Keep Kids’ Eyes Safe from Too Much iPhone Screen Time

by Screen Time Team on 17/07/2019
Young teen typing on a laptop computer while looking at a phone.

Are Smartphones Ruining Children’s Vision?

We’ve known for a while that staring at screens for long periods of time can cause problems, including dry eyes, eyestrain, neck pain from holding your head in a certain position, and possibly encouraging near-sightedness by keeping the eyes at a certain field of view for long periods of time. Note that this is true of any screen, however; whether it’s a TV, a smartphone, or a computer monitor.

A bit more open-ended is the question of blue-light exposure. While it is true that intense, long-term exposure to light in the blue wavelengths may contribute to macular degeneration, due to the fact that it’s “higher energy” than other forms of light, we need to remember we’re exposed to this wavelength of light every day in the form of “white” light, like sunlight or LEDs. 

This has really only been an issue with special-effects artists, researchers, and others who spend hours every day bathed in primarily blue wavelengths of light driven by enormous lights such as Klieg lights. In short, the driver here shouldn’t be extreme medical fears, but common sense.

Child having her eyes examined by an optometrist.

Keeping Kids’ Eyes Clear

Before making any decisions, discuss your child’s eyes with your family doctor. Especially for childhood eye conditions, you should proceed based on medical recommendations.

Working from those recommendations, lay out a schedule and a time limit with your children that allows them to have fun while keeping them from straining their vision. Leave some flexibility in the schedule for holidays, rainy days, and other situations where you may need looser rules.

Set up parental control apps to enforce the rules, and charge tablets, phones, and other items away from bedrooms. These will shut off phones during bedtime, for example, so even if your child decides to break the rules, they’ll have to put the device back.

Require breaks. Kids (and adults) shouldn’t be bingeing TV shows or playing video games for hours on end. Require, for example, that they get up and spend at least a few minutes away from the TV either at the end of an episode, or at a set time during gaming sessions.

Reduce brightness and ensure kids only use devices in well-lit areas. Providing contrast for the eye reduces eyestrain, and reducing brightness on tablets and phones will limit how much energy a phone puts out.

Ensure there are other activities and games that don’t involve screens. Crafting, time spent with other kids, and even paper books can help kids stay off screens and keep up a variety of things to do.

Eyestrain isn’t the only problem smartphone games and streaming media can present. Proper use of iPhone parental controls and other apps can help parents keep media consumption, and time spent on devices in general, to the appropriate level. To learn more about the Screen Time parental control app, try it for free!

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Snapchat Snapstreaks: What Are They and Why Do Parents Need to Know?

by Screen Time Team on 10/07/2019
Mother and daughter cutting up tomatoes and cucumbers.

What Are Snapstreaks?

A Snapstreak is simply a period of time where you’ve shared a Snap with somebody on a daily basis, and they’ve snapped you back. If you’ve sent a photo for five days, and gotten one in return, then your Snapstreak with that person is 5. Snapstreaks are represented with a fire emoji next to a person’s name, and the number of days they’ve shared a Snapstreak, and kick in after three days of sharing. 

You don’t win anything or get any special privileges on the app by maintaining a Snapstreak. Snapstreaks also aren’t tracked if you just chat with somebody; it has to be a Snap of some sort.

Should I Be Worried About Snapstreaks?

By themselves, no. That said, Snapstreaks are designed to get users to keep interacting with each other, and of course to keep using Snapchat. While there’s a degree of skepticism that should be applied to the “Skinner box” approach to social media, namely that social media taps into the part of our brain willing to hammer a button for a reward, there’s no denying Snapstreaks can speak to that mindset to some degree.

Snapstreaks can also illustrate just how much your family members are using Snapchat in the first place, and who they’re using it with, useful data when considering parental control apps. If you’re not a fan of the platform, or of certain users your child is friends with, that may be useful for discussions about Snapchat and whether it has a place in your kids’ lives.

And as we all know, kids can get carried away on anything, no matter how trivial. Especially if there’s some other emotional component involved, like sticking it to a nemesis on Snapchat by breaking their record for longest Snapstreak, obsession is in the cards.

