Top 7 Ways to Protect Your Child’s Digital Privacy

by Screen Time Team on 12/08/2020

Everyone has a right to privacy online, but children, in particular, may not understand some of the risks involved with being on the internet. Here are some effective ways to protect your family’s privacy on the internet.

Educate

A well-informed family is the first step. A family meeting should go over what kids should know about internet privacy, what is and isn’t OK for your family to share and why, and what should raise red flags when talking with strangers. Teach kids to ask themselves “Is this something the rest of my family would mind strangers knowing about?”

Set Rules

Rules and guidelines will also be useful, especially if you explain why those rules are in place. One common one many families use is “If I have to ask myself if this is OK to say, I shouldn’t say it.” Design the rules to be about thoughtfulness and courtesy, not secrecy. Kids should learn to ask questions of people to better understand their boundaries as part of growing up.

Check Your Settings

The more private social networks and chat apps are, the better. Limit these to friends and family you know in real life, and use operating system settings and parental control software to limit both access to certain apps and when they can be used, as well as configuring privacy settings.

Read the Fine Print

Many apps will request “permissions” that don’t seem necessary, such as access to your contacts. Even if they have a good reason for asking for this data, think carefully before allowing it to be offered. Once you grant these permissions, they’re granted for good. Similarly, read the end user license agreement (EULA) for software to see what you’re accepting.

Young girl typing on a phone.

Know the Laws

Kids have certain protections that adults don’t on the internet under laws such as the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA.) Familiarize yourself with the laws that apply, so your family knows its rights if information is out there you’d prefer to keep private.

Think Before Posting

Many parents will share funny stories and photos of their kids without thinking twice. Yet consider for a moment that those stories will be online forever. Is this something your family will want out there when the kids are all grown up?

Check For Unexpected Information

You’d be surprised how much information can be drawn from a simple picture, depending not just on what the subject is, but the setting, what’s in the background, what people are wearing, and more. Before putting up a photo or sharing some information about a family member, think for a moment about what people may be able to conclude about them from what you’re sharing.

As you can see, this is a complicated topic, and it’s only going to become more so as children grow, technology changes, and our approach to what technology is necessary in society evolves. Parental control software can help you manage in a changing world. To learn more, try it for free!

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How to Protect Your Kids from Online Porn

by Screen Time Team on 06/08/2020

Pornography is extremely commonplace on the internet. While everyone agrees that children should be kept away from it, how to do so can feel overwhelming. 

Here are practical and effective ways to keep your kids away from online porn.

Encourage Knowledge, Not Taboo

Many kids don’t seek out pornography. Instead, they have questions about biology, sex, and their bodies, and stumble over adult content by accident looking for answers. 

So the first step to making sure they don’t resort to the internet for answers. Make sure they have a judgment-free adult to speak to, such as a doctor, they can bring questions they may feel awkward asking you about, and that they know they can ask you about certain topics as well. Getting clear and honest answers to their questions will also “demystify” sex a little bit, taking away the aspect of the “forbidden” that lingers around online porn.

Aggressively Filter And Block

Parental control software, browser filters, and other tools should be deployed to ensure kids don’t stumble over sexual content. Most of this is relatively simple, such as enabling Google’s SafeSearch function and turning on apps and operating-system-level controls on phones. Streaming services like Netflix have children-only accounts. However, parental control software should still be used both to prevent cruel “pranks” where inappropriate links are sent to people and deliberate attempts to “groom” children with porn. Users on sites who attempt this should be reported and blocked.

Young teen with a surprised look on his facing while looking at his tablet.

One useful tool for parents is to buy the right hardware and download the right apps. Most apps that are popular with children have a “kids-only” version, such as YouTube Kids, that can be used on their systems instead of the “full” version. Also, it is important to buy child-appropriate hardware, which typically has built-in software controls you can add parental control software on top of to limit access.

