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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Your Teen’s Profile Pic: What You Should Know

by Screen Time Team on 03/06/2020

Every social network will push you to add a profile picture. It draws you more into the platform, makes it more likely people will respond and react, and creates, in the best case, a sense of community. For teens, in particular, it can be an issue of safety and self-confidence. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s In The Picture?

Pictures can tell you far more than people realize. Say for example your teen uses a profile picture taken of them while in a uniform for school. Perhaps the name of the school is visible, telling everyone that information even if you’d prefer it to remain private. Or they’re wearing their school colors and mascot, making it easier to figure out where your teen is with a visit to Google.

Adding to the problem is that social media can provide unexpected context for the picture. Perhaps the name of the school isn’t visible, but looking at their picture and then at their Friends list or other content might make it easier to determine. Or perhaps there’s some other giveaway, such as a classmate in the picture. Depending on the camera and how the photo is edited and added to the site, there can be a surprising amount of information in a photo’s “metadata,” information the camera binds to the picture that can include device settings, location data, camera app used, and more. Even just using the same picture across profiles can make it easier to “connect the dots.”

This also opens the door to bullying, both of the cyber variety and in person. Cyberbullies can sometimes steal photos or misuse them, or use the information in them to attack or harass people online. Even setting a profile to private doesn’t guarantee a photo won’t be misused.

The point here is not to scare your kids into never posting a photo of themselves. Rather, they need to consider that a photo contains more information than they realize, and to post accordingly.

Young teen taking a selfie while giving the peace sign.

Protecting Privacy

The best defense is knowledge. Have your teen pick out a few potential profile pictures and have them think out what those pictures might tell a stranger. What can somebody that doesn’t know them discern from the picture, like their age, where they go to school, who their friends are, where they live, or other information? Discuss with them what you’re okay with them posting, and what you’re not, and why. Apply this not just to photos, but to everything they post or add to their profile.

Make it clear you’ll be keeping an eye on their social media feeds, as well. Be upfront about what you’re doing and why. Kids should not feel like you’ll blindside them with spying but should understand you’ll be over their shoulder, at a slight distance, ready to step in if something needs to be addressed.

Be careful with how you react to missteps as well. It makes more sense to guide them to understand why you have a problem with a post than just to order them to take it down because it breaks the rules. Understanding why you’re concerned helps them build the tools they need for when they’re adults responsible for their own profiles.

Parental control apps can help parents teach kids to think about their privacy. To learn more, try ours for free!

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Protect Your Kids’ Physical and Digital Health During COVID-19 Lockdown

by Screen Time Team on 29/05/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting stress on every aspect of life, and not even children can escape that. Parents want to help, yet sorting what’s an effective stress reliever from what’s not can be yet another task on a seemingly endless list. Here’s how to protect both the mental and physical health of your family during the pandemic.

Protecting Physical Health

First and foremost, follow all state and federal guidelines and requests. Wearing masks, limiting your trips where you interact with others, washing hands thoroughly, using hand sanitizer where soap and water aren’t available, and respecting social distancing guidelines of staying six feet away or more are the best way for all of us to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

That said, you’re not expected to stay indoors all day every day, simply at least six feet away from others. Develop outdoor activities your family can do together, or if you have access to a backyard or a local park not too far from the house, make sure kids have unstructured time outside to get some fresh air and sunlight. When doing errands, consider walking or taking a bike, if you can do so while wearing a mask.

Work on exercise plans that your family can stick to. Older kids can make use of exercise machines, for example, or the family can do an exercise video together every day. Kids can skip rope, practice on a basketball hoop in the driveway, and use solo sports to stay energetic. Younger kids may need gentler exercise to keep from being injured.

Create a healthy meal plan. While takeout a night or two a week can be fun, in the long term, making food when possible will both allow for variety and ensure everyone sticks to a supportive diet.

Apply hand sanitizer.

Protecting Digital Health

Put limits both on screen time and what screen time should be used for, and that should apply to the entire family. It’s not a good idea for an adult or a child to spend time endlessly reloading statistics websites or news sites looking for the next bit of bad news. Use parental controls to put time limits on when devices can be used and when certain sites can be accessed.

