PS4 Parental Controls: What Are Your Options?

by Screen Time Team on 25/03/2020

Game consoles can be a source of entertainment and even education. But they can also be the wellspring of tears, tantrums, and arguments. While there are currently no third-party parental control apps for the console, here’s how to manage the PlayStation 4 (PS4)’s parental controls to keep the rules in place.

What Can PS4 Parental Controls Do?

Sony has incorporated several types of parental controls into the PS4. They include:

Web filters
Spending limits
Age ratings for games and Blu-Rays
Access to network features and PlayStation VR

The first step to take is to make sure only you can change these settings.

Father and son sitting on a couch having a discussion.

How To Take Control Of The PS4

First, you’ll need to set yourself up as the Family Manager. You’ll find this under Settings, and then Parental Controls. The system will walk you through the configuration of the account.

Once this is done, you’ll be able to access “PS4 System Restrictions” in the same menu. If you haven’t used this before, the passcode will be 0000, or press Square on the DualShock 4 controller four times. Disable guest accounts, and the ability for others to create new accounts. You’ll also be asked to create a family manager passcode, different from your login, and a system restriction passcode.

This will allow you to configure all of the above, for each user. If you and your adult family members have separate accounts, for example, you can give them free access to games and movies. However, this is just the technical side. The social side is equally important.

How To Keep Control Of The PS4

It’s relatively easy to put in hard limits that kids can’t get around on the PS4. What’s hard is making them understand why those limits are in place. Rules only work when everybody who has to follow them understands fully why those rules are in place.

Have a meeting for the entire family and discuss what’s being put in place, and why you’re making those decisions. Give them concrete examples that you’re concerned about, such as bullying, hate speech, and cruelty.

These rules should extend beyond the console itself. For example, if you don’t want kids to play video games or stare at screens all day, you should set standards such as “No screens until homework and chores are completed,” or a screen-time-to-work ratio where, for example, for every two hours of homework, chores, or for teens time spent at work, they get an hour of screen time.

Setting an example will also be an important strategy. Any rule you set should be one you’re willing to follow, especially if you’ll be monitoring usage and controlling how kids use the many screens in our lives.

Finally, leave a door open for changes to the rules as things change. Elementary school children probably shouldn’t be playing gory first-person shooters, but older teenagers probably understand the inherently campy nature of such games. If everyone knows that the rules are fair and can change with circumstances, they’re more likely to try and improve the circumstances, instead of get around the controls.

To learn more about how parental control apps can help parents and children manage their screens, contact us today!

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The Essential Parents’ Guide to TikTok

by Screen Time Team on 18/03/2020

Tracking every social media phenomenon kids fall in love with can be tough. And sometimes they’re difficult to understand, not least in terms of the appeal. TikTok, in particular, can be one parents struggle with. Here’s what you need to know about TikTok.

What Is TikTok?

Formally called Musical.ly, TikTok is best described as a sort of music-video maker. You choose the music, shoot your footage on your phone, and use some basic editing tools and filters to make it best suit what you’re trying to communicate. The videos have a strict time limit of fifteen seconds or less. It also allows people to record “react” videos with the video they’re watching alongside, or to “duet” with a video, placing two videos together.

It has, however, become much more than that. For example, a user on TikTok became enormously popular for sharing tips on how to fight medical bills. As TikTok evolves it’s more likely to become more like a cross between YouTube and Instagram, with the dangers and benefits of both.

What Are TikTok’s Safety And Privacy Settings?

Like any social media app, a core concern is who’s watching and listening. Discuss with your children your concerns about safety and privacy, and consider setting their account to private.

TikTok’s privacy settings are fairly straightforward; if you’ve set privacy on apps before, you should be able to navigate it. To make an account private, open the app, go to the profile page, and tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner. Choose “Privacy and Safety” and you’ll see a toggle switch marked Private Account. You can also control who can “duet” with their videos and who can send comments to your kids.

As far as abuse and bullying, TikTok appears to have learned from the failures of other social media sites and generally acts quickly once negative or criminal behavior is reported. That said, there will always be predators and bullies who slip under the radar, so make sure your family knows it can come to you for help.

