Good Parenting Is the Number One Internet Safety ‘Tool’ for Kids

by Anna Hughes on 13/02/2019
Much of our society is “set it and forget it.” Our appliances turn on and off automatically, our bills are set to autopay, our cars can park themselves, and that makes it easy to forget that some of what we do must be hands-on. And while parental control apps can help with monitoring kids' internet use, they're only one piece of the equation.

Why Parenting Matters

Any parent knows kids follow their lead, for good and for bad. Kids will, consciously or not, imitate their parents as a fallback for every kind of situation, from dealing with confrontation to picking what they eat for lunch. Furthermore, parents set and enforce the rules from which kids learn.

Of course, this doesn’t mean kids are clones of us. Kids will push back against rules they think are arbitrary and can choose whether their parents are a positive example or a negative one. Yet we can mistakenly write off the influence we have on our own children.

For example, you can set your parental control app to the strictest possible standards. But if your children don’t understand your concerns, or have friends pushing them in the opposite direction, ultimately it won’t affect their behavior. 

This is especially true in “do as I say, not as I do” situations. If your teens can’t look at their phones, for example, but see you constantly being tugged by notifications and alerts, they’ll wonder why you’re not taking a dose of your own medicine.

So, how do you fill in the other part of the equation? How do you parent so that internet controls work as you intend them to?

Mom and teenage son having a discussion.

Parenting And Smartphones

Begin with a long conversation. Explain why you have certain rules, and make it clear that the rules can change over time. Today’s tween is tomorrow’s teen, and they’ll have different needs for their phones.

Lay out what behavior you support, like researching homework or reading a book on a phone screen during a trip, and which you don’t, like spending excessive time on a manipulative game or focusing on friends instead of homework or chores. Everyone in the family should know they can come to you to talk about their phones. Be sure to make clear your concerns, like too many notifications distracting from chores or too much time spent on games.

Keep the conversation going as well. Ask your family what they’re using their phones for. If they’ve found a new app or website, ask them about what it does. If they have a new friend, learn what you can about them. Let your kids know they can come talk to you about anything they see on the internet and how it makes them feel.

If the rules get broken, or if there’s an attempt to break them, go over why the rule is in place and enforce a fair, reasonable consequence that helps kids understand your concern.

Every family will be different in their approach. Some will allow personal time on screens at different times and in different places. What should stay consistent is how engaged you are as a parent. If kids understand that you care, and the reasons behind the rules, they’ll grow up to be responsible phone users themselves. Need help enforcing the rules?  Learn more about Screen Time.

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Is Your Child’s Tech Use Harming Their Literacy Skills?

by Anna Hughes on 06/02/2019
As long as there have been children, books, and something to distract them from reading, there has been concern that children aren't reading enough. The latest “something” is the smartphone and the tablet. But are screens denting children's literary skills, or is the concern overblown? The answer is more complicated than you think.
Young teen mowing the grass.

Adults Actually Read Less

Credit due to the children: They’re reading, and we’re not. A Pew Internet study of our literary habits found the people least likely to sit down with a book were actually those 50 to 64 years of age, followed by the 30-49s and the 65 and older crowd. Some of this has to do with children being expected to read textbooks, file book reports, and otherwise engage with text at school, but also kids have more time to sit down with a book, and arguably more opportunity to sit down with one. After all, their schools usually have a library in the building.

That said, however, we live in a society of more distractions than ever. Social media, streaming TV, the texts and calls of friends who may be upset without a response, and even online texts such as long-form essays hosted on websites all compete with books, print and electronic, for time and attention, even if we’re trapped indoors

Part of the reason past generations were so literate was really there was just a lot less to do; our grandparents probably would have struggled to prioritize social media, Netflix, Spotify, and friends texting too. The question really becomes how to get kids to value books. And there are a few simple steps you can take to do that.

Teen sitting on a couch reading a book.

