Is New Instagram ‘Threads’ App Safer Than Snapchat?

by Screen Time Team on 16/10/2019

Stealing is the highest form of flattery, and Snapchat must feel incredibly flattered lately, because Facebook has just announced Threads, an app for Instagram that sounds, looks, and feels suspiciously like Snapchat. But there are a few important differences between it and Snapchat (the “self-destructing” image app) that parents should know about.

What Is Threads?

In Facebook’s words, Threads is a photo-sharing app for your Close Friends, that is, the people you’ve designated as a Close Friend on Instagram. In reality, it’s basically another messaging app, just more photography-based and tied to Instagram. Threads is as much a reaction to “finstas” or fake Instagrams – accounts that users share only with actual close friends – as it is to Snapchat.

Is Threads Safe?

Whether Threads is safe depends on your definition of “safe.” Leaving aside the fact that there are risks inherent to all social media, there are a few particular points of concern for parents. The first is “Auto Status,” an optional setting that will update a person’s list by drawing from location data, movement, and network connections to tell friends where a person is, in vague terms. The example Facebook gave was if you go to a coffee shop, Auto Status would update to “At a cafe” rather than giving a specific address.

The second concern is that friends’ lists aren’t shared with other users unless you tell them in person. If you’re worried about your teen’s less pleasant friends, this may be a way they talk to them without your knowing, for example. It is also not clear at this point whether Threads will share Snapchat’s parental controls.

That said, there are some upsides to the app. For example, users can’t contact users they’re not “Close Friends” with, so there’s no spam to deal with. And so far, there are no addictive features like Snapstreaks. But these advantages may not outweigh the downsides, for many parents.

Girl holding a pumpkin.

Should Parents Worry About Threads?

Worry? Probably not, but it’s worth looking at the settings of your parental control app and asking yourself whether Threads contradicts your family’s general rules. The app, in a broader sense, may not be around for long because the history of Facebook is littered with failed messaging apps. Remember the now-defunct Notify or Facebook Email? Still, however, parents should know what Threads is so they can decide if it’s acceptable for their kids to use.

It’s more a question of how it’s used and how that may intersect with your broader family agreement about phones, messaging, and media that should concern you. If there are certain people you don’t want your kids to talk to, Threads could be a problem. But Threads is designed to be curated, so if children are willing to share who their “Close Friends” are with you, then this may be a good introduction to the wider world of photo social media.

Finally, parents should consider the matter of privacy. One of the virtues of parental control apps is that they give kids a measure of personal freedom that’s lacking when you’re constantly looking over their shoulder. Instead of a guard, they have boundaries they can’t cross, and this can more effective in many families. Everyone needs some degree of emotional space, especially online, and Threads may be a useful way to grant it, within reason.

If you want to learn how to balance your kids’ smartphone usage against their other responsibilities,  sign up for Screen Time.

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Should You Create a Phone ‘Contract’ for Your Kids?

by Screen Time Team on 10/10/2019

There are many moments that mark kids growing up, in big ways and in small ways. Increasingly one of these turning points is a child’s first cell phone. Parents may understandably be hesitant to hand over an expensive and powerful device without setting some ground rules, and in some cases, a “family contract” covering phone use can make a lot of sense.

What Is A Family Phone Contract?

At its most basic level, a family phone contract is getting the rules down on paper. Like any contract, it contains the responsibilities of all parties involved, the cost of not fulfilling those responsibilities, and conditions for the contract to be renegotiated over time. The sample contracts floating around online generally include requirements for parents as well, usually underscoring that kids imitate parents, so parents need to set a good example and be responsible as well.

And like any contract, it can be somewhat contentious. We’ve all been in a situation where we’re handed a paper to sign and we resent the implication that we have to do so, that otherwise we can’t be trusted. Our children are no different. Still, the contract can have value, provided it makes sense for your family and provided you stick to it.

When Should I Consider A Phone Contract?

