The BIGO Live App: Is It Safe for Kids?

by Screen Time Team on 28/10/2020

Livestreaming is becoming more popular, as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other video-based social media become more accepted and commonplace. Parents, however, need to keep an eye out for lesser-known apps that may be a problem to filter through parental control software, and BIGO Live is one of them.

What Is BIGO Live?

BIGO Live is a livestreaming app similar to Twitch, based out of Singapore and owned by a Chinese technology company. Its content is primarily sorted into two categories; online gaming, where people play video games to entertain others, and “showbiz,” which largely falls into livestreams of people who are famous in Asia. The app is popular in Asia, and not as common in the West, but parents may still find their kids using it for various reasons, such as popular games being played on there.

It’s unusual in that users can give streamers currency called “beans,” which are bought through the app and translate to roughly 210 “beans” on the US dollar. Oddly, the site doesn’t make it particularly clear how the beans system works, which is a major warning flag for any in-app purchase.

Young teen looking at a tablet while sitting on a cushion.

Are There Risks With BIGO Live?

BIGO Live, when it’s appeared on the news, hasn’t done much to settle parents’ minds. The app has the dubious distinction of being banned by both India and Pakistan over claims of security issues and immorality. Just what that means, in particular, is less clear than you might think; it’s believed the bans are more about politics than content. Yet, understandably, this should worry parents.

As for the more prosaic concerns, if you browse the app’s website, what you find is about what you’d expect from a livestream app aimed largely at young adults. The content may be a judgment call to at least some degree for parents. At the same time, a point of concern is the seeming lack of parental controls.

Should Kids Be On BIGO Live?

While not seeming actively malicious, BIGO Live is clearly not intended for kids. Teenagers may be fine on there, but you should lay some ground rules.

  • Stay off the app’s currency, and don’t give money to anyone on the app. This feature should be blocked with parental control software.
  • Sit down with your teen and look at the streams they want to view to be sure there’s no content they’re not ready for.
  • Make a list of games that are OK to stream. If they want to use the app, and set rules around streaming, what content can be shown, and what they can say, like any other online gaming platform.
  • Check-in regularly with them and make sure that they’re not being harassed or threatened on the platform.
  • Set days and times they can stream, such as no streaming until homework’s done.

Game streaming can be fun for kids, but it needs to be balanced with other needs. Parental control software can help you keep that balance, and block objectionable content. To learn more, try it for free!

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Parental Guide to Tellonym for Teens

by Screen Time Team on 21/10/2020

The anonymity of the internet has both positives and negatives. Being able to create a private emotional space is important for everyone, and that’s something the internet has enabled. Unfortunately, it’s also opened the door to cyberbullying, even when something is launched with the best of intentions, and that includes Tellonym.

What Is Tellonym?

Tellonym (roughly translated as “to tell anonymously” in a mix of English and German) is an app that allows users to collect anonymous feedback, similar to competing app Sarahah. 

Users create a profile, which is just their username and potentially a photo, and anybody with the link can leave notes, whether solicited or unsolicited. It’s also “cross-platform,” so app users and browser users can interact. The idea is to create a personal suggestion box on the internet. If this sounds like a bad idea, well… that’s how it’s worked out.

Tellonym And Abuse

Tellonym has, by and large, shown why parental control software is popular. The app is most popular in Germany and has been fighting a rearguard action against cyberbullying, particularly among teenagers, almost from its inception. Among the points of concern:

  • The app was largely designed for adult professionals; the idea was and is that adults can anonymously get feedback about work and personal matters and deal with it appropriately. Tellonym was almost immediately discovered by teenagers, and then became a hotbed of abuse.
  • Profiles don’t require a name or an email address and leave no identifying information. While the app does collect some information to provide to authorities, day-to-day users are effectively out of luck if they’re hoping to identify a bully and confront them in real life.
  • Tellonym attempted to limit abusive language by creating a word-filter option. Users quickly figured out that transposing letters or intentionally misspelling abusive terms beat the filter.
  • Work is still being done to incorporate self-harm prevention tools and digital mobbing into the app, made more difficult by its anonymity.