Teenage boy looking at his phone.

How Do I Deal With Snapstreaks?

First, sit your family down and talk to them about keeping a sense of perspective. There’s no reward for getting or maintaining a Snapstreak, so there’s no reason to put any effort into one. If your kids have a dear friend they love to Snap with, a Snapstreak should be seen as just the natural side effect of their friendship, not a marker of its importance or a symbol of how enduring it is. Sooner or later, these streaks end; someone breaks a phone or goes on vacation.

Parental control apps can help by tracking the time spent, enforcing schedules to keep children off certain apps and sites during certain times of day, and by keeping apps like Snapchat from launching at all, if you feel that’s the necessary solution to the problem. But that’s just setting the stage to talk to your kids about responsible use of social media.

If you’re concerned about how your kids are using Snapchat, parental control apps like Screen Time can help. To learn more, try it for free!

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How Parents Can Enforce Screen Time Limits on the iPad

by Screen Time Team on 26/06/2019
Three kids sitting on the floor together looking at an iPad.

Set Standards

Before you begin installing parental control apps, start with some clear rules, standards, and expectations. Sit the family down and walk through every rule, why that rule is being put in place, and the consequences for breaking the rule. Write it out in detail, and give everyone in the family a chance to discuss each rule. For example, preteens may want to use FaceTime to coordinate with friends on school projects.

The “why” of the rules is particularly important, for two reasons. First, it makes clear the spirit of the rule. Every parent knows children become sticklers for detail when they want to try and get out of something. Secondly, it gives kids information they need to better understand the risks online.

Take Control

Next comes the software end of things. In Screen Time, there’s a tool called the Mobile Device Management plan, which offers parents control over what’s downloaded, what’s opened, and when it can be opened. If, for example, there’s a strict “no iPad in bed” policy in your house, you can lock down the iPad at bedtime and it won’t open again until the morning.

This is also important if you’re using more than one app to track time usage. For example, if you’re using iOS12’s time tracker to look at how kids are spending time, you can prevent kids from deleting and reinstalling the app. You can also block the download of certain apps altogether, so if you don’t want your kids on social media, you can just simply lock it up.

Mother and daughter sitting on a couch looking at an iPad together.

Follow Up

That said, as useful as parental control apps are, they’re just one piece of keeping the rules in place. You should always be talking with your family about what they’re doing online, who they’re doing it with, and what they’re saying. Even with a tightly controlled internet presence, kids can still find things they struggle with: Images on the news, things friends or relatives say to each other online in a fit of temper, and so on.

It also leaves the door open to change the rules. As kids get older, their needs and wants online will change. They’ll want to play games with friends, drive to and from their jobs, and other milestones on the way to becoming adults, and the rules will have to change with them. Consider having a yearly family meeting to discuss rule changes.

We can’t protect everyone in our family from everything. But we can put sensible, fair rules in place that teach kids how to spot dangers and to better understand possible risks, setting them up for success as adults. To learn more about parental control apps and their role in internet safety, ScreenTime Labs invites you to try it for free.

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Did Last December’s ’60 Minutes’ Screen Time Report Change Minds?

by Screen Time Team on 19/06/2019
Young teen sitting on a couch smiling while holding a tablet.

The Science As It Stands

Whether or not screen time has any effect on children remains a controversial topic that’s often misrepresented in the media. For example, the World Health Organization’s statement that screen time was “not recommended” for children under one year was spun out as a grand indictment of our screen-obsessed culture. However, that report was about keeping children physically active and only looked at screens in that context.

The truth is the actual science on the topic is unclear. While we know more about the mind than we have at any other point in human history, much of the brain and how it develops is an unexplored scientific frontier. Adding to the problem is that every brain is different, and that raises some serious questions. 

For example, if a study claims screens cause depression, is that true of everyone? Is it only true of people who may suffer from depression? Is it a direct cause, impacting brain chemistry or structure, or an indirect cause, a ripple effect from other causes? Scientists can spend decades on these questions.