The usefulness of a contract really depends on two factors: How you think your family will embrace it, and how complicated a “deal” you have to work out for a cell phone in the first place. You know your family better than anybody, so there may be situations where you simply install a parental control app or buy a phone with limited function, lay down the law, and deal with any special exceptions later. And no contract can take the place of a long, clear discussion of your concerns and why your kids need to respect them.

Inevitably, though, nuances will start to present themselves as kids get older, make new friends, and start taking other steps towards new experiences like travel and after-school responsibilities. Here, especially if you’ve got detailed concerns, a contract might make sense just to help your kids figure out the rules!

Parents sitting with their daughter on a couch.

What Should Be In A Phone Contract?

It’s probably not the best idea to use a stock contract online; every family is different. Here are a few things to consider with your contract:

  • Whether device use for schoolwork counts towards overall screen time.
  • Where and how your parental control app is applied.
  • How kids can earn new privileges, and when you’ll consider granting them.
  • What happens if kids don’t meet their responsibilities, or you don’t meet yours.
  • When the contract can be reconsidered and why.

Every contract will be different, and different children within a family will probably have different contracts. Your teen driver with a job will have different rules than your preteen still riding the bus, for example.

One thing that shouldn’t be negotiable is a parental control app. Parental control apps give you more options, not just for enforcing a family phone contract but for addressing issues that might come up that the contract doesn’t cover. To learn more about how parental control apps can keep the rules in place, try ours for free!

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How to Set Parental Controls on Your Child’s Phone

by Marcela on 07/10/2019

Pew Internet Research reports that nearly all teens today use a smartphone (95 percent of teens, in fact!). Unfortunately, the prevalence of smartphones has led to the constant need for them and many teens admit to being cell phone addicts.

What might have started as a seemingly innocent communications device has evolved into a 24/7 link to a teen’s social existence that seems to serve as a constant tool for self-validation. 

Likes, shares, messages, compliments all boost happy feelings. As the friends list explodes, so, too, might feelings of popularity and acceptance.

Understandably, going without that phone and those messages might make teens feel anxious. This fear of missing out (or FOMO for short) also could lead to a more heightened fear—nomophobia (or no mobile-phone phobia).

Teens and younger kids could simply find themselves unwilling to tear themselves away from other apps on their phones. Maybe online games have sucked them into another world, and cries of “just one more level!” may leave fingers tapping away at that screen for hours.

Smartphones hold many hidden sticky treasures that entice young users to keep the screen close. Parents may find themselves at a loss on how to control time spent staring at that screen. For parents who are at their wit’s end with the digital world, it might be time to establish tech boundaries that keep screentime to a healthy limit.

Here’s how to set parental controls on your child’s phone.

The Do Not Disturb option on iOS lets users disable the phone during drive time


Does your child have an iPhone? Controls can be established by parents that require app downloads to be verified using an Apple ID password. This means parents can have the final say in what apps their kids use…to some extent, at least.

Parents who may be concerned that their teen is using the phone while driving can insist on teens utilizing the Do Not Disturb While Driving function. While teens can activate this function themselves, Apple notes that parents can set it up on their child’s phone, too, and this gives parents a bit more control.

More options can be accessed by using an Apple ID—like turning off in-app purchases. According to the site iMore, parents also can restrict content like mature web sites and location information by setting up a passcode.

Apple’s own site notes that parents can opt for their kids to not have access to the Game Center, and parents can set restrictions for adding friends, playing with multiple people and any recording functions. Parents can set time limits, too

Android Parental Controls

Android devices also feature parental control options. Parents can control what games and apps kids download via Google Play; download Family Link, which allows parents to have control over Google Play.

Parents can set age limits for content so kids/teens can’t download apps, movies and music that is too mature or explicit.

Other Parental Control Options

Before parents install any new parental control software, we recommend that they discuss it with kids first. Don’t use software to spy, as this can erode trust and damage relationships.

There are many types of software that parents can utilize, and each app or software has its own unique benefits and functions. Some monitor messages in social media, allow parents to view pictures and screengrabs, set time limits, pause the phone while driving and more.  Really, parents need to decide what they need from the software.

