, even if it’s just a hiking trail, it’ll remind them how fun it is to be outside.

Volunteer

Older kids especially should be looking at volunteer opportunities, not least because it looks good on college resumes. But it also ensures a broader perspective on the world. Look for family volunteer opportunities that get you out of the house, such as cooking meals for a soup kitchen, helping to maintain public spaces, working at your local library, and otherwise bolstering the community. It both gets kids out of the houses and gets them thinking about how lucky they are to have those devices.

Have A Friend Over

Sometimes, the best thing to do to limit screen time is to have a friend over. Set rules, of course; kids shouldn’t be running with their friends right to a game console. Friends should only be over to do something outside. And during the school week, any spontaneous visits should be cleared with parents and schedules should be in place; if your children and their friends have homework, they should be expected to finish that up before they run outside.

Remember that communication is key. Make sure kids understand why you’re making these rules, and what you’re looking for them to get out of this. And if you need a little help ensuring they stick to the rules, we can help with parental control apps. Click here to learn more about Screen Time.

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Four Ways Social Media Affects Kids’ Mental Health

by Anna Hughes on March 14, 2018
Social media is everywhere in our lives. We keep in touch with friends on Facebook, vent our frustrations on Twitter, and post our meals to Instagram. But social media has also vastly expanded our emotional space and forced overlaps where before it was tightly contained. That has positive effects and negative effects, and much of that, especially for kids, comes from how it's used.

Parental control apps

It Can Cause, Or Relieve, Stress

Even adults can find certain social media friends exhausting when all they do is gripe. But at the same time, having a place to vent can serve an important purpose; it relieves our stress, to some degree, to make ourselves feel heard and to be reassured.

Kids, however, are still forming coping strategies, and as any parent knows, kids live their lives at a high emotional pitch. You’ll need to talk to your kids about stress and how if something makes them feel bad, that they need to stop using it. Screen time can be a nice break, but taken to excess it can increase stress.

It Can Depress Mood

Undeniably, social media can sometimes be a bummer, especially with your news feeds. But the real problem, for many, is they’ll spend twenty minutes on Facebook and then feel like they tossed away twenty minutes of their valuable time. This is less pressing with kids, in some senses, but they can still get sucked into Facebook and then scramble to finish chores and homework. Set limits on certain websites, or even tablets, to hold off time-wasting, and in the long run, they’ll be glad you did. Parental control apps aren’t made to stop enjoyment of the good things social media offers, but to ensure kids have a more balanced life.

Parental control apps

If you’re worried about your kids’ device usage, you need to let them know.

It May Cause Anxiety And Exacerbate Depression

As we noted, social media is an emotional space. It’s an extension of our minds and how we present our personalities, and to some degree, you’re putting yourself out there, even if it is your best face. Kids can feel this anxiety far more keenly than adults: Who they are, and what their personalities will be, is still forming for them, after all, and that makes them exceptionally vulnerable to anxiety. Remember high school, where you were worried if so-and-so didn’t want you for a friend? Now kids have that in their pockets!

Similarly, while social media doesn’t cause depression, it can exacerbate depressive symptoms, for a number of reasons ranging from the notorious “fear of missing out” (FOMO) to simply believing everyone has a better life. Be sure to talk to kids about their social media use and point out where they might be making themselves more anxious.

It May Impact Sleep

This one is a no-brainer. We’ve all felt that little lift that comes with a new comment, a like, or a retweet. If we’re not careful, we can stay up far too late seeking those. And our kids are no exception to this. Fortunately, the solution to this one is elegant and simple: Limit screen time, take away their phones, or lock them during bedtime, so kids have to wait to see who tweeted back.

There are no simple solutions to the problems of social media. The truth is we’re all still figuring out just where this technology fits in our lives and the proper etiquette of using it. But it’s clear that just like adults struggle with social media, kids need help too, and sometimes they need it taken away. To learn more about parental control apps and your kids’ social media use, contact us.

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How Do Tech Professionals Handle Their Own Kids’ Screen Time?

by Anna Hughes on March 7, 2018
It's one thing to have an abstract conversation about whether or not kids should spend their time on screens. It's quite another when somebody who designs those screens has an opinion about it. So what do tech industry veterans do when it comes to kids and screens? And should you follow their leads?
Three children looking at a tablet

Should kids have technology?

Who’s Using Who?

Surprisingly, for many techies, it’s not really about the sheer amount of time. That is a concern, mind you; quite a few of them either limit screen time altogether or outright ban it for kids under a certain age. But a bigger concern for them is the psychological factor.

While whether or not screens have permanent effects on young brains or any brains at all, is controversial, one thing that is true is that many apps, especially games and social media, are built on certain psychological principles. For example, if you’ve ever played a “free” game on your phone, you know that while it won’t outright demand you hand over some money to advance, it’ll do everything possible to get you to buy “boosters” and other power-ups, or put a clock on certain aspects of the game.

At their worst, these games have been compared to Skinner boxes, the famous experiment where a psychologist determined that the chance of a reward, rather than the guarantee of one, could manipulate animals into constantly hammering a button. But even apps built with the best of intentions can appeal to our worst instincts. Social media is a good example: Seeing new notifications and comments stimulate our reward centers, and some of us will want more.