Look For “Closed” Systems

The best way to protect kids on the internet is for them to be in “closed” spaces and hardware ecosystems. A good example is the Nintendo Switch, where everything is rigorously controlled by Nintendo, users who misbehave are quickly blocked from the service, and other safety controls are put in place. There’s only so much any company can do. Nintendo, for example, seems unable to prevent its users from misbehaving in their popular Animal Crossing series, but none of it rises to shocking behavior as you might see elsewhere.

However, be ready to “open” these systems up as kids get older. As kids turn into adults, they will push against boundaries in all sorts of ways, so have methods in place to meet these needs for more independence as they age.

This will continue to be a complicated topic, and it will only become more complex as technology becomes more commonplace in our lives, and as societal attitudes change over time. Parental control software will help you manage these changes while giving your kids tools over time to grow into healthy relationships with technology and information. To learn more, sign up!

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Five Ways to Protect Your Tween from Online Grooming

by Screen Time Team on 29/07/2020

The threat of sexual predators online isn’t as common as the news might lead you to believe. Yet, while bullying and theft are much more common online, there is still a risk from predators, particularly those who spend weeks, months, or even years insinuating themselves into the lives of teens. 

Here’s how to spot “grooming,” how to teach kids to defend themselves, and how to stop it.

Limit Chat Apps To What’s Age-Appropriate

Using in-app settings, operating system settings, and parental control software, the first step is to limit or block certain apps. Some, like Kik and WhatsApp, aren’t really intended for kids in the first place, even if kids are allowed to use them. Make sure kids understand why these apps are off-limits (for now), and that they fully grasp the rules. And be sure to limit time on chat apps in the first place, so that they’re not distracting from homework or chores. Don’t forget that video games and other online apps, while they may not be officially chat apps, do have chat functions.

Give Kids A Positive Emotional Outlet

Predators often target kids going through a tough time: family struggles, low self-esteem, problems at school, and so on. Everyone needs a place to open up with that can be neutral, separate from family, and non-judgmental, and children may not think about the risk when opening up in a chat room. So, make sure they feel safe coming to you, that they have a teacher, counselor, or another adult who isn’t a family member they can discuss matters with, and that they can talk to a therapist if they want to.

Young teen wearing headphones sitting in front of of a laptop computer.

Talk With Them About What They Do Online

Make a habit of checking in with kids about what’s happening online with them. Ask them about their games, their friends, what they’re doing online, and who they’re doing it with. If they make a new friend online, ask if they’re somebody they know in the real world as well or if they were someone they’ve met solely online. Make a point of noting who’s in their good graces.

Teach Kids To Trust, But Verify

Knowledge is the best weapon. It’s worth noting that the same exploitative and manipulative tactics are used to defraud people or bully them, so you should walk kids through some examples of how people who want to use them for something work. The difficulty is often this is the same process people form friendships with: shared experiences, likes and dislikes, positive discussion, and so on. The best starting tactic is to teach kids “trust, but verify.” Run the username or email through Google, for example, and show your kid how to do that.

Learn the “Red Lines”

There will come a point where somebody, whether they want embarrassing information or something more sinister, will signal their intentions. This can be as crude as asking for a credit card number or a picture, or as subtle as sharing something that seems personal, then demanding something personal in return. Teach your family to look for these red lines, to come to you or someone else they trust to discuss them if they’re crossed, and that if they’re uncomfortable, to walk away, no matter what they think the situation is.

To learn more about how parental control software can help, try it for free!

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Online Gaming: Five Tips to Protect Your Kids

by Screen Time Team on 22/07/2020

Whether it’s Fortnite, Minecraft or Animal Crossing, more and more video games are headed online. And parents have good reason to be concerned about the risks of online gaming. Here’s what you need to know about online games, parental control apps, and the risks.

Remember Bullying and Theft Are the Most Common Risks

While we’ve been hearing for years about sexual predators, the bigger risks are bullying and theft. Every parent knows about in-app purchases and microtransactions, which are commonplace in video games at this point. Yet there are plenty of other risks, such as fraudsters pretending to be kids to get information out of children, cyberbullying, and other misbehavior. 

While kids should understand how predators operate online, they should also know when a question is crossing the line, and when to walk away from a bully.