Screen Time Labs focuses on time control and location monitoring, and this software is ideal for parents who want to limit screen time and want peace of mind via GPS alerts.

How do parents set additional controls with monitoring software? With Screen Time, parents can set limitations for when teens/kids can use the phone. This provides direct parameters for when screen time is acceptable and when it is not.

Many parents choose to limit time for homework, outside activities, family time and, of course, dinner time. The parental controls essentially deactivate the phone.

Parents can establish controls that encourage teens/kids to make better choices and prioritize school and other healthy activities. Create task lists that show younger users what needs to be done, while also rewarding them with more fun screen time.

Built-in scheduling provides parents with an option to block out time for prioritized activities. This function is different than time limitation restrictions, which set the screen limit for the entire day.

Kids who absolutely will not get off the phone can be encouraged with a more direct approach—pausing the screen! Parents can use their own phone to freeze their child’s phone screen as a not-so-subtle reminder to come to the table, do chores or disengage from that screen!

Many parents also worry about their teen getting to and from a location safely. Geo-fencing provides alerts when a teen/child has left or arrived at a particular destination. This also alerts parents of a teen being at a location that wasn’t on the agenda (maybe a friend’s house!).

What else can parents control with parental controls via Screen Time?

  • App usage (see what apps they use and for how long)
  • Web history (sites your teen/child visits…this could indicate something not so appropriate)
  • Web filtering (block sites that are too mature)
  • Geo-Trips (this function shows the path your child takes to their destination)

What can’t you see via Screen Time?

  • Text messages
  • Photos
  • Screen grabs
  • Social media content/messaging
  • Contacts

As nearly every teen wields a smartphone, parents need to be diligent about how the phone is being used…and for how long. Teens can spend hours texting, gaming or surfing on their phones, and sometimes they might find it difficult to put it down and take a break.

Parents can utilize parental control software to set boundaries for screen time and help teens/kids set healthy priorities. Control what apps teens download, how long they can use the phone, block out times for homework and other activities and freeze the screen when they just aren’t taking the hint to unplug.

However, one of the biggest advantages of software like Screen Time is for parents to be alerted of their teen’s location. See when they arrive or leave a destination and the route they travel.

Peace of mind is everything, and the best parental controls should help kids safe. Just be sure to have a conversation with kids about how the software is being used.

How to Set Parental Controls on Your Child’s Phone
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Kids and Phones: Is Gabb Wireless the Answer to Parental Concerns?

by Screen Time Team on 02/10/2019

The debate over smartphones and kids has been raging since the first iPhone debuted. And one startup, Gabb Wireless, argues that it has the answer: Make smartphones as dumb as possible. But is that a winning strategy?

What Is Gabb Wireless?

Gabb Wireless is a startup mobile network virtual operator, or MVNO, hoping to raise money via crowdfunding to launch a company with phones aimed at kids. The phones take the stance that the best way to protect kids is to limit what’s on the phone. As a result, according to Gabb, the phones have no browser, app store, games, or social media apps. You can make calls, send texts (but you can’t text pictures or video), manage your calendar, take pictures, listen to FM radio, use a calculator and that’s about it.

On the bright side, this means the phones are cheap, under $100. Additionally, it does offer unlimited talk and text and doesn’t demand any long-term contracts. So in certain situations, it’s a good deal, especially if all your kids do is talk and text. But there are some points of concern about Gabb’s claims and approach.

Does Gabb Have Drawbacks?

First of all, the company FAQ goes so far as to claim that the phone is “unhackable,” which is a boast that rarely survives contact with the open market or the inquisitive minds of children. Their devices are certainly hackable, and it’s just a question of when, how, and who.

Similarly, even if the phone is somehow impenetrable by hackers, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. If you’re concerned about who your children are communicating with via phone and text, there don’t seem to be any tools to block numbers or recover deleted records. 

Nor does Gabb discuss safety functions such as location tracking, and there don’t seem to be any parental controls built in. If you don’t want your kids texting at school, you’ll have to rely on their own good sense, since you can’t install a parental control app.

Mother and daughter laying together looking at a laptop and phone while smiling.