Teenage boy leaning against a railing while looking at his phone.

Can I Do Anything Else To Keep My Kids Safe On TikTok?

The main approach to take with TikTok, like any social media site, is to encourage a healthy relationship with it. Unlike a lot of social media, TikTok at least encourages creativity, but it can still suck you in with mindless scrolling if you’re not careful, eating up time and data.

So, set rules about overall screen time and time on TikTok, enforced with a parental control app. Make it clear TikTok should only be used in free time, not during school, chores, homework time, or other times of day that focus on a task is needed. Join TikTok and follow your kids to keep an eye on what they post, if necessary.

Above all, communicate with them and ensure they understand the reasons behind the rules. Any rule with a clear reason behind it is more likely to be followed than one that seems arbitrary. Kids deserve at least a degree of trust, with the understanding that you’re monitoring, and if they know the rules and the logic behind them, they’re more likely to follow them.

Want to keep more of an eye on TikTok and other social media apps? Screen Time can help. To see how, try Screen Time for free!

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Daylight Savings Time Is Here: Help Kids’ Enjoy Extra Daylight Hours

by Screen Time Team on 11/03/2020

With the arrival of Daylight Savings’ Time, the clocks roll forward an hour and suddenly there’s a lot more sunshine for kids to play in. The question, of course, is how, and why, to motivate them to get outside.

Why Kids Should Go Outside

Playing outside is good for a host of reasons, the simplest of which is they get some exercise and some sun exposure (bar getting a sunburn, of course). But there are other reasons as well. Playing with other kids outdoors allows them to develop better social skills, and also, being outside allows for unstructured time. Even educational apps and TV shows are essentially within a structure; they last only so long, they follow a certain set of steps, and so on. Kids need a little time away from that to fully nurture their creativity and originality.

How To Get Kids Outside

Start by going outside with them, as much as you can. Being away from a screen and in the sun benefits adults as well as children. You won’t always be able to come with, of course, but join them where possible. It also helps to go outside independently, such as going on runs, bicycling to the grocery store, and modeling being outside in other ways.

Commute by walking or cycling places where possible. While you can’t necessarily bike to the grocery store, fitting more outdoors time with your kids into your day will help them get used to being outdoors.

Girl flying a colorful kite.

Set them up for success with, friends, proper clothing and equipment. A good jacket, rugged toys and sports equipment, and clothes that can take the inevitable abuse from being outside. Similarly, invite their friends over, or work with other parents to set up outdoor playdates, or have a standing time to meet at the park so parents can watch over playing kids.

Ask your school what opportunities they have for outdoor fun that your children might be interested in. Even something as simple as intramural sports will keep them out and active well past the usual time.

Have a regular routine, enforced by parental control apps, that requires them to go outside, especially during the summer. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, just a minimum, like 30 minutes, but make it a part of their day even if they just goof around in the backyard or hang out in the park.

Look for “field trips” outside that you can go on. Visiting local farms, attending an outdoor sports event, going to an amusement park, coordinating a field day with the other local kids, and working at a community garden with their friends are just a few options.

Take vacations to outdoorsy places. Visiting the ocean or the mountains is a great way to get kids to enjoy the outdoors. Make sure to book activities that get out and about, such as kayaking trips and hiking tours.

Parental control apps can help keep kids away from screens and point them towards the outdoors. To learn more about how they can help, try Screen Time for free!

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BYOD Laptops in Schools: How to Keep Your Kids Safe

by Screen Time Team on 04/03/2020

Increasingly, laptops and smartphones are central to education. And in some ways, they’re a teacher’s dream, a tool that can instantly answer questions, point children towards educational content, and help work complex problems and concepts. But, of course, they can also be a distraction. Here’s what you need to know about “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies and your family screen time rules.

School Rules

To begin with, ask your children’s school for a list of apps and websites that are approved, as well as what the school filters. This may be sent home as well with a permission slip; read over any documentation you’re provided closely. Depending on the school, kids may be allowed to access certain social media sites or casual content like celebrity news during free periods or before and after formal school hours.