None of this was difficult to predict, unfortunately. Anywhere there’s anonymity and a lack of consequences, especially with messaging apps, there’s going to be at least some cyberbullying. Fortunately, users have more control over what’s seen publicly, so they don’t have to share insults or cruel questions, and the site has implemented blocking tools, safety codes, and only allows messages from users who have registered in a way that’s more trackable. Yet problems remain.

Teen looking at her phone.

Should Kids Use Tellonym?

The app has improved somewhat, but problems remain. If what you’ve read so far is dismaying, then blocking Tellonym with parental control software should be your first step. If your children are older, then, if they want to use it, take the following steps.

  • Teach them the basics of cyberbullying, how to stop it, and how to avoid it.
  • Make sure they know they can speak with you about what happens online.
  • Set times for when they can access the app to limit “obsessing” over it, such as blocking it during homework time.
  • Be ready to delete it if you think there’s an issue.

Parental control software can help keep potentially abusive apps like Tellonym in check. To learn more, try it for free!

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What Parents Should Know About Discord

by Screen Time Team on 14/10/2020

Sometimes, all you need to know about an app is its name. Discord, the popular chat app for gamers, would seem to fit that bit. Here’s what parents should know about the popular chat app.

What Is Discord?

Discord is a free chat app supporting text, voice, and video chat. It first became popular in the online gamer community, as it was relatively powerful and had lots of free features, and was an effective replacement for in-game tools offering similar services. It also allowed for more privacy and flexibility and can be easily integrated into game streaming platforms such as Twitch.

Since then, Discord has slowly become more popular elsewhere as a communication and chatting tool. Since it’s “freeware,” it’s available on most internet platforms, including through browsers. This means blocking it completely will generally require parental control software across platforms.

How Does Discord Work?

Discord resembles the IRC (internet relay chat) protocol in how it functions. Users can create servers, and channels within those servers. The visibility and access to those servers are completely controlled by the user who creates them. Channels can be age-gated by being marked “not safe for work,” but Discord has no strict criteria for what those channels can and can’t feature, outside of illegal content.

This means that, for example, a server that seems perfectly normal may have “secret” channels known only to the user and those they give access to. This has been a controversial feature for Discord for years and is one of the key points of concern about the software.

Young teen wearing headphones and holding a game controller.

Should Kids Use Discord?

Discord has very little enforcement and generally relies on its users to “self-police” bad behavior. The company, to its credit, does have transparency reports that openly discuss bullying, abuse, and other inappropriate behavior that it makes available to the broader userbase, which can help parents better determine whether they want kids on Discord.

Enforcement actions depend heavily on the situation, from removing content to shutting down servers on the network. Enforcement is at the discretion of Discord. One feature that is useful is that every user has a unique four-digit identifier, called a “discriminator”, tied to their username so that the blocking feature removes them across the entire app. You won’t be able to see them or their message in any server.

If your kids want to use Discord, take the following steps:

  • Set strict time limits, enforced by parental control software.
  • Tie use to specific games or services; for example, if they want to play with friends on a specific game, they should only be on that server.
  • Limit access to one device or set of devices.
  • Ask to look at the servers they want to join and the content available on them.
  • Discuss how to counteract cruel and predatory behaviors such as bullying and online grooming.
  • Set limits on how many servers they can be at one time.
  • Ensure they know how to block users and have them come to you if someone is being rude.

Protecting kids when they’re gaming online, or on the internet in general, requires strong communication and effective parental control software. To learn more, contact us.

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Is the Ablo Messaging App Safe for Kids?

by Screen Time Team on 08/10/2020

Language is one of the great barriers to change, and Ablo has an admirable mission in that it tries to connect people across languages. But is that safe for kids? Here’s what parents need to know about Ablo.

What Is Ablo?

Ablo is a social networking and instant messaging app for iOS and Android, and also available via the web. It first debuted in January 2019, with its first “stable” release, meaning there were no major bugs or glitches, in December 2019. It’s owned by dating app company Match, although as of this writing it has no dating functions. The most interesting feature of Ablo is that it allows people who speak different languages to have live one-to-one conversations via text and video while automatically translating between them.

The translations appear under the video as subtitles, while texts appear simply as translated. It’s currently available in 37 different languages. As a technical demonstration, it’s quite impressive, and you’ll likely hear a lot more about it as the technology improves. As a social network and messaging app, however, it leaves much to be desired.