Building A Book-Friendly Family

  • Lead by example. If you read, kids will read.
  • Don’t force it. If you have bad memories of books you hated reading for school, why inflict those on your kids? Let them explore books and find the books they like reading. The same is true of quitting reading a book for pleasure. If they don’t enjoy it, why slog through it?
  • Ask them what they’re reading, for pleasure or for school. If they like a book, ask why, and if they don’t, follow up.
  • Remember that reading is a skill, and like any skill, it improves with practice. Kids who weren’t big readers before will get the hang of it once they find books they like.
  • Ensure children have access to books. This can mean a trip to the library, a shared family Kindle, a visit to the local used bookstore, or just buying age-appropriate books and keeping them in the house.
  • Don’t pick books based on “quality.” Let kids find books they like, instead of forcing them to read “classics” or the books you like.
  • Start a family “book club,” where you all read the same book, or each read a different book and tell each other about it.
  • Set aside time in the day for the family to read. Use parental control apps to shut down screens and just read together or separately.

Finding time in the day for the little things can be tough, especially with a smartphone at your side and a kid’s attention span. Screen Time parental control software can help. To learn how, try it for free.

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How Technology Is Changing the Concept of Peer Pressure

by Anna Hughes on 30/01/2019
In simpler times, if you wanted to get away from your peers, it was easy enough. You just left the room, ignored the phone, and did something else. Now, though, we've all got smartphones in our pockets, including our children, and peer pressure can follow us everywhere we go. How is technology changing peer pressure, and how can we counteract it?
Group of three teen boys looking at and using their phones.
Kids respect and listen to their peers, sometimes too much.

Peer Pressure In The 21st Century

Peer pressure itself hasn’t changed much. There’s both direct pressure, with friends and acquaintances making demands, and indirect pressure, the “everybody is doing it” form of pressure. What’s changed is how it’s communicated.

The direct form has quite a bit of overlap with cyberbullying. Incessant text messages, tagging people in posts, and the classic method of constantly calling and demanding attention are some forms. Social media in particular can make life difficult, as it’s hard to sort your friends from your “friends.”

Indirect takes the form of social media, in particular. A good example is the endless succession of “challenges,” ranging from the goofy to the dangerous, that sweep across social media. The prospect of popularity, paired with the psychological manipulation that are part and parcel of social media design, can push teens into actions and statements they’d normally consider a bad idea.

And, of course, it’s now omnipresent. If you search any of those aforementioned “challenges,” you’ll find a steady stream of thousands or even millions of entries, arriving every minute of every hour for days or even weeks on end. It’s one thing to be told everybody’s doing something, and quite another to have a constant stream of proof in your pocket.

Where does this leave kids? And how can we help?

Mother and daughter looking at a cell phone together.
Kids need parents, grandparents, and other family members as well as friends to fight peer pressure.

Fighting Peer Pressure

The most basic method is the way we’ve fought it for years: Education. Teach your children about peer pressure and to get them thinking about why their peers are pushing them to do or say things. Is there an ulterior motive? What will be the effect on them and the people they love? Is this something worth doing, or is it conformity for the sake of conformity?

Next, teach them about how social media works. Some have argued that social media is a “Skinner box,” a machine that feeds us “pellets” of little emotional boosts so we’ll stay on the site, constantly scrolling, staring at “content” and therefore, ads. Show kids how it works, explain the psychology behind it, so they can see it in action, and make sure they keep in mind as they go among their peers. Remind them that their social media feeds are their spaces; they can mute, unfollow, block, or otherwise get rid of people who are making them uncomfortable.

And remember, you can show them how to handle this by example. Peer pressure doesn’t evaporate once you become an adult. Show your family incidents of peer pressure you have to deal with, discuss how you handled them, and why you chose that particular strategy. That’ll help your kids deal with these situations in their own lives.

Need help controlling peer pressure online? Parental control software (including Android and iPhone parental controls) can help;  learn more about Screen Time to get started today.

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Location tracking apps: a guide for parents.

by Anna Hughes on 23/01/2019
Location tracking used properly as part of a parental control app, can mean parents have reassurance at their fingertips. Here are some quick tips on how to go about using geolocation.

Communication First

The first rule of geolocation, like in-app purchase blocking and other parental control apps, is that your kids should understand what it is, that you’ve enabled it, and why you’ve turned it on. Few of us particularly enjoy the idea of being monitored and tracked without our knowledge, and children are no different. But they have a right to know, just like you do, and respecting that right will help them understand your thoughts and concerns about phones.

Lay out why, exactly, you’re enabling geolocation. If, for example, you’re using it to rebuild trust after an incident, explain what you need out of them and what you want to get out of enabling it. Also be transparent about where, and when, you may be using geolocation; if they’re a half hour late from school, if you call and they don’t respond, and so on. If everybody understands how and why a feature will be used, they’ll be more comfortable with it. Transparency and honesty both create respect and show kids positive role models for these values.