Next, ask how kids access the internet in class. Most schools will have a secure WiFi signal available for students to access, but it may not extend to the entire building, or be limited to certain labs for security, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your data.

Finally, ask how devices will be used inside and outside of class. Schools range from strict “keep it in the bag” policies to a more loose approach that lets kids use certain apps on the grounds and outside of class. This is a good time to discuss your personal rules and concerns with their teachers, as well as what programs you use, to make clear that you’re monitoring and that your family knows these programs are set up. All of this will affect your home device policy, but it doesn’t have to.

Teacher with four students.

House Rules

Once you’ve got all the information your need, see where it overlaps, and contradicts your rules. Of course, a no-device-in-school policy will have to be set aside, but it should be made clear that this isn’t a blanket pass. Go over what rules apply in school, and why.

With both operating system controls and your parental control apps, whitelist any websites and apps your children will need, and set the school schedule so they can be used during that time.

Be judicious in what devices go to school. For example, if they’re bringing a laptop, a tablet is probably unnecessary.

You may also want to consider giving teachers access to your apps to resolve issues. Even the best tools will stumble over the occasional edge case; for example, it’s a common issue in high schools that researching topics like breast cancer can be made difficult because the filters can’t sort medical imagery from inappropriate content.

Regularly check in about how kids are using their devices in schools. Ask them what they’re looking up, how their assignments work, and what you can do to help.

BYOD policies are going to take some adjustment, on the parts of both parents and the school. We’re simply in a new world here, where the potential of devices for education and improvement have to be weighed against the possible risks. To learn more about this balance, and how parental control apps can help keep it stable, try Screen Time for free!

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Keep Your Kids from Overusing Mobile Data with These Tips

by Screen Time Team on 26/02/2020

When shopping for a mobile plan, it pays to read the fine print, especially around data. A plan may say it’s unlimited, but reduce your data speed after a certain point, and data limits that seem generous may quickly run out. Some will even do both. Here’s how to keep your family under the limit, even if there isn’t supposed to be one.

Why You’re Leaking Data

One of the fundamental problems with any data plan is that it’s difficult to know when apps are using data and why. Phones will often jump onto and off of Wi-Fi networks automatically, and not all apps are straightforward about when they use data. For example, even a game that’s supposed to be playable offline will still use data to contact ad servers and save your game, depending on its design.

And kids, in particular, are vulnerable to leaking data in two ways. The first is simple; they’re kids. They may not know or understand why data is limited with a device in the first place. The second is on the app side; many app developers simply assume users have unlimited data, and for apps kids will spend a lot of time on, that can rack up big data bills very fast.

To see what’s using the data on each phone, for Android, open the Settings app, then click Network & Internet, then Data Usage, then App Data Usage. For iOS, open Settings, tap Cellular, and then scroll down to find the “Current Period.” Both will tell which apps are using the most data, and the next step is to do something about it.

Teenage boy sitting against the wall typing on a tablet.

Plugging Data Leaks

Fortunately, there are multiple methods for ending data leaks, and they’re worth doing across all your devices, not just your children’s.

Before you take any other step, sit your children down and make sure they clearly understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. That’ll help everyone get on board and make these rules work.

Use OS-level settings to restrict data usage. Both Apple and Google allow their platforms to limit data usage across the board.

Shut off “background” data. These are small packets of data apps send back and forth for various reasons, such as updating maps, that can pile up fast.

Configure individual apps to limit their data usage. Popular apps like Netflix, Instagram, and Google Maps have either “lighter” versions of their apps that use less data, have data settings that limit how much mobile data is used, or both.

Delete apps you don’t need. Even apps you never open anymore may be using background data, so remove them completely.

Install a parental monitoring app on your children’s devices. This will help track what apps are being used and for how long, and enforce rules like “no phones after bedtime,” which can rack up data charges and also expensive in-app purchases.

Only update apps when you’re on Wi-Fi, and configure your update settings so any automatic updates only occur on Wi-Fi.