That said, screens can almost certainly disrupt our sleep cycles, reduce our overall physical activity, and smaller-scale mental health studies have found that how you use screens determines their effects. Social media users who stay in touch with friends have better mental health, while endlessly scrolling through Instagram might destroy your self-esteem.  

Kids playing outside with a sprinkler.

Using Common Sense

In other words, while there may be specific risks to too much screen time, we probably don’t need a study to determine that kids shouldn’t be watching TV or playing video games all day. Take these steps to help your kids with their life-screen balance.

  • Set clear rules and schedules with clear reasons behind them. The rules should include exceptions for needs like homework.
  • Limit exceptions adults in the family get to the rules. For example, if dinner is a no-screen time, you should put your phone away as well.
  • Make certain times of day, like bedtime or dinner time, screen-free times.
  • Enforce schedules and rules with parental control apps.
  • Limit access to screens, such as not allowing chargers to be plugged into walls next to couches, or only allowing devices to be charged out of bedrooms and family common areas.
  • Make screen time contingent on other factors, such as homework and chores being complete.
  • Consider emotional health: If kids are having a meltdown over an online game, it’s time for them to log off, quite possibly for good.

Screens are always going to be a point of contention, whether science clears them as safe for kids or not. Parental control apps like Screen Time can help kids maintain a healthy relationship with screens. To learn more, try it for free!

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Manage Kids’ Technology to Prevent the ‘Summer Slide’

by Screen Time Team on 12/06/2019
Child lying on the floor relaxing.

Get A Handle On The Problem

Not all “slides” are created equal. For example, kids who are good readers with or without school assignments will maintain their language skills. But not many children solve polynomial equations or do chemistry experiments for fun, so those might slip.

Conversely, most kids don’t need to complete a certificate course over the summer. Focusing on maintenance of skills, as opposed to improving them, is a good approach. A few hours of fun activities at a camp, or tutoring during the hottest parts of the day, can keep kids mentally and physically on the ball.

Balance Structured and Unstructured Time

Summer comes with gobs of free time for kids, and without structure, that time can quickly be filled by video games, playing on the phone, and watching TV all day. While kids deserve some unstructured time every day just like the rest of us, structure is also good. Use parental control apps to limit when they can play games or watch video, and to enforce a schedule of outside, or at least non-screen, time.

Also keep in mind structured time doesn’t have to be boring. Day camp or time playing outside with friends counts as “structured” in the summer, especially as social skills need to be maintained too.

Children playing tug of war.

Build Ways To Keep Skills Sharp

There are a lot of ways skills can be kept sharp around the house. For example, to keep up math skills, have kids develop “budgets” for their allowance or the screen time you allot them. Use cooking to explore the science behind everyday life, pointing out why cookies get crisp or why meat gets brown. You can also find games to play that encourage using different skill sets, such as science, math, and language themed board games.

Use Your Community Resources

During the summer, communities often step up to help harried parents out. Opportunities can range from events at the local public spaces to extended hours in public places for people to come in, cool off, and do something fun. Local libraries, in particular, tend to run events for kids and parents, offering both educational opportunities and child care. It’ll both give them something new to learn, and keep them from using their screens.

Use Screens Educationally

Finally, there are ways to use screens to help kids hone their various forms of knowledge, or get caught up if they struggled in a subject before. Educational games, online tutorials, and other apps can help. Consider creating a rule where in order to earn time goofing around, kids should spend twice as much using educational content, enforced with parental control apps.

Summer is always going to be complicated for busy families, but parental control apps can take the complaining out of the day and help keep children on the road to educational achievement. To learn more, try Screen Time for free!

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Six Tips for Balancing Technology Use with Other Childhood Activities

by Screen Time Team on 05/06/2019
Tow kids with their hands on their cheeks appearing surprised.

Figure Out Screen Needs

One of the big stumbling blocks is that increasingly, we need technology to get around in the world. Teens need to be able to take calls for school or work, preteens may use messaging apps to stay in touch with friends, and even younger kids need to use computers to do homework and engage with some assignments. And then there are situations where, for example, everyone just wants to sit down with a book, and the nearest one is an e-reader. Work out which screens are needed when, and use that to drive other decisions.