As your kids get older, they’re going to need more functionality. Teens will likely need a full-featured smartphone, and even preteens are finding that more and more schools are asking kids to use their devices to check their homework or do research. All this begs the question of why you don’t simply buy your child a flip phone, which has the same functions and drawbacks, and then transition them to a smartphone with parental control apps when they’re old enough.

The fundamental problem with this approach is that every household needs to work on the basis of trust and flexibility. While parents have the last word, kids need to understand that they can earn, or maintain, trust by understanding the basis behind the rules and following them. That’s the only way kids can form a healthy relationship with their devices that lasts into adulthood.

Connecting is a positive thing, and should be encouraged. And it’s up to every family how its younger members connect safely with the outside world and stay in touch with family. Parental control apps can help maintain a healthy balance. If you would like to learn how, Screen Time invites you to try us for free.

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Parental Control Apps Now May Help with Responsible Driving Later

by Screen Time Team on 25/09/2019

When your kids are in elementary and middle school, you’re probably not thinking about the day they’ll get behind the wheel. But that day is coming sooner than you might expect, and there’s one important way you can start preparing them now: Teach them to use their phones and tablets responsibly.

An Epidemic Of Distraction

The problem is distracted driving. Distracted driving has three pieces: Visual, where your eyes leave the road; manual, when you remove a hand or hands from the wheel; and mental, when your mind is on something else. Any of the three can be dangerous, and smartphones can potentially combine all three.

And to be fair to the kids, the adults aren’t setting a good example. The CDC estimates that 9 people are killed and 1,000 people injured due to distracted driving every single day of the year, and a study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that while only 1% to 2% of us text behind the wheel with any regularity, a shocking one in ten of us takes phone calls while driving. Keep in mind, chatting with a passenger also qualifies as distracted driving, so this is like constantly having a chatty someone in the next seat, waiting to pipe up at the wrong moment.

Fortunately, we can stop making these mistakes, and teach our kids not to make them in the first place.

Young woman speaking on the phone and holding a coffee mug while driving with her knee.

Focusing On The Task

Lead by example, when it comes to distracted driving. Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” when you drive, and have a family rule that you’ll send a text to anybody in the family who might try to call that you’ll be driving and unavailable. If you do need to make a call, use a hands-free set or a voice assistant, and keep the call short.

Set rules beyond the road as well. Parental control apps can allow you to set rules such as no phone usage at dinner, or only limited uses during certain times of day where kids need to focus, like at school. You can do likewise by setting your phone to silent and leaving it in the other room.

When distraction becomes an issue, don’t just take the phone away, or use your parental control app’s instant pause feature. Sit kids down, explain what the problem is and make sure that they understand why, exactly, you’re concerned. Make it clear that they can earn back the privilege of phone time if they can prove they won’t be distracted, and block problem apps in the meantime.

For teens who are about to learn to drive, make it standard that they put their phones in Do Not Disturb and ensure that messaging apps and other distractions are muted. You may want to have them configure their settings so messaging apps don’t drop notifications on top of maps and other driving apps, so they’re not tempted to pick up the phone.

Distracted driving is the next frontier of safety behind the wheel, but kids don’t have to get lost in it. With responsible phone usage and the right mix of rules and parental control apps, kids can build a healthy and responsible relationship with their phones. To learn more about how parental control apps can help, try Screen Time for free.

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A Parent’s Guide to Fortnite

by Marcela on 23/09/2019

Have your kids jumped on the Battle Bus? Fortnite is one of the most popular games among middle-schoolers and tweens. Ranker lists it as the third most popular video game—behind Minecraft (#1) and Grand Theft Auto V (#2).

Kids’ online safety advocate site, Common Sense Media, notes a few problems with the game, however. While the game helps kids learn how to work as a team, the violence of Fortnite might be a problem.

Just how violent is Fortnite? The object of the game is survival, and players have to kill other players. The kills involve a variety of weapons, including shotguns, assault rifles, pistols and SMGs. The winner of the battle is the victor and players can select a celebratory dance after the battle.