To learn more about how parental control apps can limit both data leaks and risks to your kids, try Screen Time for free!

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Parental Control Apps: Monitoring Isn’t the Same as Spying

by Screen Time Team on 19/02/2020

Families need trust between all their members to operate, and that can often make for conflicted feelings in parents. Kids need to be trusted, but how much is too much, and how can you balance trust, their safety, and your responsibility as a parent? If you install a parental control app, is that the same as looking through their diary? Here’s how to draw a line between responsible parenting and being too intrusive.

Be Transparent

Trust starts with transparency across the board. When your family sits down to discuss the rules under your roof, you should not only make the rules and the punishments for breaking them clear, but also the rationale behind the rules. Giving everyone a full understanding of what you’re concerned about and why you’re taking the steps that you are will make rule-breaking less likely.

Similarly, steps you take to enforce the rules and why should also be open and up-front: If you’re installing a parental control app on their device, take the time to explain what you’re doing with it, precisely what it does, what you can see, and why.

Model Good Behavior

If you set rules for the family around devices, that should mean the entire family sticks to them. Rules like “no devices at the dinner table,” “no sharing anyone’s personal photos,” or “TV only at certain times” should be stuck to by everybody, both to limit the temptation to break the rules and to help create a specific standard. Similarly, respect their privacy in the “real” world; simple habits like knocking on closed doors and having them in the room when you collect laundry will help them understand courtesy and respect.

Father trying to talk with his son at the breakfast table.

Engage With Their Internet Habits

Talking with kids about what they’re doing online, and what you’re doing online, is a good way to keep up transparency. Ask your children about the games they’re playing, the apps they’re using, the friends they’ve met online, and encourage them to ask you about that as well. They probably will not be excited to learn about your bill-paying, but if you set a standard for honesty and openness, they’ll follow

Practice Trust

Trust is earned, not given, and the best way to build it is to let your kids earn it. There are limits, of course; no matter how trustworthy a grade-schooler is, they probably shouldn’t be at the store alone, for example. But look for ways to show you trust your kids, such as letting them do chores and homework on their own.

Be Honest

The truth is that even the best kids will sometimes break your trust. They might do it for all sorts of reasons, from the sincere to the selfish. But when they get caught, you should maintain honesty both in how you caught them, and how you feel about it. If an app brought rule-breaking to your attention, be sure to inform them of how you learned about it.

Building and maintaining trust takes work, and parental control apps can help by proving that kids are following rules. To learn more about how a parental control app can help, try it for free!

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Consider Kids’ Privacy Before Sharing Their Pictures, Stories Online

by Screen Time Team on 12/02/2020

We all have embarrassing pictures of our childhood out there. Yet where before those pictures would sit in albums or shoeboxes waiting for a slow time over the holidays or a weekend, now they can be visible to the entire world. Before you share that snapshot, consider the following.

Sorting Concern From Panic

There are two basic facts about our online privacy: The first is that we begin building a digital footprint practically from birth, which can begin with an ultrasound posted online and can end with a Facebook page turned into a memorial. The second is the possible psychological and social impact of this is still theoretical. 

Facebook wasn’t available to the general public until 2006, for example, so the first generation that’s never known a world without it is just entering middle school. Nor is it guaranteed that Facebook will still be around by the time they’re considering colleges; it wasn’t so long ago that MySpace and Friendster were ascendant, after all.

This means you should take any grandiose claims about how social media will affect us in the future with a grain of salt. But it also means you need to consider the future impact of anything you post, and what data is generated.

Start With Yourself

Kids notice what we do, so consider how you share online, both consciously by posting to social media, and passively by using fitness trackers, location apps, and other tools. Talk your kids through what you share, why you share it, and how you weigh the possible risks against the rewards. Make it clear that there is no free lunch; if somebody is offering a digital service for free, it’s because they think something they collect in turn is more valuable.

Remember, as well, that just because your privacy settings filter out the general public doesn’t mean various organizations won’t have access to your data anyway.

Father helping his daughter on a laptop computer.