Is Ablo Safe For Kids?

The app makes it clear in its terms and conditions that kids aren’t welcome on the platform: Ablo is only for those 18 and older. However, this isn’t enforced beyond an honor system where you enter a birth date into a form while registering, and it’s not clear that this could be validated in the first place. As such, it’s probably better to simply block it via parental control software or operating system level controls.

So what about teenagers who are officially adults, but still living in your house and using your phone plan? While so far there have been no reported incidents on Ablo, there’s also very little in the way of safety features. The company makes it clear that sexual harassment and threats won’t be tolerated, and it will kick users off for engaging in that behavior. However, it relies on community reporting to enforce this, which is hardly the most effective tool.

Young teen looking at his phone while wearing a PPE face mask.

There’s also the question of monitoring. The long-term goal, here, is to teach translation systems how to better communicate, which means messages will be monitored and studied. Teens should understand this.

Finally, left unanswered is a fundamental question of culture gaps. If you’ve ever traveled, you know that even places that seem very similar to your country can have some enormous social differences. Even in situations where both parties are well-meaning, offense can be given and “misbehavior” can be perceived. Exposure to other cultures is a positive thing, but it’s not always a simple or easy experience.

Should My Teen Use Ablo?

Anybody under eighteen shouldn’t be allowed on Ablo. For those on the cusp of adulthood, take these steps:

  • Discuss cultural differences with your kids and how to bridge them.
  • Ask them how and why they want to use Ablo, and discuss how to be safe.
  • Make sure they understand that harassment, bullying, and online grooming can happen to adults, as well, and that they should be aware of it.
  • Similarly, they should understand that as adults, they’re expected to comply with a higher standard. Go over Ablo’s terms of service with them and consider a family contract they need to abide by as long as you share phone plans.

Managing the transition of childhood to adulthood on screens can be tough, and parental control software can help. To learn more, contact us!

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Parental Alert: Are Your Kids Safe on Omegle?

by Screen Time Team on 30/09/2020

Chat apps can be useful for maintaining social ties, meeting people from different cultures, and exploring new perspectives on the world. They can also be, for families, a complete mess and possibly even dangerous without rules and parental control software. 

One, Omegle, is a cause for particular concern. Here’s what parents need to know.

What Is Omegle?

Omegle, founded in 2009, can really be summed up by its own marketing copy: “Talk with strangers!” The site is a chat app, available on the web and through browsers, that requires no login or other credentials, and will match you with another random user logged into the site from anywhere in the world. It offers both text and video chat. Since it was first launched in 2009, the site has added “interest” tags that allow users to be connected based on interests. There’s also “spy mode,” where you can ask two questions of two users paired in chat to start a conversation and then observe that conversation as a non-participant.

Some video chat channels on the site are monitored to prevent certain content from being spread on the platform; others are not. This has generally led to the site becoming a sort of Wild West of chat, and even the site’s CEO has expressed disappointment at how Omegle has been used.

Omegle.

Is Omegle Safe For Kids?

While no chat site is perfectly kid-safe, Omegle stands out as particularly lacking in this respect. There’s nothing on the site or its apps that resembles basic privacy and safety tools, let alone parental controls. The one real security function is the site’s randomness. 

Cyberbullying, online grooming, and other high-profile concerns are generally perpetrated by somebody the child knows in real life, such as a schoolmate, and are centered around a place where it’s easy to find your family.

While Omegle will ban users for cruelty and misbehavior, even that is ineffectual as it only bans them based on their IP addresses. That can easily be gotten around with commonly available software such as a virtual private network (VPN). Besides, alternatives built on the platform are freely available as well, so it largely just defers the problem of abusive users to other places.

How Can I Make Omegle Safer?

Like any chat app, there are some steps parents should take.

  1. Educate kids about cyberbullying, hacking and social engineering, and online grooming, and to come to you if a user is making them uncomfortable or fearful.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the app, by using it and getting a sense of the controls and settings.
  3. Set strict timetables and rules with parental control software, such as only using it through an app or browser, and blocking alternate apps from being downloaded.
  4. Talk regularly with them about what they’re seeing and hearing.
  5. Set physical rules as well, such as charging phones away from bedrooms.