Know That Most Games Are “Online” In Some Way

While not all games have features where you can play against others, many modern games have some sort of online component. Many game publishers have “launchers,” like Ubisoft’s Uplay or EA’s Origin, that require an internet connection to run the game, while mobile games may collect information for advertising purposes. 

Parents should configure these tools and games to stay as offline as possible if they’re concerned about sharing information.

Teen sitting at his desk with three monitors and a headset.

Games Vary Widely On What Settings You Can Use

As there’s no uniform standard, how games function online and what you can do vary between publishers. Nintendo, for example, has a rigorous system where you need a long “friend code” to connect with people; if you can’t provide the code, you’re not allowed to interact. Others will create private servers or will age-gate servers so only people of a certain age can go on a server. Still, others just throw open the gates. In many cases, configuring things is up to the parent. Parental control software is strongly recommended for games without many internal controls, and you should consider your personal digital parenting style as well.

Abuse Takes Many Forms

Beyond a certain point, there is little publishers can do. Nintendo, for example, has done a lot to limit abuse, but Animal Crossing players have taken to vandalizing other players’ spaces and stealing rare items. Most will have some form of “abuse” policy that removes users who engage in hate speech, death threats, and other extremes. But preventing rude behavior and bullying is largely left up to the players themselves, and may depend on the audience. An adult may engage in “trash talk” not realizing a child is on the other end of the chat window.

Similarly, adults may do things in online video games intended for other adults that kids can accidentally stumble into. There may be graffiti, phrases in people’s gamertags and profiles, and other content that parents may take exception to.

What Else Can Parents Do?

  • Limit online gaming to certain days and times.
  • Enforce rules with parental control software.
  • Make it clear kids can come to you with concerns.
  • Configure the game to shut off in-app payments and limit chat and voice functions.
  • Check the game’s terms of service to see how abusive behavior can be reported.
  • Make sure games have been rated to the appropriate level by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board or a similar professional entity.

To learn more about parental control apps, try it for free!

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How to Keep Teens Safe on Yubo

by Screen Time Team on 15/07/2020

Chat apps can be a positive thing. When friends and family move away, you don’t have to lose touch, which can be particularly painful for kids. Moreover, families can find new groups of friends around shared interests or needs. That’s the appeal of an app like Yubo, but like other chat apps, there are pitfalls parents need to know.

What Is Yubo?

Yubo is a friend-finding chat app that allows users to communicate primarily via text and video; while it encourages livestreaming video from your device, it can also be used as a chat app.

Is Yubo A Dating App?

How people to chat or stream with may be mildly dismaying to some parents at first because it uses a similar structure to dating apps. You’re presented with a series of photos for a user, and then, swipe to confirm or deny interest in chatting. As a result, it can be mistaken for Tinder and other apps that use a “swipe” configuration to confirm interest. However, Yubo has no other dating app features. This can also be disabled within the app.

Does Yubo Have An Age Limit?

Yubo does require you to be 13 or older to sign up for an account, and matches users with their stated age range, teens with teens, and adults with adults. It also may make suggestions based on location, if that feature is enabled at the operating system and app level. If somebody knows your phone number, they can search for you through that as well, if you provide the app with that number.

Smiling young teen girl wearing headphones, while looking at her computer screen and writing in a book.

What Can I Enable or Disable In Yubo?

Yubo’s settings allow parents to disable location services, hide profiles from the “swipe” section of the app, and hide your phone number if you provide it to the app. It’s generally worth doing all of these for teens, especially if you’re concerned about safety.

In addition, you should enable certain phone-level protections, like disabling location services, if you’re concerned about teens accidentally providing their info to strangers. Be aware that this may shut off other services, like location tracking, so you may want to use parental control apps to disable these services instead.

How Should I Manage Yubo?

Start with your overall rules. Every family should have rules about chat apps, how they’re used, and what’s safe and what isn’t. If your kids want to use Yubo, they should talk it over with you.

Make sure they understand what’s safe to share and what isn’t. Remember that even a profile picture can tell people far more about you than you expect.

Yubo should be subject to the rules you apply through your parental control apps. Part of the problem with chat apps is they can distract from homework, chores, and bedtime. Cutting them off during certain hours will help.