Think About The Future

Until they’re old enough to sign up for their own social media accounts, you largely control how your kids are seen online. So start by asking yourself a simple set of questions before you post. Would you want this shared about you when you were that age? How will people who are not part of your family interpret this? Is this information, however innocent, that people really need to know about?

This should extend not just to social media postings, but their personal devices, smart toys, digital tracking devices, and other tools marketed to parents. Look closely at where the data goes and what you’re agreeing to allow to be done with it before you make use of that tool.

Teach A Thoughtful Approach

As kids get older, teaching them to think ahead will be your most rewarding strategy. Show them where to find privacy settings, what those settings do, and how to configure them. Install a third-party parental control app to block certain apps and explain why. Teach them about discussing certain topics with strangers, and when to come to you when something said or done worries them. The more tools they have, the safer they’ll be as they become adults and enter the digital world on their own.

To learn more about how parental control apps like Screen Time can help, try it for free!

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Snow Days Don’t Have to Mean Endless Time in Front of Screens

by Screen Time Team on 29/01/2020

There’s nothing kids love more than a snow day. Parents, however, are worried that the day might be spent in front of screens. And while there’s nothing wrong with an episode or two, there’s no reason to give up a perfectly good day off to screens.

Plan Ahead

The best way to deal with snow days is to have a plan in place before they arrive. Keeping a good stock of books, board games, crafting projects, and other non-screen entertainment will limit complaints and make kids more likely to do more than play video games all day. You should also set expectations before the snow flies, so that kids don’t imagine they’ll be goofing off on the computer all day.

It’s also important to discuss the rules around telecommuting or coming with you to the office. They need to understand that just because they have a snow day, you may not, and they need to understand the compromises that come with that.

Stick To The Rules, Mostly

There’s nothing wrong with loosening the rules a little bit during a snow day, like two episodes of TV instead of one. But that said, the rules shouldn’t go totally out the window, no matter how much you have to do even if they have a day off. Make it clear that while they can have a little more screen time, if you think it’s OK, it should be treated like a typical day otherwise.

Setting up parental controls and installing third-party parental control apps will also help, as kids will be able to stay focused on the rules, not the screen.

Catch Up

Treat snow days as a good way to teach children about thinking ahead. Have them look over their syllabi and required reading, and look for opportunities to catch up or to do some work before the assignment due date arrives. If they get their reports done, their worksheets completed, and so on, they’ll be a lot happier in the long term. This is especially effective if you’ve got a “no screens before homework” rule, as if they want to play on screens, they can earn some time by getting future homework.

Two young teens walking down the sidewalk wearing winter clothes.

Set Up Playdates

Remember, you’re not the only one figuring out what to do with the kids. Contact other parents and ask them if they’d like to do a snow day date, or if you can host one, so families can socialize together, play board games, work on homework together, craft, or anything else that they enjoy as a group activity.

Go Outdoors

Time in the snow can be a lot of fun, and help kids get the exercise they might miss otherwise. If you know winter may be tough, set up a parent’s group to oversee kids as they play in parks, another parent’s backyard, or a place they’ll have fun, be safe, and get a little sunshine.

Snow days don’t have to be frustrating for parents. With a little planning, some good ideas, and help from other parents, you can make every snow day a screen-free day. To learn more about how third-party parental control apps can help, try it for free!

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A Two-Way Street: Kids Notice Their Parents’ Phone Habits Too

by Screen Time Team on 22/01/2020

Every parent has had that awkward moment where the kids imitate something they say or do without understanding the context, like a word blurted out in a moment of temper. Children tend to follow the cues of their parents in what they do, behavior that can endure for far longer than either side realizes. This makes parents “walking the walk” a fundamental part of helping their kids develop better phone habits.

Do As I Say…

To be fair, many adults are fully aware that they spend too much time on their phones. One survey found that a bare majority of parents felt they could leave the smartphone in the drawer most often. Yet that creates a real problem when talking with kids about their phone use.

The problem is most visible to kids as they get older and their attitude towards their phones changes. Teenagers, in particular, are more likely to use a smartphone as a tool, much the same as an adult, and will have pointed questions about commonplace misuses of smartphones.

