Staring at screens is bad for eyes short-term, but what about the long-term?

by Anna Hughes on 10/10/2018
It's something that parents have told their children for generations: “You'll ruin your eyesight!” For Baby Boomers, it was sitting too close to the TV. For Gen Xers, it was portable video game consoles. And for modern kids, it's their smartphones and tablets. But what's the real science? Is there a point of concern? And can parental control apps spare kids eye injury as well as the darker side of the internet?
Teenage girl looking at her mobile phone.

It’s not just the content on social media that might put strain on teens.

 A Near-Sighted Controversy

The short answer is that there is, indeed, a rising incidence of myopia, the medical term for near-sightedness, in the world. In fact, in some regions of the world, it’s risen to 90% of both adults and teens. But it’s an issue with more than one cause, and doctors are hesitant to lay any blame.

First of all, we should remember that not many people are blessed with 20/20 vision in the first place. Only about 35% of the population has it, in fact. So in many cases near-sightedness will be an issue to some degree, iPhone in their faces or not. But is it exacerbating the problem?

Doctors are fairly certain part of the problem is what’s called “near work.” When your eyes need to focus on something that’s close, such as a smartphone screen, over long periods of time, it works much like a muscle. As the near vision gets more use, the far vision tends to atrophy. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to technology. Reading books, or really looking closely at anything for a long time, might also cause an issue.

Conversely, the more you use your far vision, with methods like playing outside, the stronger it gets. Whether it actually prevents or forestalls myopia is an open question. But on the other hand, it’s hard to argue with stepping away from social media for any number of other reasons.

Young girl looking at her mobile phone.

Smartphones can pain the eyes, not just the neck.

Short-Term Problems

While the current answer is a big maybe, there are short-term issues that heavy smartphone use can cause. Staring at any screen for long periods of time without a break can cause dry eye, eye strain, and other problems. They may not be damaging over the long term, but they do hurt and can cause problems, especially if kids need to use screens at school or for homework.

The rule of thumb is every twenty minutes, you should look away from your screen for twenty seconds at something at least twenty feet away. This both shifts your vision off the screen and gives your far-sightedness a bit of a workout. Also, you should put down a screen every hour and take a brief overall break.

Parental control apps can help enforce breaks, and also remove apps that ask kids to stare continually at their screens. But just as important is that kids see you take these breaks and show healthy attitudes towards screens. Even stepping away for a few seconds to stretch and stare off into the distance will model good behavior.

While the jury may be still out on the medical causes of myopia, there’s no reason to take risks, with your eyesight or your kids. Institute a break schedule, ensure apps are paused every twenty minutes for a break, and talk to your kids about why these breaks are important. If you want help setting healthy limits for screens, we invite you to try Screen Time for free.

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How to Protect Your Teen from Porn and Sexting

by Anna Hughes on 03/10/2018
One of the downsides of the rapid changes in technology we've seen is that it creates new complications to some very old problems. Even before the internet, explaining the differences between physical and emotional intimacy, or addressing the differences between porn and reality were problems parents struggled with. Now, parents have the internet, sexting, and social media built on sharing sexual content to deal with, and parental control software and smartphone addiction is only one part of what's an important conversation. So, what's changed, and how can you deal with it?
Person using their phone.

They’re not going to put down the phones entirely, but they can understand how to use them intelligently.

It’s Awkward. That’s OK

Many parents are surprised to discover it’s not the mechanics that are the most awkward or embarrassing. To sit your kids down and discuss sex means you’ll be discussing some personal intimate emotions that you probably don’t share with even your closest friends. Most of us don’t have much practice in talking about how sex makes us feel, but that’s OK. Really, that’s the point you should be making: Sex is about far more than the physical act. One of the problems with porn and sexting is that they can’t capture the unique emotional fingerprint each person has when it comes to sex. This can leave adolescents more confused than ever.

Many, if not most teens don’t necessarily have the emotional tools or the will to discuss their most intimate part of themselves with you.

Closeup of person sitting at a table using their cell phone.