This is far more complicated than monkey-see, monkey-do. Some people react this way, some don’t. But it’s a question of risk and knowing yourself, which means, for the tech industry, restraint.

Three children looking at tablets and laughing

Technology isn’t bad, but it needs to be handed out in small doses.

What Tech Entrepreneurs Do

When they come home to their families, by and large, members of the tech industry limit how much time their kids have on screens. The younger kids are, the less screen time they get, and that includes passive use like watching cartoons. They also keep an eye on how kids use tech and make a point of getting familiar with the apps and games kids want to play and how they work. If they think an app is abusive, a conduit to bullying, or has some other problem that they’re concerned about, they tend to delete it.

They also tend to use tools like device locks, timers, and parental control apps to ensure kids don’t “cheat” when it comes to using phones and tablets, and they regularly check device activity to ensure their limits aren’t being gone around. In some cases, they password-protect the devices and kids have to come to them in order to unlock the device or lock them up when they’re not home.

The key takeaway, though, is that they’re involved, whether or not they use parental control apps. They know what their kids are using, they know when they’re using them, and they use the right tools to stay on top of what their kids are doing. That, more than anything else, is the marker of good parenting with devices. Need help keeping on top of what your kids are doing? sign up for Screen Time.

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How to Manage Your Child’s Data Usage

by Anna Hughes on February 28, 2018
Kids love data, but parents don't love paying for it. When it comes to your child's data usage, you probably wish they'd dial it back a bit or perhaps have even considered cutting them off. But don't despair: Managing data usage is far less complicated than it might sometimes feel.
Family using phones and tablets

Family plans sometimes see too much use.

Explain The Problem

As any parent quickly learns, many family plans, even “unlimited” plans, have data limits. Some, once you hit a certain threshold, simply cut off your data. Others will charge you for the “overage” on data. And still others will “throttle” you beyond a certain point, which means your data use will be given less priority and thus slowed down. Keep in mind that if you have WiFi in your home, your phones should all be configured to prioritize using that connection.

Communication is the key. So, sit your children down, explain to them how mobile plans work, and then explain the situation. There may be a compromise already on the table; some kids will happily give up their allowance to keep talking with their friends, for example. Others, you’ll have to work out a plan and a schedule.

Which Apps?

Next, look at the apps they’re using. Some culprits are obvious; if you’re using Netflix or podcast streaming apps everywhere you go, that’s going to eat into data quickly. But keep in mind that there are plenty of apps that seem like they shouldn’t be using data and yet are shocking data hogs. Many mobile games, for example, correspond directly with servers from the game company, and they likely won’t tell you that they’re doing this directly. Other apps are “web apps,” essentially just a website link configured to run more elegantly on your phone, and thus burn through data. So start any data management plan by inventorying the apps your children us, and how much data they eat up.

Child on phone

Hope she’s on WiFi!

What’s Useful?

That said, there are noble uses for data. For example, if you’ve got a budding astronomer on your hands, it’s a little hard to tell them not to use their favorite constellation app. The same is true of apps and web tasks that might be useful for schoolwork, such as checking Wikipedia, watching educational or instructional videos, or listening to school lectures or supplemental material via podcast. These, of course, deserve priority; knowledge is the finest use of smartphones.

What Are The Limits?

But there should also be limits. Kids shouldn’t spend every last minute playing games on their iPhones and tablets, and iPhone parental controls can see that they don’t. So, set some hard times where the phone gets put away, such as bedtime, meal times, school times, or times they need to use their phones exclusively for homework. If you’re concerned about kids trying to get around the rules, you can simply install a parental control app that locks down certain functions, or even the entire phone, either at your command or at set times during the day. And, of course, don’t forget the most fundamental punishment a parent can deploy: Taking the phone away.

Data doesn’t have to vanish before you even get the bill. With clear communication, rules, and boundaries, everyone can share a plan. Parental control apps like Screen Time can make this easier. Try it for free.

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Kids’ thoughts on Screen Time

by Anna Hughes on February 26, 2018
It may come as no surprise that kids don't love Screen Time.
Screen Time Kid's bad reviews

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

And who can blame them? If it weren’t for Screen Time, their parents wouldn’t be able to set daily screen time limits; instantly pause their devices remotely, or set schedules to ensure they’re unplugged when they’re supposed to be.

One day our children will realise how awesome their parents are for using an app to guide them towards a healthy online/offline balance. Because no one wants their entire childhood to be remembered as one long game of Minecraft. (Do they?)

Until then, the kid’s reviews of our app will continue to appear. And they ain’t pretty. But some are too good not to share. Here’s one of our favorites: 

Want to give Screen Time a go? Try it for Free! 

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What the kids say about Screen Time

by Anna Hughes on February 15, 2018
It may come as no surprise that kids aren’t our biggest fans.

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

And who can blame them? If it weren’t for Screen Time, their parents wouldn’t be able to set daily screen time limits; instantly pause their devices remotely, or set schedules to ensure they’re unplugged when they’re supposed to be.

One day our children will realise how awesome their parents are for using Screen Time to guide them towards a healthy online/offline balance. Because no one wants their entire childhood to be remembered as one long game of Minecraft. (Do they?)

Until then, the kid’s reviews of Screen Time will continue to appear. And they ain’t pretty. But some are too good not to share. Here’s one of our favorites: 

Want to give Screen Time a go? Try it for Free! 

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