Limiting access and enforcing clear rules will be your best steps towards limiting the dangers from Omegle and other chat apps. Parental control software can help you keep rules in place and guide kids to a healthier relationship with screens. To learn more, try it for free!

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Nine Signs Your Kids Are Viewing Porn Online

by Screen Time Team on 23/09/2020

Sex and sexuality will be a tough topic for any family. And the wide availability of pornography on the internet makes it more difficult. Here’s how to spot the signs before it becomes a problem.

The Obvious Signs

There will be some obvious signs your child is looking at pornography. Usually, these are reflected not by their behavior, but by hard data.

  • Attempts to thwart your software controls. Look for attempts to get around the password of your parental control software, attempts to delete apps outright from devices, and even, if they can afford it, kids getting “contraband” devices.
  • Unusual charges on your credit card, particularly small amounts or charges that are quickly reversed. Often porn sites offer “limited-time” offers at low rates to entice customers.
  • Excessive use of tablets or computers in private spaces away from family members. While we all need privacy, and teens, in particular, may need space away from everyone, changes in the pattern should be noted.
  • Strange or unusual pop-ups, unusually slow computer speeds, or other signs of devices used to visit a sketchy website. Many sites will use pornography to lure targets and then attack the machine.
  • Regularly deleted website caches, site histories, and other data. If you find yourself having to repeatedly log into sites that normally let you in without requesting a password, then your child may be trying to hide the evidence by cleaning their browser cache.
Young teen sitting on the floor looking at a laptop screen.

The More Subtle Signs

There are other, more subtle signs kids are watching pornography, however. Some of these will overlap with other potential problems, like cyberbullying or attempted grooming by sexual predators. Some, however, may also be signs of depression, anxiety, or just simply the day-to-day difficulties of going from child to adult. Discussing these, as a result, will need to be more about negotiation and talking, instead of confrontation.

  • An abrupt change in their alone-time habits. Obviously, kids will view pornography in private, so they’ll seek more private time.
  • Withdrawing from social activities or personal engagement. Some kids will feel deeply ashamed that they’ve viewed pornography and will struggle with the conflicting emotional reactions they have to it.
  • Mood swings, particularly anger or outbursts of frustration. Shame and embarrassment can cause kids to lash out, believing they’re being judged by others. Kids often believe “everybody knows” when they break the rules.
  • Broaching unusual discussions. This, in particular, needs to be handled sensitively. Watching pornography is just one manifestation of a developing sexuality as kids become adults, and many kids who have never seen pornography in their lives may have unusual or difficult questions about sex. Pay attention to what they’re asking, specifically.

This won’t be a simple process, for you or your children. The transition to adulthood never is. Kids will need your patience and respect to get through it. And there are going to mistakes, broken rules, and other situations that will need to be handled with care to keep kids on the right track. Parental control software can help your kids have a healthier childhood. To learn more, try it for free!

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How to Balance Screen Time with Other Activities During COVID-19

by Screen Time Team on 16/09/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost everything in society, and how families spend their time is no exception. Team sports, extracurricular activities, birthday parties, and a whole host of other events and time have simply vanished, leaving a string of gaps in the day. Meanwhile, with remote schooling and video-call socializing, screen time has gone up. Here’s how to re-balance in the face of a changing world.

Be Patient and Flexible

Parents need to cut kids, and themselves, some slack. The pandemic and related effects have set off a mental health crisis and nobody is immune. There are going to be moments where you need to let kids have an hour or two of TV or games above and beyond the rules, and there are going to be moments where you have to put your foot down and they aren’t going to take it well. A little patience and flexibility will go a long way, although parental control software should be in place to prevent circumventing the rules.

Have Rules

Structure and rules are good things to have with your family, especially when it comes to screen time. Some points, such as leaving tablets downstairs at bedtime and not using chat apps during family time, should be non-negotiable. You can allow leeway on some other points, especially if kids don’t have much else to do on a rainy day, for example, but the overall shape of the rules should stay in place.