Stick to your schedules, including when screens can be used. Even if you don’t have a commute, you should get up at the same time and your kids should do the same. Sticking to those schedules gives everyone a sense of continuity. Just as importantly, make the schedules looser and more flexible on the weekends, so your family can unwind.

That said, honesty and transparency are important. Work with your family to strike a balance between staying informed about the wider world and disengaging from it when it gets to be too much. “Only good news” isn’t a good policy, however, it may feel so at the time.

Consider telehealth support if you or someone in your family is struggling with mental health during the pandemic. Mental health services have increasingly become available online and are available for both adults and kids.

Parental controls can help you manage the family issues around the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more, try it for free.

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Is There an “Ideal” Digital Parenting Style?

by Screen Time Team on 27/05/2020

Being a parent in the modern world can be a full-time job in itself. With the digital layered on top of that, it can be even more of a challenge. How do you develop a digital parenting style, and is there an ideal one?

What Is “Digital Parenting?”

Digital parenting overlaps with being a parent in real life, but it involves a few different strategies and ideas. For example, you’re probably not going to have your children strap on body cameras and GPS beacons, although you might use phone locator software. But you might install parental controls to monitor what they do and where they go online.

Add to this that as kids grow and become adults, they use the digital world in different ways. Video games and carefully controlled social apps will give way to social networks used by adults and apps related to their job or homework eventually. Managing that transition while protecting their safety is an ever-evolving job. So how do parents make sense of it?

Building The Right Digital Parenting Style

There really is no perfect digital parenting style; it’s going to depend on your family’s needs and how you approach real-world parenting. But there are a few basics you can have in place.

Model good behavior. If your kids see you using screens in a moderate, healthy way, they’ll follow your lead. It also opens the door to discussion of where and when to use screens as they grow up, such as behind the wheel or at work.

Set ground rules that apply to everyone. Kids may not understand all the risks of the internet at first, but they understand “do as I say, not as I do.” Rules that apply to everyone are fairer and easier to enforce. That said, also make clear the reasons behind those rules, so that if you do have to enforce different standards, everyone grasps why.

Teen lying on a couch looking at her laptop.

Use monitoring software and parental controls. Remember, spying is when people don’t know they’re being watched, so make it clear what you’re doing and why. That said, leave the door open to discuss privacy, especially as kids get older, and make sure your family can discuss trust and safety with each other.

Make time to talk, and make sure your children know they can come to you. Much of the time, kids think they’ll be in trouble if they tell you about bullying, stalking, or cruel behavior. If they know they can talk to you, they will, and be sure to ask them what they’re doing online and who with.

Be open to change. Good family rules include mechanisms where kids can come to adults to request more independence, access to different apps, and just to talk about things they experience online.

Give yourself a break. Every parent is figuring out the digital side of parenting as they go along, and there’s always a new app, a new trend, or a new gadget to fit into your parenting approach. Your approach will change over time because it has to.

To learn how parental controls like Screen Time can help with digital parenting, try it for free!

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Parents’ Guide to the VSCO App

by Screen Time Team on 22/05/2020

There’s a bewildering number of social media apps out there, especially themed around photography and video. VSCO is one you may have heard of, as it’s steadily growing with thirty million users. Here’s what you need to know about VSCO.

What Is VSCO?

Short for Visual Supply Company, VSCO is best thought of as a camera app with a few minor social features. Users sign up for an account when they download the app, and then take photos to share either on the app or on other social media platforms. The app is most notable for its relatively fine-grained control of smartphone photography, even in the free version (giving you more control of exposure and shutter than Instagram, for example) and for its financial model of selling subscriptions to the service to access “presets,” a bundle of settings designed to improve photography in various types of situations or to achieve a specific effect.

If this sounds fairly similar to Instagram, it is, to some degree. However, the limited approach to social features makes it different from that site and TikTok. It also has a much smaller community that tends to be more photography-focused, thirty million active users as opposed to Instagram, where six out of ten active internet users in the world have an account.