Give Rules Teeth

Rules should have both methods of keeping them in place and consequences for violating them. Parental control apps should be used to block certain apps, for example, or to uninstall apps that are causing problems. And if somebody breaks the rules, there should be fair but clear punishments. For example, if you catch somebody under the covers with their phone, there should be an understanding that the phone will stay with you for a set period of time.

Lead By Example

Families teach each other, and often children will model their behavior on that of their parents. This gives parents a valuable tool; balance your use of screens and they’ll follow your lead. This also applies to the different uses of screens; if they see you reading books on an e-reader instead of playing games, they’re more likely to read books.

Mother and daughter in a blanket and pillow tent.

Set A Schedule

A schedule, enforced by parental control apps, can show kids the value of keeping screen time to a healthy minimum. This is especially effective if the entire family sits down and works out a schedule together, with certain times, like dinner, as screen-free. As everyone gets used to the schedule, and plans out how they’ll use their screen time for the day, the balance will come naturally.

Have Options

No parent is perfect when it comes to entertaining kids, and there are definitely going to be days where you need your family to focus on something else. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck calling on the “digital babysitter.” Make regular trips to the library so there’s always a new book to read in the house, have crafting projects ready to go, or have them help you with the task you’re focusing on in some way. Flipping on the TV is a viable strategy, just not the only one.

Create Screen-Free Zones

There are places screens simply don’t need to be. Televisions should be limited to public spaces, and phones should be charged outside the bedroom. This also applies to screen accessories like game consoles, which should only be connected to screens that you can control.

Parenting is always going to be a balancing act, both for you and your family. Parental control apps can help you keep that balance without losing track of anything else. To learn how, try it for free!

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Quick Parents’ Guide to Roblox: Is It Safe Enough?

by Screen Time Team on 29/05/2019
Two young teens using a tablet.

What Is Roblox?

Roblox is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) that lets members develop their own games and play the games developed by other users, using the proprietary design software built into the game and with character design and styles not dissimilar from Lego toys. These can range from simple experiments to elaborate games hidden within the game itself. The goal is to inspire users to explore STEM topics by learning how to interact with game code.

What Controls Does Roblox Have For Parents?

Roblox is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. While children can sign up for an account, their age will dictate certain features, such as whether they can reply to chats by typing or selecting prewritten responses. Roblox allows parents to shut off chat and messaging with other users, limit what content children can see, set a PIN to lock settings, and to report and block users who act rudely or abusively towards others. 

The platform also recommends that parents play the game with their children and to learn about how it works and what it does. This helps parents to have more productive conversations with their kids and to be better able spot potentially offensive behavior. Parents can also report content for violating Roblox’s terms of service, which allows the company to remove it.

Unfortunately, these controls only go so far. One of the inherent problems in MMO games is that you gather an enormous crowd in one place, and that will inevitably lead to conflict and other issues.

Mom carrying her son on her back outside.

How Can Parents Keep Roblox Safe?

Education is indeed a cornerstone of safe online use. Kids should be empowered as they explore certain parts of the internet, for example, and they should know that they can come to you to talk about things that anger or worry them.

Other aspects of tech usage, however, should be strictly enforced. For example, time limits should be imposed so that kids don’t spend every waking moment playing games, Roblox or not. Parental control apps can help enforce rules and schedules, making sure kids get their homework done and do their chores before logging on, and keeping them from doing so in school.

Finally, if your child is a Roblox fan, be available and play Roblox with them when you can. Not only will it strengthen bonds and let you have some fun together, it’ll let you spot potentially toxic situations before they cause problems. You can move to close the game, have a conversation about the content, and then report it.

Online multiplayer games are always going to present problems, simply because they’re large gatherings of people. Children should have a degree of freedom to develop the social skills needed to handle difficult people in groups. But this also means that there are situations kids simply shouldn’t be expected to handle, and that’s where you step in.