Tie It To House Rules

Most homes, especially homes with teens, have rules about when to call, why to call, and what happens if you’re waiting up at one in the morning worried about who they’re with and what they’re doing. These house rules are a good start for geolocation. Say, for example, if a teen is stuck late at their job and doesn’t call, you can reserve the right to ping the phone. Make a point of giving a little to get a little. In the job example, you might promise not to text or call if you see they’re still at work. Let them show you they’re responsible.

Another method is to use geolocation as a way to back up house rules. For example, if your kids are supposed to text you when they get out of school, they should understand forgetting to text means you might be checking up on them in other ways.

Remember It’s Not Always The Answer

Another factor to consider is that a GPS signal can only tell you where a phone is, and that it’s on. Teens can be in a place they’re allowed to be, doing something they’re not supposed to, or they can leave their phone somewhere it’s supposed to be, and then go off somewhere they shouldn’t be. Geolocation can only be a tool you use to build trust, it can’t take the place of trust itself. It’s also important to remember any smartphone’s GPS is only approximate, and if they work at the mall, you may not be able to tell whether they’re on shift or goofing off at the arcade.

Good quality parental control apps like Screen Time have a geolocation feature available to parents, should they decide they need it. What’s more, you can Try it for free.

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How to Prevent Kids from Making In-App Purchases

by Anna Hughes on 16/01/2019
Back in 2011, a viral story made the rounds of an eight-year-old girl racking up a $1400 bill on a video game called “Smurf's Village.” The game used in-app purchases and sold its users “Smurfberries” to speed up the game, and the girl, unaware she was racking up a fortune in credit card charges, just kept buying the berries to win. In of itself, it's a worrying story, and ultimately smartphone companies made sincere efforts to fix the problem, unlike some other issues. Still, the issue remains, and it's better safe than sorry.
Two teens sitting in front of their laptops or tablets.

Turn Off In-App Purchases

Fortunately, shutting off in-app purchases can be done with any phone. In iOS:

  • Open Settings, then choose “Screen Time.” Enable it if it’s not already enabled.
  • Tap continue, and then choose the option of “This is my iPhone” or “This is my child’s iPhone.”
  • If it’s your phone, you’ll be asked to choose a passcode. If it’s your child’s, you’ll need to follow the prompts and set a Parent’s Passcode.
  • Tap Content and Privacy Restrictions, and enter your passcode. Then activate Content and Privacy.
  • Choose iTunes and App Store Purchases
  • Select In-App Purchases and set it to “Don’t Allow.”

For Android

  • Open Google Play
  • Open Settings
  • Go to “User Controls”
  • Choose “Set or Change PIN” and pick your PIN
  • Go back to User Settings and activate “Use PIN for Purchases.”

Parental control software can also block apps and in-app purchases, and should be installed before kids get their phones. Parental control software is the ideal adjunct to built-in iPhone parental controls and any Android parental control app that comes standard with the device, because it allows parents greater control over kids’ device use.

Teen girl taking a photo with mom.

Explain The Issue

When discussing this issue with your children, make a point of sitting them down and walking them through the app and why you don’t want them to make in-app purchases. Many apps prey on our cognitive biases towards money; we understand concrete resources, like having only four apples, very well, but abstract concepts like money are a bit trickier for our brains, child or not.

The trick is to tie it to reality, for them to understand these digital purchases have physical consequences. For example, you might open the various power-ups in a game and have them work out the math relative to their allowance. Anchor it to something concrete they enjoy, so that they understand they’re trading off pleasure now for something else later.

Set Rules

That said, you don’t need to cut kids off from apps completely, just ensure that you have a degree of control financially. There should be rules about what kids are allowed to buy and how much they’re allowed to spend. For example, if kids have an allowance, you can let them spend that allowance digitally on songs or games. Kids should need to ask you to enter a passcode or similar before they can buy something, which has the added benefit of letting you see what they want to buy.

With games that have in-app power-ups, it may not be worth the trouble to allow them on the phone. Many games use a “Skinner box” method, of stimulating the player just enough and then demanding they pay to continue, and not even adults are entirely immune to this form of manipulation. Look over games that use in-app purchases and ask yourself if they’re worth the trouble, and make a point of teaching kids about how these games try to manipulate them.