Parental control apps should be accompanied by strong parent-child communication.

Talk About Your Concerns And Expectations

Anybody can talk to teens about peer pressure and cyberbullying, but they tend to think, fairly or not, that only their peers understand what they’re going through. What you can do is be honest with them about what you’re concerned about, what you expect from them, and why. Teens want to be treated like adults, and avoiding treating them like children will go a long way. If you level with them, they’re more likely to level with you. Sex is a complicated topic, and if you give them room to discuss their feelings, they’re more likely to do so.

Expect Some Rule-Breaking

Unlike many, many other topics, this is one in which rule-breaking of some sort may well be inevitable. Teens are curious about sex, and as we said, they’re still shaping the mental tools they have to deal with it. So are their friends, and the parents of your teen’s friends, and a united front is extremely rare. While you can’t control what they do everywhere, you can anticipate and block some rule-breaking with parental control apps. In some cases, it’s better to remove temptation until teens know how to handle it.

How Parental Control Apps Can Help

The texting associated with the phone itself may not be a primary communication channel for your teen. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and other downloadable messaging apps often become their de facto communication channel. Some parental control apps, like Screen Time, allow parents to approve or reject the downloading of apps, so you can be confident that you know which texting channels are available to your child. Screen Time also provides information on app usage, so you can see which apps your child uses most.

While you may not be able to read individual  messages, you do have oversight over which messaging apps kids use, and can keep up with how often they use them, which can tip you off to potential problems. The content of the messages is something that warrants a one-on-one conversation with your teen, so it’s important that you maintain regular communication about rules, sex, and smartphone use at all times.

Sex isn’t a simple topic, even for adults. For teens, it’s even harder to sort through the many conflicting demands placed on them. It’s going to take patience, honesty, respect, and listening to help your teens through a challenging stage of life. The Screen Time parental control app can help;  try it for free.

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Should Parents Worry About Radiation from Smartphones?

by Anna Hughes on 26/09/2018
As long as there have been smartphones, there have been claims that they're dangerous. Sometimes, this danger is real and concrete. For example, there's a reason police officers pull you over if you have your phone in your ear while you're driving. Other times, dangers can be psychological. And sometimes, claims of smartphone danger can be vague yet frightening, like claims that “radiation” from your cell phone can cause cancer. Are our phones a radioactive risk to our kids? No, probably not. But it's worth knowing why these claims are being made, and lessons we can learn.
Teenage girl holding up her mobile phone taking a selfie.

Is there a risk of radiation from their smartphones?

Radioactive Phones? Not So Much

First, we need to understand a few scientific terms and concepts. First of all, “radiation” is simply a term that means “emitting electromagnetic energy.” Almost everything that exists emits some form of this: Human beings, for example, emit heat, or infrared radiation. The “radiation” that allegedly causes cancer is called “ionizing radiation,” extremely high energy radiation like x-rays, which can damage DNA. Your phone doesn’t have a battery powerful enough to emit ionizing radiation; think about the size of the x-ray machine you see at the dentist.

Some will also say they can “feel” the electromagnetic waves, that smartphone signals or WiFi signals cause them discomfort or even extreme pain. Whether this is a medical condition or psychosomatic is under heavy debate, but it’s a rare phenomenon, regardless.

The case is not necessarily closed, however. It’s possible, if perhaps unlikely, that perhaps a specific wavelength of non-ionizing radiation, if you’re exposed over an extremely long period of time, might cause cancer or other medical problems through a mechanism we haven’t discovered yet. This is the basis of those statements you read about keeping your phone in a bag or on your desk instead of in your pocket. The logic is simple: If there’s no risk, then it’s a mild inconvenience. If there is risk, you’ve thought ahead. Besides, there are good reasons beyond a possible health risk to consider a “bag rule” in your household.

Young teenage girl looking at her smartphone with a surprised expression.