Parental control apps like Screen Time can help parents keep an eye on Roblox and other online games, To learn more, try it for free.

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How to Keep Up with Online Challenges and Protect Your Kids

by Screen Time Team on 22/05/2019
Two teenagers taking photographs of each other.

But the arrival of YouTube, Snapchat, and other video-centric social networks has amplified both the possible rewards and the pressures, and kids can be drawn into these challenges too. Here’s how to stay on top of this phenomenon and sort the silly from the dangerous.

Don’t Panic

First, remain calm and be skeptical. There have been endless waves of parent panics over the years, with the most recent being the “Momo Challenge,” a hoax claiming that a user calling themselves “Momo” was tricking kids into hurting themselves. While the impulse to protect kids is admirable, the stampede to stop this nonexistent challenge caused more problems than it solved. 

And don’t forget these panics tend to underestimate the intelligence of children. It pays to be skeptical of what you see on the internet, especially if it’s designed to scare you, and it’s also good behavior to model for your kids.

Teach Kids To Think Critically

When it comes to challenges, it’s more effective to teach kids about risks than it is to try and protect them from ever hearing about “challenges” in the first place. The best tool you can give to your children is common sense. Teach them how people might try to manipulate them, using videos attempting to do just that, and to look critically at how certain videos present themselves.

Similarly, if they want to do a challenge, have them come to you to talk about it. These are teaching opportunities; you can show them how to evaluate risks versus rewards. Dousing yourself in ice water or flipping a bottle so it lands upside down are silly fun and there’s no reason kids shouldn’t participate. Make sure they understand that if a stranger is ordering them not to tell their parents about something, then telling you is the first thing they should do.

Dad and young teen looking at a tablet together.

Restrict YouTube

That said, even hoaxes can cause problems, so limit them out of the gate. Implement YouTube’s parental controls, make sure young kids only use the YouTube Kids app, and use parental control apps (including iPhone parental controls if applicable) to limit kids’ usage to times when you’re in the house and can talk with them if they see something upsetting. This should be part of your overall screen rules, as well. Kids could, for example, have video games or YouTube in a given day, but not both.

Keep The Lines Of Communication Open

Sometimes it’s obvious what’s happening. If you spot your kids pushing a trampoline towards the swing set, you can step in and keep them from taking on that particular challenge. Other times, kids may need answers to questions or have thoughts they need to share. Making sure they know they can talk to you can nip potentially dangerous situations in the bud.

Hide Their Location

Your kids may use many different apps, and some of them can track their location. There’s no harm done if it’s an app like Pokémon Go that needs location sharing to function. But most apps shouldn’t be able to know about your kid’s whereabouts. That’s why you should review the apps on their devices and disable location sharing whenever possible. Keep in mind that it doesn’t include GPS signal sharing alone. Not hiding your IP address is another way to reveal where you are, just a bit less precisely. That’s why you should download a VPN on their phone or tablet to hide their location on both fronts. You can find more information on what a VPN is here.

Look For Challenges Family And Friends Can Do

The best way to limit certain kinds of temptation is to engage with it in a healthy way. Have your family run challenges by you and have certain rules about them. That way kids can participate in them and you could even make it a family bonding activity by participating in a safe and fun challenge together.

To learn more about how the ScreenTime parental control app can help you deal with YouTube and its subcultures, we invite you to try it for free,

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How to Keep Your Child from Becoming Obsessed with Fortnite

by Screen Time Team on 15/05/2019
Three teens sitting on a couch with a game controller.

What Is Fortnite?

There are three “modes” in Fortnite that are really entirely separate games. “Save the World” is a cooperative “shooter-survival” mode where players team up to gather resources, build a fort, and keep zombies out of it. “Creative” is similar to “Minecraft” and other games, where kids simply build things in the world, sort of an online Lego set. “Battle Royale” is the most popular mode, where players have to search the world map for powerups and weapons to defeat each other, while collecting resources to build structures to hinder other players or help themselves. Battle Royale is also free to play.