Kids need to be able to talk to you about what they might see and hear on Yubo, so make it clear they can always come to you without judgment and you’ll help them work out issues.

To learn more about how parental control apps can manage chat apps like Yubo, try it for free!

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A Quick Parental Guide to Kik

by Screen Time Team on 08/07/2020

There’s a flurry of apps around any phone. One, in particular, that stands out to parents is Kik. Here’s what you need to know about Kik, parental control apps, and how to manage the app.

What Is Kik?

Kik is an instant messaging app, available on iOS and Android, popular in part because it tends to preserve user anonymity better than similar apps. For example, you can log into Kik without providing a phone number, and messages sent over Kik are stored in the app, not on the phone directly like text messages. These features may make it appealing to some parents in terms of protecting their children’s anonymity online, while others may be troubled by the lack of accountability. 

Is Kik Free?

Yes, but it does use either cellphone data plans or WiFi. So depending on your plan and how it’s used, it may have a negative impact on your data bill. Kik also has apps inside of it, some of which cost money, like The New York Times, and others that may not be appropriate, such as dating sites or apps aimed at adults for finding after-hours venues. Kik itself recommends that teens no younger than 13 be allowed onto to the app, for both safety and data management reasons.

Mother looking concerned while her son hides his phone.

What Can You Send on Kik?

Kik allows users to send text, photos, sketches, video, webpages, and other material. It also has video chat functionality, and users can be collected into groups in order to blast messages to a wider audience. It’s essentially the same as many other messaging apps such as WhatsApp in this respect. So any rules you have about those should transfer over to Kik.

What Parental Controls Are Available On Kik?

First, there are operating-system-level controls that you should consider implementing, for both iOS and Android. Remember to do so across all your device. 

Secondly, Kik has several safety features, such as muting inbound messages from strangers. These again are similar to other messaging apps and are not particularly robust. 

Finally, you can use third-party parental control apps to limit when Kik can be used. There are no filtering options available for chats, and as some topic chats may stray into either difficult topics you’d rather address directly, it may be necessary to block groups or block the app altogether.

Should I Allow My Teen To Have Kik?

Like any app, whether Kik is allowed or not is ultimately up to the parents. While it’s not particularly dangerous compared to other messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger or TikTok, the lack of strong privacy tools onboard the app is something parents should consider before allowing kids to use the app.

To learn more about controlling private messaging apps with parental controls, try it for free!

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Should You Buy A Smart Toy for Your Child?

by Screen Time Team on 01/07/2020

Back when many parents were kids, the smartest toys they got were beeping or moving to a song. These days, however, there are fantastically complex devices designed to do everything from reading moods to connect to the internet to play games and update software. But when is a smart toy too smart? And when should they be subject to parental control apps? 

Here are three key questions you need to consider.

How Does the Toy Function?

First, explore how the toys function. Some smart toys simply have complex onboard electronics or other items and operate that way. Others will connect to the internet directly, or will need to be configured by an external device before being used, but that will be the end of it. And still, others are intimately connected to an app run on a tablet or phone.

Each of these introduces potential concerns. For example, if a toy only works with an included app, you should check the permissions on that app. What data does the app collect? Is the app designed for an adult to work the toy “behind the scenes,” or is a child directly engaged by a screen? Keep in mind some functions may also fall afoul of a parental control app’s filters.

What Information Is Gathered?

Smart toys may require you or your child to sign into a website, fill out a product registration card, or otherwise turn over personal information. This can be subtle. For example, have you ever told a game what month you were born in to get free in-game items? Or do you have to upload a profile picture?

Boy controlling a mini robot with a phone app.

Remember that information can be passively gathered, also. If a toy connects to the internet, it will likely gather data like IP address, time of connection, router information, and internet service provider as a matter of course. Unless explicitly blocked by parental control apps or safety software, that information can be used to uncover a surprising amount of personal information.

Finally, be wary of subscriptions or in-app purchases. Those require not just your internet information, but credit card data as well.

What’s Built Into the Toy?