Keep Phones Away

Even if there is no risk for cancer due to smartphone radiation, it’s still a smart idea to mandate phones are kept out of pockets and in bags. Part of this is the idea of “friction,” that is, the more steps and the harder it is to do something, the less likely people are to do it. If somebody has to reach into their bag and pull out their phone, it’s a little more effort than reaching into their pocket, and a little less convenient to take out in situations where they should have them, something adults and kids alike should consider.

Another aspect is that it prevents grabbing a phone from being an automatic action. We can fairly easily fall into a behavioral loop when it comes to our phones, using them to fill every free moment and to fill in every awkward silence. If we have to work a little harder to fill those emotional spaces with phones, we’re a little less likely to do it. Parental control software is another tool parents use to place limits on kids’ smartphone use.

In the end, once you set aside the preliminary and inconclusive science of smartphone radiation, what you’re left with is a reminder that we simply don’t know the long-term effects of these technologies. But why take the risk? Parental control apps for smartphones can perform double duty, by enforcing smartphone behavioral boundaries with kids, and by helping kids to interact with the world without having a phone in their hands at all times. To learn more about keeping your family’s smartphone use in line, contact us.

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Key Insights from Latest Pew Study on Teens and Social Media

by Anna Hughes on 19/09/2018
The Pew Research Center is a non-partisan think tank that takes a hard look at, among other things, the media and how we interact with it. Its latest study on this topic focused on teens, and it has a collection of insights parents should pay attention to.
Two teenage girls using their mobile phones.

Teens are more ambivalent towards their phones than you might think.

Teens Are Almost All Online

Pew found that 95% of teens at least had access to a smartphone, a 23% jump from four years ago. It also found that 45% of the teens interviewed were connected to the internet, in their words, “almost constantly,” although we should remember this is a value judgment, to some degree. Think about how we use our smartphones as tools to navigate, make plans, and stay connected to work, and most parents might be surprised to consider how much “almost constantly” applies to them. Parents might consider leading by example, to help their kids form a more healthy perspective on the internet.

Teens Are About Visuals

The most popular networks among teens were based around visuals: YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat were far and away the social media networks teens were using the most. It’s worth becoming familiar with these sites, especially if you’re using parental control apps to monitor usage, and even opening an account with them to figure out how they work, and what you might be concerned about.

It’s More Distributed

That said, the idea of teens being on one network exclusively is a thing of the past. Many teens are using multiple networks to stay in touch with friends and share various forms of content. Pew has found these platforms tend to divide up teens’ time to varying degrees, instead of teens making more time in the day for these platforms. That means competition for eyeballs is more intense.

Person lying down using their mobile app.

Connecting is key, but not all teens think connecting is good.

Teens Aren’t Necessary Fans Of Social Media

Intriguingly, Pew found most teens are ambivalent about social media. 45% of teens in the survey said that social media had neither a positive nor negative effect on their lives, while 31% said it had a positive effect, and 24% said it had a negative effect. This lines up with the research elsewhere, which indicates the effect of social media on your emotional state lies mostly in how you use it.

Most interesting was what teens primarily viewed as the benefits and drawbacks. By a wide margin, those who liked social media felt that the ability to stay in touch with friends and family that aren’t nearby, at 40%, was the biggest benefit. Conversely, those who didn’t like it said that bullying was their primary concern, at 27%. Close behind that, at 15% was that it “harms relationships.

In other words, social media can be great for kids if they’re staying in touch with people they know, but teens also seem to feel it can spin out of control quickly. The lesson here for parents is to talk with their kids regularly about what’s happening online, who they’re talking to, and make sure the door is open to help.

Social media, love it or hate it, isn’t going anywhere, and the overall trend, according to Pew, is that it’ll keep growing to be an even bigger part of teens’ lives. For parents, this means being a sympathetic ear and keeping an eye out for signs of negative behavior. To learn more about parental control apps, and how they can help, sign up for Screen Time.