Some parents are lenient when it comes to violence in game play, but others don’t want their kids (or teens) engaging in violence in any form.

Choosing whether or not your child can play Fortnite is a family decision. If you’re on the fence about Fortnite, check out our quick Parents’ Guide to Fortnite.

A teen plays Fortnite on his computer; illustration of the game’s T for Teen rating

Who Should Play?

The game holds a T for Teen rating because of the violence of the game. This means that the game is recommended for teens.

Fortnite is incredibly popular with middle school kids, and many of them likely haven’t hit their teens. Allowing younger kids to play Fortnite is entirely up to parents. Again, though, the rating deems Fortnite most appropriate for teens.

Who’s on My Child’s Team?

There are many ways to play Fortnite. Players can team up with a friend and play “Duos.” They can team up with multiple friends and create a larger team, or they can be paired with other random players.

Parents are typically most comfortable when kids game with friends. With Fortnite, though, if friends aren’t online, kids may be teamed up with random players. This gets a little scary, because players communicate in the game.

Some players may use inappropriate language, and they may be much older or more mature than your child. Parents need to be extremely careful about in-game communication.

Like most games, Fortnite allows for players to report misconduct by other players. However, parents need to be diligent when younger kids play Fortnite with unknown team members.

The best advice is to ensure that your child’s friends are online when they want to play. For safety purposes, create family rules related to Fortnite that stipulate that the game can only be played with friends.

A computer screen shows a Fortnite map

Choose to Get Creative

Parents may wish for their child not to battle at all. In that case, the creative side of Fortnite may be an option.

Creative lets kids build their own Fortnite island. Some players can land their new world on the Fortnite map, according to Epic Games’ site.  Be aware, though, that players can still grab guns in their own world. Creative doesn’t eliminate all the violence.

The Creative side of Fortnite, though, is a great option for kids who want an outlet to imagine a new world. Plus, the reward to possibly be featured allows them to have ownership of their creation.

Fortnite Parental Controls

Parents who are really anxious about Fortnite can choose to utilize parental controls on the game. Per Epic Games, parents need to set up a PIN to enable parental controls.

Epic Games allows parents to control multiple aspects of the game. According to Epic Games, parents can hide certain players from view (“Hide non-squad members”), make their child’s name only visible to “squad members,” block inappropriate language, turn off friend requests and even turn off in-game communications.

Epic Games also lets parents have the option to see a report about weekly game play. This can help parents see just how much time their child has spent devoted to Fortnite.

Utilizing Epic’s parental controls helps parents take some of the worry out of their child gaming on Fortnite. The controls, though, don’t do anything to alter the actual game…or make the game less violent. Again, parents need to set those parameters.

Other Parental Controls

Not a fan of Fortnite? Parents can choose to block the app via parental control software. Apple’s app store can be set up to require a password for all downloads, and parents can control game downloads via this function.

For more control, though, parents can use Screentime Labs to control app downloads or to monitor communications kids have with friends. Screentime Labs also lets parents control how long their kids spend online and on games. Set time limits and set priorities for homework, dinner or bedtime. An instant pause button lets parents cut off the action and encourage kids to stop playing.

Before parents install any software on a child’s device, though, they need to have a conversation about the importance of parental control software. We recommend telling your kids before installing the software. Always be open and honest with kids about why the software is being installed and how it will be used.

Parental control software shouldn’t be a spy-cam type device for parents; the software is meant to keep kids safe online.

Should Your Child Play Fortnite?

So should your child play Fortnite?

That’s an individual decision that parents need to decide for themselves. Epic Games includes parental controls for Fortnite that give parents a bit of control over what their child can do or see in the game. However, the parental control features won’t tone down the violence of Fortnite.

Ultimately, though, whether or not a child can play Fortnite depends on your parenting style and your child’s maturity. The game is rated T for Teen and some parents may find the violence to be a bit too gruesome for their kids. Remember, the game is all about survival and players kill other players.

The games you choose to allow your child to download and play should be based on your family’s own rules and preferences. Playing a game should not be about popularity. Content—not fandom or fads—should be the deciding factor on whether or not a game is a good choice for your child.