Not Everything Is Off the Table

Remember that the key concern is not going outside, period, but rather spending long periods of time around large groups of people in improperly ventilated spaces. Being masked and out of doors is generally seen as relatively safe. Plan out a range of activities you can do together or solo throughout the fall and winter. Even just romping around the yard or playing games outside with siblings can do a lot to counteract cabin fever and help everyone adjust.

Young boy looking at his phone screen.

Focus On Quality

Screen time spent talking to family on video chat or doing homework with friends is different from playing yet another round of Pokemon or watching an entire season of a TV show. Even then, watching an educational series or learning a skill from an instructional video is different from reality shows and cartoons. Look closely at the quality of screen time, and encourage kids to do activities that involve building social skills, staying in touch with friends, and learning.

Create Other Options

If possible, create non-screen options kids can pick over just screen time. Family activities like hikes or bicycle outings, books, crafting activities, and cooking projects are just a few of the things you can encourage kids to do. Ask them for ideas and things they’ve always wanted to try, and make them workspaces and playspaces in your home they can use to try different things.

As the pandemic situation evolves, your family’s approach to screen time will shift with them. Parental control software can help you keep the rules consistent, fair, and followed. To learn more, try it for free!

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What’s Up with WhatsApp? Four Parental Must-Knows

by Screen Time Team on 10/09/2020

Messaging apps have never been more popular, more central to our social lives, or of greater concern. WhatsApp is just one of the many, many messaging apps out there competing for our family’s time and attention, but is it safe for kids?

WhatsApp: The Basics

  • WhatsApp is owned by Facebook but is separate from both Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s messaging platform. Facebook is planning to integrate these services in some way in the future, however.
  • It allows text, voice, image, and file sharing.
  • You must provide a mobile phone number and be over the age of 16 to use WhatsApp under its terms of service.
  • The service has over 2 billion users worldwide.

Is WhatsApp Secure?

WhatsApp has the distinction of being one of the few messaging services that offers end-to-end encryption for all communications. This makes it unlikely that any communications on WhatsApp will be intercepted and read or listened to by somebody unwanted. For this reason, it tends to be popular when shifting to private conversations from social media.

However, the app defaults to make all users visible to everyone else, which will need to be changed in the app’s privacy settings. It lacks any scheduling or context controls, which will need to be provided by parental control software.

It also has tools that will delete a message or image after a certain amount of time. This has been a particular problem when dealing with cyberbullying and other abusive situations.

What Are WhatsApp Groups?

WhatsApp’s most popular feature is its “groups,” which anybody can be added to by a user, and some of which consist of up to 256 users. Groups allow information to be pushed out to an enormous group of people at once. You are also unable to filter groups to only receive messages from people you know, so you can quickly be added to groups full of total strangers unless you move quickly to change your settings.

You cannot refuse to be added to a group; you must opt-out of the group once added, or block all attempts to add you to any group. Nor can you filter invitations or only reject certain ones. The best the site allows is to only let “contacts” add you to groups.

WhatsApp displayed on a phone.

Should Kids Use WhatsApp?

In the end, WhatsApp has many of the same concerns as other messaging apps.

  • Kids should be taught consideration of the information they share. What can somebody conclude from say, a seemingly innocent photograph sent to a group?
  • Leave the door open to discuss uncomfortable or scary moments with you.
  • Educate them on fraudulent news, scams, and other misuses of messaging apps.
  • Set schedules and rules enforced by parental control software to limit distraction from school, homework, and other times kids need to focus. Kids under 16 should simply be blocked from the app.

Messaging apps are always going to be at least mildly fraught, even for adults. Parental control software allows parents to better navigate these issues, creating a framework for when and where they can be engaged in a healthy manner. To learn more, try it for free!

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What Parents Should Know about School Internet Policies

by Screen Time Team on 26/08/2020

While every family establishes their own rules around the internet, once kids go to school, it’s the administration that makes those decisions. Before kids head to school, here’s what you should know about their internet policies.

The Rules And Punishments

Start with what the rules themselves are. What’s expected of students when they walk in the door, and if they don’t meet those expectations, what will the school do about it? Is there anything you’ll need to discuss with your kids before they go to school this year?

Furthermore, if they come home with a note, what will your reaction be, and will the school expect you to do anything? It’s an important question, as punishments for breaking the rules need to be both educational and constructive. If kids don’t understand the reasons behind the rules, they’re less likely to respect them.