Do you want something beyond built-in iPhone parental controls and Android parental control apps that come standard? Would you like extra help keeping in-app purchases in line?  Try Screen Time for free and discover the benefits for yourself.

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How to Avoid Excessive Screen Time When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside

by Screen Time Team on 10/01/2019
As the snows whirl and the winter rains fall, we all face a familiar conundrum; what to do when we're stuck indoors. The temptations of screens can be profound in that particular scenario, especially for kids with time on their hands. Good screen management starts with the basics like standard iPhone parental controls and family rules about how much device use is appropriate. Here are some more ways to fight off the temptation to spend snow days staring at screens.
Teenager sitting on a couch with a tablet.

Make A Family Agreement

Parents lead by example. It’s hard to tell kids to stop playing video games all day when all you want to do is binge the latest Netflix series. So the first step to healthy screen use in the winter is to set a family agreement. Establish what times are off-limits to screens, how many hours a day you’ll use screens, and sort screens by use. For example, homework time, or pleasure time spent on an e-book reader, might not count against screen use in your household. Try this Screen Time Pact and stick it to your fridge!

Chores And Homework First

One useful method of keeping screen time down is to get all the work that needs to be done out of the way first. For example, you might set aside a block of time on Saturday as “chore time,” where the laundry gets done, the home is vacuumed, and other things you need to get done and might as well do since you’re indoors in the first place. You might even “pay” kids for chores in extra screen time. Every minute spent cleaning the basement means an extra minute of video games, for example. If the entire family pitches in, the work will be done more quickly and everybody’s happy.

The same is true of homework. In fact, making homework a family activity can not just help kids at school, but will improve their engagement and build in time for you to understand what they’re being taught.

Have Family Projects

Another approach is family projects. These can be anything from redoing the spare room into a family work space to a crafting project to create the Christmas cards for next year to cooking a family feast for dinner. As a general rule, choose something the entire family will enjoy and will get something out of and can contribute to, so everybody will be invested.

Winter scene with children sledding.

Have Options Beyond Screens

One of the dangers of screens is that they can become the only entertainment in a house. Be sure to have a house full of books, toys, board games, crafting materials, and other bits and bobs for kids to play with, interact with, and build with. If you don’t currently have a library card, bundle up the family and take a trip to your local library to get one and take advantage of it.

Plan Outside Adventures

Finally, if the weather is good enough, plan some outside adventures for your family. Whether it’s a sledding trip, exploring the woods in winter, or going to a museum or something else educational, planning a fun trip as a family gives kids something to look forward and offers an alternative to screens. You can also design a post-trip activity where kids can talk about what they’ve learned or research questions they’ve asked that you weren’t able to answer on the trip.

Screens don’t have to be your babysitter. Parental control apps for cell phones can be a strong ally during “snow day” season. Screen Time offers a comprehensive suite of parental controls across all devices that can help you keep your kids from vegging out too much when it’s cold and snowy. To learn more, try it for free.

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Be aware of how much of your kids’ data is being shared in 2019

by Screen Time Team on 03/01/2019
We take it as a given that our phones are ours, that we control what they do and how they do it. But the truth is very different.

Smart choices lead to safer kids.

Our phones, and the phones our kids use, are often collecting and sending out enormous amounts of data. While the idea of a child being tracked by somebody who means them harm is almost completely a Hollywood fantasy, there are other concerns to consider. For example, marketing that targets children and forms a “profile” of them before they’re adults who know what they want. But while you can’t entirely block data collection, you can tightly control it.

Control App Installs

Parental control apps can help you control app installs, which is a big part of the privacy battle. A shocking number of apps thrive not on ads or even sales, but on collecting data about you without your knowledge and sending it to third parties. The only truly effective way to prevent it is to carefully limit the number of apps downloaded to a specific phone, especially apps that are designed to appeal to kids. Use software to block certain types of apps, such as free games, and have a process in place for your family to discuss which apps they want to download.