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How Parents Can Block Apps on Their Child’s iPhone

by Screen Time Team on 18/09/2019

Every parent knows that with some toys, you either have to restrict how often they’re used, or take them away entirely, sometimes permanently. It’s true of iOS devices as much as video game consoles or other complicated toys. There are less draconian ways to keep kids’ device use under control, and they begin with device-issued parental controls. If you need to restrict or block an app, here’s how you can take care of it.

Educate Your Children

Safety and security depend heavily on what people do on their own, and this is as true of children as adults. Don’t just unilaterally set the rules and make the reasons behind them “because I say so.” Walk your kids through your concerns, the possible risks they face with certain apps or the user base behind them, and your reasons for putting the rules in place.

This won’t ensure that they never break the rules; kids will be kids. But if they understand the rules, and also understand that they can come and ask you if they can have an app and get an honest answer in return, this will reduce their inclination to break the rules just to break them.

Configure the Device

Every iOS device ships with a few tools and settings you can configure. You set a passcode and what aspects of the device you want this to apply to, such as installing or uninstalling apps, whether in-app purchases are allowed, and whether the phone is allowed to open specific apps.

Apple’s made a few decisions that may frustrate parents, however. First, this is a separate app entirely, not features integrated into the operating system. This makes the app vulnerable in a shockingly basic way; kids can just delete it off the phone, and all the settings and controls it implements go with it. Secondly, passcodes aren’t ideal protection methods, since anybody can guess at a passcode.

Mother and daughter paying together.

Use Additional Parental Control Apps

Back up Apple’s tools with a few of your own. Parental control apps offer more options, such as being able to “instant pause” a device, set a schedule for when a device can be used, and completely ban apps. Furthermore, their security is more robust than Apple’s, and they add an extra obstacle to breaking the rules; even if kids guess one passcode, they’ll have to be lucky twice.

Parental control apps are particularly useful because the best ones are flexible with your rules and your family. If you’ve got a preteen and a teenager, they’re going to have to use their devices in different ways, so you can set each up each device to fit their specific needs and your rules. 

Similarly, more and more schools are using “bring your own device” policies for classwork. Many ask kids to use their devices to do homework, so you may find the school year affecting your priorities. As your kids grow, your rules and systems can grow with them, so that you can give them new privileges or shift the rules as they demonstrate increased maturity.

Ensuring your family has a healthy relationship with screens allows you to build a stronger family and sets kids up for success in the future. To learn how the Screen Time parental control app can help, we invite you to try it for free!

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5 Features That Keep Kids Hooked on Apps and What Parents Can Do

by Screen Time Team on 11/09/2019

In the 40s and 50s, psychologist B.F. Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, better known as the “Skinner box.” You’ve likely heard of it: A rat is put in the box, and if it hits a lever, it gets a food pellet. The rat, over time, does nothing but work the lever. And while we’re more intellectually complicated than rats, social media and apps use similar techniques to keep kids and teens hooked. Here are five app features parents should look for, and how to manage them.

1. Push Notifications

Apps are desperate for your attention, and push notifications are a useful way of getting it. Even if you disable the pings and buzzes many notifications set off, they can still light up your screen, drawing your attention. Fortunately, notifications are under your control. For apps that aren’t crucial, you can simply shut them off. For notifications you find useful, you can configure them to only collect on your screen, and to avoid seeing them, put your phone with the screen down.


Facebook is reportedly considering doing away with Likes, or at least the Like count, and that’s probably a good thing. But Likes and similar features also touch off the brain’s reward center: we like attention, because of course we do. We’re all human. The best way to control this is to stay off social media in the first place. 

If that’s not an option, you can still set strict hours for when and how your kids can use it. Also, explain to children the difference between sharing news friends and family may care about and be interested in (which is a good use of social media) and sharing content to get attention.