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Reality Check: Parents Need to Monitor Their Own Phone Usage

by Anna Hughes on 12/09/2018
“Do as I say, not as I do,” has long been a point of contention between parents and their children. But there's nowhere it's more vividly drawn than when it comes to phone usage, which even schools have stopped trying to totally control. Parents are concerned about their kids' phone use, and can use parental control software to limit calls, stop apps, or even lock the phone except for emergency calls during certain times of day. But what should parents do when their kids point out they've banned phones at the table, but they “just have to take this call?”
Man working on a laptop while using his phone.

Kids learn from the example set by their parents.

Setting An Example

The truth is that kids get most of their tools for viewing the world and handling its challenges from their parents. Parents are simply the adults kids see the most, and that makes leading by example key to good parenting.

But by the same token, parents can feel the world is conspiring against good parenting, particularly in the realm of smartphone usage. Smartphones have made us more productive and given us more tools, but it also means our bosses can send us emails at dinner time or clients dial our personal numbers at any time of the day. That leaves many busy parents stuck between the rock of setting a good example for kids and the hard place of the necessities of their job and their lives. How do we balance the two?

Two teenage girls using their phones.

Phones shouldn’t be crutches, for us or for our kids.

Balancing Phone Use, Parenting, And Life

  • First, listen to your kids. Nobody is equipped with perfect introspection and your kids may be pointing out you have an unhealthy relationship with your smartphone too.
  • Ask yourself what your needs are with your smartphone, versus your wants. Does your coworker really need that email returned? Does that call need to be answered? What are the expectations you have for yourself at work and at home, versus what the real expectations should be? If a call or an email comes in, and it doesn’t fall into the realm of need, leave it for later.
  • Sit down with your kids and discuss how you use your smartphone and what your personal boundaries are. If you have to take a call at the dinner table, for example, and your kids object, lay out why this was a need in your career, and apologize for having to cross that boundary. Ideally your whole family will be on the same page, at least in terms of understanding the difference between “want” and “need.”
  • Avoid arguments like “I’m putting food on the table and you’re just playing a game.” Kids simply don’t have the perspective adults do; unless you have an incredibly industrious teenager, it’s unlikely they’re getting work calls at the dinner table or understand deadlines and work stress just yet. Instead, couch it in terms they understand, like homework or schoolwork.
  • The justifications behind the rules should be clear to your kids. While kids may not understand adult life, they do understand arbitrary enforcement of the rules, and if they understand the reason behind those rules, they’re more likely to abide by them.

Putting parental control software on your children’s phones is half the battle. The other half is getting them to understand why you did it. To learn more about control apps and other ways to help your kids manage their smartphone use, contact us.

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How Advertisers Target Your Teen’s Smartphone and How to Cope

by Anna Hughes on 05/09/2018
It’s no secret that teens and tweens have plenty of buying power. Even before they’re old enough to have a job, kids are good at convincing their parents to buy the latest fashions or the newest gadgets. It’s understandable that brands want to find ways to advertise to this valuable demographic. And as television and print media become less popular, more and more advertisers are looking for ways to market to tweens and teens through the device that they use the most: their smartphones.

How Advertisers Are Reaching Teens and Tweens

Group of three teenagers leaning against a tree looking at their mobile phones.

Advertisers know how important smartphones are to teens and tweens.

Traditional commercials are getting easier to avoid all of the time, so brands have to be creative about how they reach out to teens. In many cases, they do that through social media. Sites like YouTube and Snapchat are prime territory for reaching teens and tweens. These popular apps are widely used by this age group, and sometimes it can be tough to tell what’s an ad and what’s entertainment. Frequently, the two are mixed.

For example, some brands partner with popular YouTube personalities, called influencers, to promote their brands. This means that a YouTube celebrity that your child watches for fashion tips, gaming commentary, or humor – possibly a teen or tween like themselves – may also be getting paid to pitch a particular brand of shoes or the latest game console. On Snapchat, brands release their own filters for users to apply to their photos.

Some brands even offer their own apps for kids to shop with. Amazon now offers teen accounts for children as young as 13. Brands like Build-A-Bear and Victoria’s Secret Pink offer games for teens to play on their shopping apps.