One of the big problems with smart devices, in general, is unnecessary features added simply because they put another bullet on a marketing sheet. Cameras, GPS locators, and other potential safety risks could be thrown into toys. If they are enabled, ask who’s on the other end, and what they’re doing with the information they may gather. 

Manufacturers should provide policy documents on their website, and be in compliance with all relevant laws, such as the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the US, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU. They should also not interfere with the operation of parental control apps or ask for exceptions to these apps.

There’s no way to protect your family from the entire world. But you can develop rules and approaches to put it more on your terms. To learn more, try Screentime for free!

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How Parental Control Apps Can Help Kids Sleep Well

by Screen Time Team on 24/06/2020

Getting kids into healthy sleep patterns can be a challenge, and evidence increasingly points to screens making it a tougher job for parents. Here’s what you need to know about kids, screen time, and sleep.

Screens Keep You Up

There are two schools of thought that overlap on screens keeping you, and your kids, awake: The physical and the psychological

The physical argues that screens tend to emit light in the bluer spectrum, which will cue your brain to think that it’s still daylight when it’s not, disrupting sleep patterns. While research is still ongoing into whether this truly matters and how much, phone manufacturers are erring on the side of caution and giving customers the option to shift their screen’s color palette to a more orange tone after a certain time of night. This might be worth considering as a general rule, as it may help maintain sleep during long trips.

The psychological, however, is much simpler and more compelling. Social media apps like Instagram and Twitter are built to keep you scrolling and scrolling, video games naturally lean into a reward structure that makes you want to play. And we’ve all felt the tug of reading just one more chapter or watching that next episode. Screen time is easier than ever to indulge in. Which is where family rules and parental control apps enter the narrative. 

Child lying in bed with covers over their head looking at a phone.

Managing Screens At Bedtime

Set family rules about taking screens to bed, what can be done with screens at bedtime, and when. Reading, for example, might be good for bedtime, but watching a TV show or playing a game may be too much.

With general screen time rules, set standards such as only so many episodes of a TV show per day, so much time played on games, and so on. 

Be sure, when writing these rules, to discuss the rationale behind them, not just impose them unilaterally. When there’s a clear reason for the rules, they’re more likely to be followed, and understanding the spirit of a rule is important as kids get older and make their own decisions about screens.

Additionally, you can: 

  • Create a schedule for bedtime that you can do every day to cue the body to sleep, and leave screens out of it. It’s been shown that this will help sleep cycles, and will establish better long-term habits. Look for relaxing activities like reading, listening to calm music or podcasts, or taking a bath.
  • Build a “charging nook” for all your devices where they have to stay overnight. In fact, leaving screens out of rooms, in general, is a good policy. This ensures that adults and children alike don’t spend all night staring at their phones.
  • Use parental control apps to enforce bedtime schedules. Blocking certain apps, or locking phones and tablets outright after a certain time, will ensure that the rules stay in place. 

Remember that you might need to relax the rules depending on certain situations. No parent is perfect, and sometimes there are disruptions.

Parental control apps can help set the rules, keep sleep patterns healthy, and limit tears and arguments at bedtime. To learn more, try it for free!

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Age-Appropriate Guide to Tablet Use

by Screen Time Team on 17/06/2020

Parents have a multitude of advice around what screens kids should have and when. Yet, tablets are particularly fraught. Since they connect to the internet and can be loaded with apps, there are both benefits and pitfalls parents can struggle with. 

Here’s what parents should know about age-appropriate use, parental controls, and proper approaches for tablets.

Is A Tablet Even Necessary?

Tablets are usually a convenience for families, not a requirement. Many educational apps have multiple ways to access them via the internet, so sharing a family device like a laptop may be a better option depending on your concerns. 

Ask yourself if a tablet makes sense for your budget and your family rules. If it’s expected for an educational program or other need, ask to sit down with the teacher or administrator and discuss your concerns.

Is There A “Right” Age?

How young is too young for a tablet? It’s a question that varies from family to family. 