The game regularly introduces quirks into its world, such as volcanoes exploding or new, strange structures appearing. It strives for a wacky tone with silly weapons, outfits, and “emotes,” dance moves players can perform at the push of a button. It’s also an easy game to understand and fun to play; even if you get knocked out of the game, you can still participate and watch other players. Fortnite is also available on all major gaming platforms as well as Android and iOS.

Dad helping his teen son fix a tire on his bicycle.

What Are Some Concerns Around Fortnite?

There are two concerns with the game. The first is the same as any other video game; kids can become so engrossed in it, other personal pursuits and demands on their time fall to the wayside. The second is that the “free” mode is supported by in-game purchases. None of the items impact gameplay; they’re strictly cosmetic, such as emotes or new outfits for your character. But they can be expensive, and reports of surprise bills popping up have become more common as the game catches on.

How Do I Help My Kids Balance Fortnite And The Rest Of Their Lives?

First, talk to them about balance. One of the key ways of getting people to understand a behavior is unhealthy is to teach them to see it in the context of the rest of their lives, and the earlier kids learn that doing homework and chores first will reduce their stress and keep their lives balanced, the better.

Secondly, lay down some rules about screens and gaming in general. What these rules will be depends on the family, but some common ones include no games after bedtime, no games before school, and so on. When setting up the rules, be sure kids understand the why behind them as well as what they’re expected to do. This won’t keep children from pushing back, of course, but it may help.

Finally, use parental control apps, your device’s parents settings, and the game’s parental settings to enforce the rules. These apps will let you set schedules, block apps at certain times, uninstall them from devices, set timers for how long an app can be used during a given 24-hour period, and more. These are especially useful for phones and tablets. Make sure to deactivate in-app purchases just as a matter of course. To learn more about how Screen Time parental controls can help keep kids’ lives in balance, try it for free.

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No Screens During Baby’s First Year: Implications of New WHO Guidelines

by Screen Time Team on 08/05/2019
Child looking at a tablet.

The Guidelines, Explained

The WHO guidelines aren’t really about screens. Instead they’re about overall patterns of behavior. The WHO is concerned less about screen time than kids being inactive for long periods of time. It also recommends that infants and toddlers not be any sort of restraints (like a stroller or high chair) for more than an hour at a time and that they sleep for more than half the day. In fact, screens themselves are rarely mentioned in any form in the 36 page document, and the WHO doesn’t even recommend a ban for screens for infants, simply saying “Screen time is not recommended.”

Of course these guidelines open a new can of worms for parents in other ways. Ask any new parent how likely a baby is to actually get sixteen hours of sleep. But in terms of screens, it aligns far more with actual common sense and gives parents far more leeway. The question is how to make use of it.

Father and son laughing while watching television and eating popcorn.

Keeping Screen Time To A Healthy Level

Be An Example: Children, consciously or not, imitate their parents, and the media coverage of these guidelines reflects our own anxiety about screen use. So, work to set an example for your kids; use screens less, and they’ll do the same.

Set Limits: Have a timer of overall screen time that all screens fit into. TV, phones, video games, and the rest should be timed out, and once the limit is reached, that’s it. Parental control apps can help you track time and enforce the rules.

Work Out Schedules: Children can have surprisingly busy lives, especially once they’re going to school. Build a schedule where they fit everything in, and use it as a teaching opportunity to show them how to plan their own time. Be sure to leave unstructured time as needed, and remember parental control apps can help keep schedules in place by locking certain apps.

Give Them Jobs: For kids capable of doing chores and engaging their mind in other ways, give them things to do around the house. One effective tool is to tie chores to screen time; some parents “pay” kids for chores with screen time on the clock, while others simply set the rule that no screens are turned on until the toys are put away and the mess cleaned up.

Give Them Options: Have books, toys, interactive activities, and other fun and stimulating things around the house. The WHO guidelines in fact suggest that kids who are actively engaging their minds while sedentary are just fine.

Parents know all too well how eager people are to judge their choices. But it’s important to understand the nuances behind what health authorities and other experts are suggesting, and to seek help where you need it. To learn more about Screen Time and parental control apps, we invite you to try it for free.

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