Privacy and Data Collection

Brands are also watching your teen’s movements through their various apps and online activities. Social media and gaming sites often sell or share user data with outside companies. This gives advertisers the information that they need to make targeted ads. If your child expresses interest in buying new sneakers on one site, they may see ads for sneakers on the next couple of sites that they visit.

Children under 13 are protected somewhat from data collection efforts by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). But children 13 and older are fair game for data collection and targeted advertising. And many sites that require users to be 13 or older to make an account don’t do anything to verify the ages of their users. Tweens can make accounts on these sites by simply checking a box that says they’re 13 or over, even if they aren’t, and there’s nothing to stop advertisers tracking those children’s online activities in order to target them with ads.

What Parents Should Do

Young teenage girl sitting in a grey chair with a mobile phone.

Tweens and teens may not always recognize ads for what they are, and some ads can affect a teen’s self-image.

On the surface, the idea that advertisers are targeting tweens and teens may not seem alarming, or even newsworthy. After all, any parent that can remember watching Saturday morning cartoons as a child knows that advertisers have been targeting children for years.

But the ads that appear on your teen’s or tween’s smartphone could be problematic. Targeted ads are meant to appeal very specifically to individual users. That means, for example, that a teen who is struggling with concerns over their weight could be targeted with weight loss ads, possibly encouraging unhealthy dieting or disordered eating in a teen with self-esteem issues. Ads that aren’t easily recognizable to young smartphone users as ads may especially affect their body image or self-confidence.

It’s important for parents to talk to tweens and teens about how to recognize marketing for what it is so that they don’t take it too seriously or personally. A child who can recognize a pitch from a social media influencer, for example, may be less likely to take their words to heart.

Tweens and teens also need regular breaks from social media and the advertising that goes with it. Imposing sensible limits on your child’s smartphone use can help keep them grounded and prevent them from getting too wrapped up in marketing messages. Parental control software can help you protect your kids from overzealous advertising. To find out how it works,  try it for free.

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Schools Ease Up in Smartphone Policies: Should You?

by Anna Hughes on 29/08/2018
In the battle for the teenage mind, schools across the country are trying to declare an armistice with smartphones. Schools are loosening their policies, either by incorporating smartphones into daily school activities or by simply taking policies off the books as impossible to enforce. So where does this leave parents? Should they lighten up too? Probably not.
Group of teenagers walking and using their smartphones.

Kids now have smartphones in school, but the rules shouldn’t change.

Rules Are Rules

To start with, schools aren’t simply letting kids goof off on their phones during third-period math. There are still a set of baseline rules that schools require kids to abide by, even if the school has dropped stricter policies. What’s changed is the approach, as society accepts smartphones, and the availability of parental control apps for cellphones have given parents better tools for monitoring kids’ smartphone use.

Most schools are dropping outright bans not because the kids have won, but because the smartphone is such a useful tool in the classroom when used correctly. Remember, just a decade ago, the “smartphone” was a novelty and a luxury available only to a select few. If kids had phones, they were mostly used to talk or send texts. While we may have called the latter “passing notes” back in the day, it’s still been against the rules the entire time. But most teachers don’t mind that kids are able to tap into a deep well of human knowledge. Schools instead are increasingly asking parents to put some form of parental control app on their teens’ smartphones.

Besides, the issue was never with the item, but how it’s used. Teens are more susceptible to smartphone abuse, and that needs to be considered by any parent. So, how can we balance the usefulness of smartphones against their addictive potential?

Teenager sitting using their smartphone.

Is a tool or a distraction?