But younger kids can pick up habits, good and bad, just by watching. Keep in mind, your children will spend time with you every day from birth. They’re going to have a good sense of how you use, or misuse, everything around you. This makes good phone habits important right from the start.

Child yelling at mom while she is looking at her parental control app on her phone.

Setting An Example

Before you set any family rules, start by examining your own behavior. Very few of us do anything outright dangerous, like text while driving, yet you may be surprised by how often you can drift into staring at a screen. Using a time tracking app, for example, can tell you how much time you spend on social media.

It’s also important to sort “screen time” from “usage.” If your phone is sending a podcast to your car stereo or you’re getting walking directions, that’s different from endlessly scrolling through social media. Ask yourself what uses the rest of the family may put the phone to, and sort that from the screen overuse you’re worried about.

Next, consider how rules you’re considering will apply to the entire family, not just your kids. If you want kids to stop using their phones at bedtime, can you implement a rule where everybody charges their phones in the living room, for example?

Finally, have logic behind the rules. We’ve all run into what appears to be an arbitrary rule and found it a frustrating experience. Kids are no different, and being able to explain to them why you’re concerned about this use of the phone but not that one can be useful for ensuring everyone’s on the same page. It also sets up a framework to request changes to the rules.

Part of that should be a third-party parental control app. Even the best kids will, at some point, push the boundaries of the rules. A third-party app will give you the control you need to keep malware and socially toxic apps off phones and enforce the rules, while also giving you the flexibility to grow with your kids. To learn more, sign up today!

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My Child Made Expensive In-App Purchases. What Should I Do?

by Screen Time Team on 15/01/2020

While parents can do quite a bit to block in-app purchases, sometimes kids get a new device, log into a different one, or just press the wrong button with the wrong setting enabled. Suddenly there’s an extra zero on your credit card bill and a big problem. Don’t despair, though; you’ve got more than one tool to fight inappropriate in-app purchases.

Block the App

Start with ensuring the app doesn’t charge your card again. Make sure it’s added to both your operating system level controls and your third-party parental control app, either as a blocked app or as one that can’t make in-app purchases without your consent. You should also go through and change your passwords, PINs, and other controls in case that’s the problem.

Also, run a malware check to ensure that the issue doesn’t lie in the code of the game itself. Malicious actors are perfectly happy to make it look like kids are misbehaving in order to cover their tracks. If this is a separate system, you might even consider disconnecting your credit card.

Request A Refund

Both Apple and Google have refund forms you can fill out. They do, unfortunately, have time limits, generally between two hours and two days depending on the purchase, so you’ll have to act quickly once you learn about the purchase.

In some cases, you may need to request a refund directly from the developer. This generally will go through their website but check the app to ensure there’s no refund button or similar feature available.

Woman speaking on the phone with her child nearby.

Challenge The Charges

In some cases, you may be able to fight the charges on your credit card statement. If you can’t get a refund from the store, or the developer, call your credit card company and explain the situation. They may accept the reversal, and you can also work with them to flag the merchant code, so charges don’t automatically go through.

Be aware, though, that financial institutions generally treat this as credit card fraud beyond a certain point and you may need to stop the process at a certain point. Ask what other options you have available to flag these charges or even prevent them from being put on your bill.

Educate, Educate, Educate

Many apps will properly represent their in-app charges, but this doesn’t mean that kids will fully understand the connection between pressing the button and that money comes out of an account somewhere. Sit your family down and discuss, in detail, what in-app purchases are, how they work, and which are acceptable and which aren’t. 

For example, if somebody wants to buy a book for school, that’s usually acceptable, but buying a power-up in a game probably isn’t. Walk kids through how to spot in-app purchases, and how to sort out normal requests from a game, like opening a power-up, from options that will cost money.

Ensuring that your family understands in-app purchases and what they can do will be an ongoing discussion. Third-party parental control apps can help kids stick to the rules and better understand why those rules are in place. To learn more, try our parental control app for free!

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