Many guidelines about screens concerning young children are not concerned with developmental impacts, but rather with kids spending too much time without getting up and moving. A better question may be “how active are my children, and what impact would giving them a tablet have on that?”

How Much Tablet Time Is Too Much?

This ties into the next concern: how much time should kids have on a tablet? Again, this will depend on the parents and their approach, and parents need to give themselves permission to occasionally allow a little tablet time if they need to focus on something else. 

One important step, though, is to consider all the screens kids may be using. They should have to make decisions on what screens they can use, and family rules and parental controls should enforce those limits.

Brothers sitting on a couch each using tablets.

What Should Be Allowed?

Over time, children will need to develop skills to thrive as adults, and adults can help by easing them into certain rules. When considering what should be allowed and what should be gated off by parental controls on tablets, ask what you’re comfortable with, what you’re not, and why. 

Don’t keep these concerns to yourself either. Articulating them will help kids understand why the rules are in place, making it more likely they’ll stick by them.

How Do I Balance School And Leisure?

An increasing challenge for parents is that many schools are beginning to expect kids to have tablets at home for homework and studying. Some schools have a “bring your own device” (BYD) policy, while others may send a tablet home to households with strict rules, or even parental controls already in place. Others may go the opposite direction entirely, banning tablets from their grounds and assigning homework that specifically demands kids not use technology to solve the problem.

Some parents will divide “work” screen time from “play” screen time and meter the two separately. Others will simply put it all into one bank. Regardless, you’ll have to adapt your family’s rules to outside changes and approaches.

Tablets will always present at least a few tough questions, especially as new apps with new questions appear. But you’re better off confronting them and rolling with the changes. That means using parental controls and apps to get ahead. Click here to learn more!

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Quick Guide to Quibi for Parents

by Screen Time Team on 11/06/2020

It can be difficult to keep track of every streaming service out there and whether its content is appropriate for children or whether it needs to be filtered by parental control software. If you’re wondering what Quibi is, and whether it’s appropriate for children, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Quibi?

Quibi is a streaming app designed for smartphones that can be watched either in “portrait” or “landscape,” with each series divided into brief “episodes” of ten minutes or less. The idea is that you can consume content in “quick bites” (hence the name “Quibi”) on the go. The service is aimed at teenagers, in particular, with the belief that teenagers are more likely to consume television on their phones.

What Content Is on Quibi?

Currently, the app’s lineup leans fairly heavily on reality shows, docu-series, and other relatively low budget content, with a handful of original drama series with more coming over time.

Similar to other streaming series, not all content is appropriate for all ages. Notably an adaptation of the violent comic book “Tomie” and the adult-focused comedy series “Reno 911!” are early series that will be on the platform.

Does Quibi Offer Parental Controls?

As of this writing, parental controls are not available on the app itself. Operating-system-level controls may apply to Quibi, and the app does offer content ratings to help inform parents about what’s available on the platform and what’s being watched.

Streaming service displayed on a smart tv.

What Approach Should I Take With Quibi?

How you view the app, and whether you allow it, will be up to your family rules and your approach to streaming content. You can certainly just block the app with parental control apps or by configuring the phone to prevent download or video streaming. But it will probably make more sense to do more than just block. 

For any streaming service, take the following steps:

  • Limit overall TV watching as part of overall screen time. Everyone in the family needs to learn how to balance their personal leisure against their chores and other needs. So set limits on what TV can be watched, whether it’s on a phone or tablet or elsewhere.
  • Discuss what you think kids should view and why. Be honest and detailed about your reasons for what you’d prefer they watch.
  • Make it clear kids can discuss things that worry or disturb them that they see without judgment. Even family-appropriate shows will touch on topics kids will need to talk about, such as the passing of loved ones.
  • Be ready to discuss news and current events content in particular. We live in a world where it’s never been easier to be informed, whether through Quibi’s news channels, social media, or the content streams of various apps. Younger kids, in particular, will perhaps only have a limited understanding of what they see in the news and will need careful, neutral guidance to understand the issues.

Families can’t control everything about the world around them, but they can control how they react to it and how the world comes to them. To learn how third-party parental control apps can help, try it for free!

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