Smarter Smartphone Rules

  • Know the school’s policies, in detail. Especially if the school is requiring any smartphone to have a parental control app installed, parents should know what standards kids are expected to abide by.
  • Remember that school and home are two different places with two different needs. Even if kids have more freedom to use their smartphones at school, that doesn’t mean you should allow them at the dinner table or during family time.
  • Kids need to understand that they need to be respectful and accountable, and why the rules are in place. It’s easy for kids to write off rules as unfair, especially if they seem arbitrary, so explain why you’ve chosen the rules for your family.
  • Always talk to your kids about smartphone use and let them know that they can come to you with any issue, no matter what. Often kids just need somebody to share their concerns with, and being able to talk them over is a relief for them

There’s no perfect solution to balancing the different spheres of life your kids will deal with. School, home, work, and the houses of friends will all have different rules, different requirements, and different standards that kids will just need to learn to balance. But if they know they have a friendly ear and a firm but fair parent, they’ll get the hang of it. To learn more about parental control apps and how you can schedule what your kids use on their phones, sign up for Screen Time.

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How Parental Control Apps Help at Back-to-School Time

by Anna Hughes on 15/08/2018
As the summer ends, a new school year is arriving. Like their kids, some parents are excited, and some feel trepidation, but for entirely different reasons. Especially when it comes to phones, it means a shift from slightly looser rules and free time to more rules and stricter schedules. If you need to ease the transition, though, it's fortunately easy to do with good communication, a little planning, and the help of parental control software.
Teenage girls at an outside table reading.

Kids need structure when going back to school.

What Do Kids Need?

The place to start is with the rules and requirements of the school. You’d think kids would be expected to leave the phones and tablets at home, but increasingly just the opposite is true. Kids are using their phones as part of class: to do research, to keep texts handy for open book tests without hauling a giant bookbag around, and so on. At the same time, it’s unlikely the school doesn’t have rules about kids playing games when they should be focused on schoolwork. Ask for a copy of the school rules and the expected schedule for your kids, and program it into your software so phone features are locked and unlocked as needed during the day.

Have A Talk

Once you’ve got those, go over them with your kids and discuss expectations about the school year and their workload. Set standards for kids that they understand and can abide by, like, for example, limiting phone time if they fall behind in their grades. They should understand what you, and their teachers, will expect of them in the coming months, so they can plan accordingly.

If certain apps or tools are required to be pre-loaded on their phone, this would also be a good moment for you and your children to set those up and start experimenting with them. Just like going through the reading list over the summer is a good idea, learning the apps now can save frustration on both their part and yours later. Take a little time to get the hang of your parental control software as well, especially useful features like remote locking for occasions when kids need to pay attention.

Classroom with young students.

Kids need to pay attention, and parental apps can help ensure that.

Set Up Schedules And Controls

Finally, you should set up schedules and rules you can enforce, such as no phone time before homework is finished, or that phone time is earned by getting assignments done early or when work on projects is squared away well before the due date. Consider incentives in particular if your kids have a heavy workload at school this year, because that will both keep them off the phone and smooth out any inevitable bumps in the intellectual road.

It’s key, before school starts, to set up their phones for success, using iPhone parental settings and parental control software to enforce the rules. Software should be configured to keep kids from downloading apps without your agreement, while leaving the door open to making emergency calls and using educational apps required in the classroom. Parental control software shouldn’t be a surprise, though. Make sure kids understand why you’ve set it up, what the rules are, and what they need to do to abide by them.

The switch from the freedom of summer to the hustle and bustle of the school year is never perfect. But with a little planning, some software, and a few conversations, you can make sure it’s a bit smoother. To get some hands-on experience with parental control apps, try it for free.

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Is the ‘Mobile Mindset’ Making Your Teen Self-Centered?

by Anna Hughes on 08/08/2018
With smartphones, it's all about you. Your social media, your messages, your gameplay, your needs, your wants. Unsurprisingly, that can set a tone for how we interact with the world. But are teens particularly susceptible to the “me first” mindset smartphones can promote, and how do you prevent it?
Teenager standing outside using his mobile phone.

Phones constantly demand our attention, no matter where we are.

Me First, Me Last, Me Always

Part of the problem is teens and kids are just naturally more prone to smartphone addiction. At their worst, smartphones are designed to relentlessly demand our attention with alerts, texts, calls, notifications and hosts of other ways to pull you away from whatever you’re doing in the real world and go back to the phone. Device use is particularly tempting in awkward social situations, and we can all agree that being a teen means encountering plenty of those.