Look At App Permissions And Phone Settings

Major app stores will have a set of “permissions” you agree to when installing the app, and any app your children want to download should be scrutinized closely. It’s a safe bet that the more permissions the app wants, such as access to your photos, access to your location, and similar data, the more likely it is to be collecting and selling that information to the highest bidder. If you don’t like the permissions an app is requesting, it’s better to leave it on the digital shelf unless it’s absolutely necessary. You can also cut apps off at the pass by disabling certain features, like Bluetooth and GPS, using iPhone parental controls or Android settings.

 

Protect their privacy.

Limit Online Time

Another way to control data collection is to limit how often kids use their phones. You likely already have rules in place that limit phone use over family dinner, during homework time, and after bed. This may already be enough to keep data collection to a minimum, but if you’re considering putting in limits, this will just be another incentive.

Teach Children About Data

Knowledge is the best defense against anyone who wants to exploit you, so kids should be taught from an early age how these systems work, why they do what they do, and how to defend against them. The most insidious thing about this data collection was that it was done, to some degree, with our consent and by small degrees. One app, by itself, can’t get enough data on you to matter. Hundreds of apps constantly gathering data is another matter entirely.

Teaching kids to be smart consumers is always time well spent, and as they understand the people selling them things are not their friends, they’ll develop good habits and critical thinking around products of all sorts, not just apps. If you’d like the ability to remotely approve any apps before they are downloaded by your child onto their device, Try Screen Time for Free!

 

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Five Tech New Year’s Resolutions for your family in 2019

by Anna Hughes on 27/12/2018
A new year often inspires us to make a change, especially around how much time we spend on screens. If you want your family to put down the tablets and do more together, try making these five family resolutions.

Make tech and tech rules part of your family’s resolution list for the new year.

  1. Check Your Kids’ Privacy Settings

 

Between malicious software and operating system updates, today’s reliable, safe settings are tomorrow’s wide-open door into the location, wallet, and psyche of your kids. Make a resolution to regularly check the privacy settings of your kids’ devices, and if the end-user license agreement (EULA) is changed, you should read it over. This should also apply to any new apps your kids want to download, as their permissions might be questionable. Make a point of showing kids what you’re looking at, and why you find it worrisome.

 

  1. Report Cyberbullying

 

Most of us are polite, or at least self-aware, on the internet, but there are still plenty of bullies online. Kids should learn that the only way to fight a bully is to go over their heads and expose their behavior, so make a family resolution to report cyberbullying. And don’t think cyberbullying is limited to kids; how many hostile, angry people do you have to deal with on the internet trying to push you around? When dealing with these people, make a point of teaching your kids how you handle it, so they can apply the same lessons.

 

  1. Set Up A Regular Tech-Free Schedule

 

There are some times of the day that tech just shouldn’t be around: Dinner time, bedtime, family game night, and so on. Sit down with your family and work out what times you’d like to be completely focused on each other. Some of these will be non-negotiable, like dinner, but take a close look at where and when you use technology as a family. Do you really need your phones around? Also consider tech-flexible times, where perhaps you can’t stop your tech use but you can limit it.

Set aside the screens this new year.

 

  1. Model Good Behavior

 

On that note, also resolve to model good behavior for each other. Every parent remembers those moments as kids where they were told “Do what I say, not as I do,” and how they chafed against it. By modeling good behavior around screens, like establishing boundaries for work and limiting how and when you use apps, you’ll make it easier for your kids to do the same, especially if they’re getting more permission this year.

 

  1. Take Time To Talk

 

By far the most useful method of reducing your kids’ screen time, or at least your anxiety about what they’re doing, is to make a point to talk to them about what they’re doing online. Ask them what apps they’re using, who their friends are on those apps, what those apps do, and if they have any questions for you. Kids will appreciate you taking the time, and it’ll let you spot and stop problems before they get any worse.

 

What other resolutions you make will depend on your family. But you’ve got an opportunity to make a fresh start in this new year, so make the most of it. To learn how we can help you keep your resolutions, sign up!

 

 

 

 

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How Much Should You Let Kids Use Screens During The Holidays?

by Anna Hughes on 20/12/2018
The holidays are a lot of fun, but they can also leave kids with lots of time and little to do. Relaxing the screen time rules a little bit can be tempting. But is it a good idea, or will it make the holidays a horror show?

The holidays are primarily for family. Screens can step back for a bit.

Reward Or Babysitter?