What Is A “VSCO Girl?”

If you’ve heard this term as an insult, it’s simply slang for a person who uses the app to create flattering or trendy pictures of herself. While this does highlight that bullying is everywhere on the internet, it’s not a reflection of the app per se, and the app doesn’t do anything to encourage girls to use it in that fashion. Your main point of concern should be encouraging your children to be more generous and less bullying to people with self-esteem issues.

Young girl sitting on steps using a mobile phone.

Should I Be Concerned About VSCO?

While privacy will always be a concern, especially when it comes to photos, VSCO has very limited social features otherwise. You can allow users access to your location data, which concerned parents should shut off. While there is a messaging function, users can only trade messages when they follow each other, markedly different from many other platforms. It’s recommended that parents get a sense of who their kids are following on the app and why, and to be sure they know the door is open to discussion about safety and strange messages.

The main sticking point for some parents will likely be the subscription model. For $20 a year, you get the full library of presets. Free users can still use the app, which is a good camera app in of itself and might be a good way for children interested in photography to get started with experimenting, but the app itself doesn’t fully unlock unless you pay.

Each family will need to approach this differently. How you teach money management and budget will play into how and whether you enable this subscription. Have your kids sit down and consider how much they use the app and how many of these presets they really might need.

Good third-party parental controls can help you keep track of what your family is doing, and where. To learn more, try it for free!

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Yondr Phone-Free Zones in Schools: What They Are and How They Work

by Screen Time Team on 20/05/2020

With bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies increasing, and the prevalence of screens in daily life, some institutions, such as schools and museums, are beginning to create screen-free areas, banning smartphones, tablets, and laptops. One of the methods of keeping screens secure is a product called Yondr, which physically locks up smartphones. What is Yondr, and how does it work?

What Is Yondr?

Yondr is a physical system that keeps people from using their phones in certain areas. The technique is simple; you place your phone in a small pouch, which locks. You can then enter the screen-free area, and you’ll keep your phone, with no tracking system or on-site storage needed. Once you’re done, you can take your phone to an unlock station and return the pouch. Applications for Yondr include concerts, events, schools, and government facilities where privacy is important, such as courts.

Does Yondr Interfere With Phones?

Since it’s a physical pouch system that keeps people from poking at the screen, Yondr doesn’t need to interfere with a phone’s connectivity. Text messages, location services, parental apps, and other vital systems will still be functioning on a phone in a Yondr pouch. This makes them particularly popular in schools since it can allow students to keep their phones while locking them up during certain times, such as test-taking or physical activity periods, and you’ll sometimes find Yondr paired with BYOD systems. Kids are allowed to tap the internet to study, research a topic, and use the positives of a phone while setting aside concerns about test-taking and social apps.

Why Are Schools Using Yondr?

One school district using Yondr claims to have seen improvements in grades, that kids are paying more attention in class, and that they’re seeing more prosocial behavior. However, that’s anecdotal; these testimonials have not been scientifically tested. Nonetheless, for schools that are concerned about cheating and other misbehavior, the benefits of sealing up student phones in a pouch are obvious.

Are There Any Concerns?

Yondr isn’t a foolproof system; anecdotal stories have gone around about kids using a fake phone that goes in the pouch while the real one is somewhere else in their clothes or on their bag. Similarly, Yondr doesn’t appear to have an “emergency unlock” system for situations where kids may need their phones immediately, which may give some parents pause. Similarly, it’s not clear what will happen if kids forget to get the pouch unlocked at the end of the school day; are they stuck waiting until the next day? And Yondr doesn’t appear to have any gaps to allow you to charge your phone or add accessories, which may be an issue.

Ultimately, just like parental apps, it needs to be remembered that items like Yondr are simply tools of last resort. They’re designed as temporary solutions, but the long-term answer will be parents, teachers, and children working together to develop mature, intelligent approaches to how screens are used in school and the workplace. To learn more about working together to develop healthy approaches to screen time, contact us!

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