The problem, of course, is over time, humans may become less interesting to kids than the various pings and dings a smartphone offers up. It’s a question of punching through the world that smartphones present, and getting your teens to consider their actions in a broader context. Or, of course, keep device dependency from happening in the first place.

Teenagers dining in a restaurant looking at their mobile phones.

Phones can distract from anyone, for any reason.

Popping The Bubble

Parental control software is a common way to keep the “self-centered” bubble from forming. Strictly limiting what apps kids can use and when they can use them will address the problem from one direction.

In addition, teach your kids, or have them teach you, how to go into an app or a settings menu and shut off unnecessary notifications, such as game alerts and “reminder” notifications from social media networks that want your time. Explain to them why these apps do this, namely to get your attention so you’ll look at ads. The good thing about these forms of manipulation is that once you’re aware of them, you can push them away easily.

Similarly, when you install parental control software, your kids should understand both why you have installed it, and the rules around the software. Rules like “no phones after bedtime” or “phones for homework use only after school” shouldn’t just be coded into the phone, but clearly articulated for your kids, with punishments made clear if they break the rules.

And remember, finally, that not all apps and games are bad. Some games are designed to bring groups of friends together in real life, such as Pokemon Go, while other apps allow kids to discuss their social situations with friends in a healthy way. You should talk with your kids about how they use their phones and who they’re interacting with. If the rules are clear and you’re involved, then you’re setting them on the right track to a healthy online/offline balance. To learn more about parental control and software that supports it, check out the Screen Time app.

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Your Teens May Want Help Curbing Their Smartphone Use

by Anna Hughes on 01/08/2018
A smartphone can be a useful tool for anybody, even teens. Smartphones can help them get jobs, stay in touch with friends who move away, and can help them with their schoolwork. But they can also trigger reward systems seated deep in the brain that we don't fully understand, and start cycles it can be difficult to break. When we first encounter these cycles, sometimes called “smartphone addiction,” we need help, and teens need it in particular, since they're fighting it for the first time. So how can you help?
Group of people using smartphones.

Teens love their phones, but they might need help putting them down.

Stop It Before It Happens

The simplest method is, especially if your teen is about to get their first smartphone, just to stop the problem before it starts. Use tools like Android and iPhone parental controls to block certain apps, set specific rules about when the phone can be used and for what purposes, and have clear and fair punishments in place when those rules are violated that you can enforce, like deleting apps and no phone at bedtime.

Have An Honest Talk

The first step is to give your teen some perspective. For example, if they’re checking an app or playing a game to the point it interferes with their homework, their job, and their social life, you should ask them about why this is. One important discussion to have is about the “Skinner box,” the infamous psychological experiment where a rat was put in a cage with a button that occasionally dispensed a treat, and which taught the rat to keep hitting the button, to the detriment of everything else.

Some argue certain apps are like these boxes, and while the science is more complicated with the human mind, it’s not a bad analogy. Social media and games offer us a small reward, such as a like or a powerup, and we keep playing. Once we become aware of the cycle, we can fight it.

Young teen looking at her tablet while leaning against fence.

Phones are useful, but they can also be addictive.

Make A Plan

Once your teen can face the problem, you can make a plan to solve it. This should involve a mix of parental control software, scheduling, and self-awareness. For example, if one app like Snapchat is the problem, you might delete the app, set a rule about when phones are allowed at home, giving your teen a little time to do work, answer emails, and so on, and then have a strict block on having a phone in bed. To enforce the rule, you might install an app to block the downloading of other apps, or certain apps, without your express consent via software.

Ideally, your teen will be on board with this plan. But if not, they should at least understand the reasoning behind it. A conversation about the problem is part of the solution, in this case.

While parental control software and Android and iPhone parental controls are incredibly useful tools, the key to stopping smartphone problems is to get your teen to admit there’s a problem in the first place. Once that happens, you can begin truly fixing the problem. To learn more about how to schedule phone time and enforce the house rules about phones, try it for free.

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