Education Around the Internet

Ask to see what the curriculum is around internet safety education. What are kids taught about double-checking their sources, for example, when they write papers? Are they allowed to cite any website, or do they have to demonstrate the credibility of that site?

Bullying is another point of concern that will need to be addressed. Ask to learn how kids will be taught to spot and prevent cyberbullying, either when it’s done against them or against their classmates.

Child sitting at a table using a computer.

Expected Screen Time

Schools are rapidly changing how they use technology. Some have instituted a “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) policy, while others may restrict students entirely to school devices, with possible exceptions for recess and study hall. Talk to your child’s teachers to get a sense of how much screen time is allowed outside of class and how much is expected inside of it. You may also need to weigh this against how much screen time is allowed at home.

This is also a good time to communicate your personal expectations for your children. While teachers can’t be expected to enforce every possible rule you have in your classroom, making them aware of what you expect from your kids will help you both to work together to address any problematic behavior that might emerge. Tell them what apps and games are banned, even during personal time.

Technology In Use

At home, there’s parental control software, filters, and operating-system-level controls. Schools, however, may use their own custom technology package to perform the same job. Or, depending on the rules in your household, the system may be more permissive than you might prefer. Learn how everything is enforced, technologically speaking.

Obtain a list of websites and other resources kids will be expected to access during school hours and whitelist them on your parental control software. This will limit problems upfront and also give you a sense of what’s expected.

As the world changes around us, it’s important to give kids clear, controlled opportunities to spend time online. To learn how parental control software can help, try it for free!

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Teaching Your Kids about Internet Security: 15 Age-Appropriate Tips

by Screen Time Team on 19/08/2020

There are a lot of risks online. Yet, the most common one, by far, is financial. Computer and data security are something kids should learn now, as they’ll need those skills throughout their lives. Here’s how to teach them how to be smart online.

Set Up “Training Wheels”

Until kids fully get the lessons you’re teaching them, the internet will need “training wheels:”  Software-level security that prevents attacks and mistakes.

  • Create a charging space where they have to leave game consoles, tablets, and other gadgets to charge that’s away from schoolwork and bedtime spaces.
  • Limit them to age-appropriate hardware and platforms like tablets designed for kids and “kids” versions of apps.
  • Configure the settings of their apps to limit access to data and chat functions where possible.
  • Set operating-system-level controls to block in-app purchases and to place a PIN on any downloads.
  • Use parental control software to prevent “workarounds” in downloading apps and to enforce other rules, such as no tablets during homework time.
  • Install filtering software to limit malicious and unwanted links.

Free Isn’t Free

Nothing on the internet is free, and kids need to learn what they pay in return for the games and widgets they download.

  • Open up the app store and show kids the permissions you agree to download an app, and what those permissions mean.
  • Discuss with them what “ad-supported” means and how to spot a “pay-to-win” game.
  • Show them how ringtones and other downloads may hide malware.
Father sitting with his daughter in front of a laptop.

Spotting Fakes

  • Discuss why they should never click a link in an email or chat without checking it. This is a common way hackers get malware on your computer.
  • Walk them through the basics of spotting a fake email. Have them check the email address a message comes from, for example.
  • Show how emails attempt to manipulate you into clicking links, whether for legitimate sales or dangerous purposes.

Trust But Verify

The internet thrives on trust. Trust between people, trust between customers and companies, and trust between people and governments. Yet trust isn’t blind, and kids should learn to “trust but verify.”

  • Show them how you deal with potentially fraudulent messages, such as if you get an email from your bank. Point out the email, and that you can check what’s being said by calling the bank directly or accessing their website independently of the email.
  • Point how “social engineering” works. Is someone being overly friendly? Are they offering you gifts without any seeming expectation of return? Have they asked you to download something or personal questions?
  • Show how even seemingly innocent things like profile photos can tell more about them than your children might realize.

Remember, amid all of this, to leave room for growth. As kids get older, they’ll need to have the standards of their parental control software profiles changed, will need more space to form their own friendships and social connections on chat apps, and eventually will become adults themselves. To learn how parental control software can grow with your family, try it for free!

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