The first question to ask is whether your considering changing the rules because it’s an easy way to get kids out of your hair. The holidays are stressful for everyone; there are gifts to shop for, food to prepare, homes to clean, trips to plan, and sometimes the kids need to entertain themselves. The trade-off is that once school and other commitments start back up, it may be difficult to reimpose the rules, especially with younger children. Instead, ask yourself if there are tasks kids can help you out with, or if there aren’t other things they can do.

New Toys, New Temptations

Another factor to consider is that, especially as kids get older, new screens will almost certainly be coming in the door. Hopefully, you’ve had a conversation with your extended family about what gifts are appropriate at what age, but as we all know too well, some family members might forget or simply decide you can’t punish them.

A new toy in the house makes sticking to the rules particularly important. Children should understand that novelty doesn’t mean the rules go out the window, and carving out a “temporary” exception might lead to tears when homework comes back into the picture.

Have kids earned screens this holiday season?

Are They Behaving?

That said, it is worth considering how they’re sticking to the rules already, and how they’re behaving in general. If, for example, they’re being polite to their relatives, staying off their phones except for the appointed times, and are otherwise staying within the rules, it might be worth giving them a little more time to play games or chat with friends.

If possible, set these standards before the holidays unfold. Some rules should be in place no matter what, such as no phones at bedtime and screens put away when it’s time for dinner, but you can be flexible elsewhere if they’re well-behaved. One approach might be to either shift the hours you have your parental control app set to lock the phone, or for older kids, to offer them a deal where for every chore they help with, they can bank a little more screen time to use.

Getting Back to Your Normal Routine

However, it should be clear that this is temporary. You might even want to set a specific end date a few days before school starts back up to help them get back into the habit. You may also want to have them select a few other ways to keep themselves entertained over the course of the holidays, such as a reading challenge, playing outside, or decorating the house.

The holidays can easily drive all of us a little up the wall, but that doesn’t mean we need to hide in our screens. With some good conversation and some clear standards, the holidays can be happier. To learn how Screen Time can help, try it for free!

 

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Teens And Phones: A Guide to Christmas Gift Safety

by Anna Hughes on 17/12/2018
It's nearly the holiday season, and many parents are weighing either giving their kids phones for the first time, or upgrading them to “grown-up” smartphones from flip phones.

But just like you wouldn’t give them the keys to a new car without laying down the rules of the road, there are a few steps, from installing parental control apps to in-depth conversations with your children, you should take before the phone goes under the tree.

Do Some Reading

The “hottest” apps and games have a short shelf-life, particularly on the internet. But it’s still worth becoming familiar with what’s hot and what’s current now. Open up the iTunes store or the Google Play store and look at what’s being promoted and what the top-selling apps are. If an app your children are talking about is unfamiliar, take a moment to read its ad copy and to research it online, or ask your fellow parents about it.

Set Rules And Standards

To start with, you should have a family meeting to discuss the house rules when it comes to smartphones. A good starting point is the rules you have for other screens, such as televisions or video game consoles. Lay out what you expect, why you expect it, and give the rest of the family space to discuss their views on it and what they’d like to see. For example, you might impose strict schedules such as no phones after bedtime, no phones during dinner, and so forth, and ban or restrict certain apps.

Just make sure everyone understands why the rules are in place, as well as what they are. Remember that the door should be left open; as your preteen becomes a teen, for example, they may need to receive calls from a boss or a volunteer coordinator.

Use Parental Settings

Sometimes, apps can trick adults as well as teens. Recently, malicious apps have been using biometric features like Touch ID to try and swindle users. Take a moment, before the phone goes under the tree, to set up certain features like blocking credit card transactions or preventing the phone from distributing certain types of data such as location. Be sure to password-protect these settings as well. This will help block swindlers and keep kids safer.

Set Up Parental Control Apps

Beyond the settings, install parental control software to ensure the rules are followed. These apps can prevent other apps from being downloaded, set a schedule where only certain apps can be used, such as during school hours, and can even lock phones completely during set periods of time, most notably bed time. This software should reflect the agreed-upon rules you’ve already laid out, and kids should understand the app on their phone isn’t negotiable.

Buying your children a phone is a big step, whether it goes under the tree or they buy it with the money they’ve earned throughout the year. Having these conversations now will go a long way towards preventing tears and arguments later, as well as keeping them safe. To learn more, sign up to Screen Time.

 

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