3. Tagging

Tagging can be useful in the sense that it can inform members of a group event who “Jim” was, although it’s good etiquette to always ask people first before you tag them in a photo. And it can be useful for drawing attention to important posts. However, tagging’s dark side is that it can be abused to draw people into unrelated posts, keeping them on social media longer. The best way to deal with tags is to avoid social media that allows tagging, or to limit your time on sites that do.

Girl looking at her phone.

4. Gamification

This is often a buzzword, but it really just means making apps interactive in simple, fun ways. Apps might ask you to answer questions by swiping left or right, for example. If you know an app uses these techniques, the best thing to do is to simply not download it in the first place. It’s also important to be aware of times when these techniques sneak into non-gaming apps. For example, many dating apps try to “gamify” their content. And if your kids play age-appropriate games online, you can be sure that gamification has been dialed up to keep them playing.

5. Tying Apps To Other Apps

If you’ve ever tried to fully delete Facebook, you know it’s a lot harder than it should be. Often apps will work themselves into our lives by tying into other apps, either to share information or to require you to have an account on one app to use another. This keeps you from cutting off apps completely. But there are ways to lower the temptation to use “addictive” apps. If nothing else, you can remove the icon from the screen so that using them requires accessing the phone’s list of apps.

The first step to keeping your children from being hooked on apps is to understand the techniques app creators employ to keep them engaged. Additionally, education, parental control apps, and common sense make up the best defense against the addictive qualities of apps. To learn more about healthy screen usage and how Screen Time can help your kids achieve it, we invite you to try it for free.

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Parent Concerns Over YouTube Don’t End After FTC Fine

by Screen Time Team on 28/08/2019

In theory, data about children is not supposed to be collected online, under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. But according to the FTC, YouTube broke that law with its ad tracking tools. The FTC accuses the site of failing to protect kids’ privacy, bringing a multi-million dollar fine down on the Google empire that owns YouTube. While YouTube is making efforts to solve the problem, it only raises some wider questions about kids and the internet, and who should be responsible for them.

Is YouTube At Fault?

In theory, at least, there’s a YouTube for children, a walled garden called YouTube Kids, and the broader world of YouTube, which is supposed to be restricted to users over the age of 13. That said, this is largely an honor system that isn’t legally enforced; YouTube has no way of knowing who’s using a computer under a Google account, or even the real age of the person using an account.

Add to this that YouTube is a global platform, and that social attitudes for what’s appropriate for children, or for anyone, can vary from country to country. Content may be in English but may not be intended for English-speaking audiences, but rather as English lessons. Add to this that YouTube creators can range from people who sincerely want children to learn to cynical manipulators of the site’s algorithm to rack up the most views, with little concern about the content. Any parent who digs deep enough will come across some genuinely bizarre content nominally aimed at children.

All this means that parents have to take an active role on when, and if, kids watch YouTube.

Happy family sitting on a couch watching tv.

How Parents Can Take Control Of YouTube

Set rules as a family for YouTube. In some cases this might mean simply doing without the site altogether, or only using it to watch content embedded on blogs you trust. Also make clear what content is acceptable, what isn’t, and what kids should do if they come across something inappropriate.

Remove the main YouTube app from devices your children use, and install YouTube Kids instead. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Configure YouTube’s parental controls to limit what content kids see. Again, these controls aren’t as detailed as some parents prefer, but they do offer a layer of protection that keeps kids from accessing content.

Set up parental control apps to keep YouTube, and attempts to use YouTube through your computer’s browser, to a minimum.

Stick to vetted brands and block live-streaming content, especially from individuals. Even the most seemingly child-friendly YouTuber can slip into bizarre or inappropriate behavior after a bad day. Vetted content from providers like Disney or Nickelodeon is far less likely to offer objectionable behavior.

Remember, this will be an ongoing process. As kids grow and become adults, they’ll need to look into topics independently, including topics that may make parents uncomfortable, either for school or for their own edification. So leave room to let the rules change and grow with your kids. But for the stuff that’s inappropriate for anyone, parental control apps can help. To learn how, try it for free!

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Complete Parent’s Guide to Roblox

by Marcela on 26/08/2019

Apps and online game trends come and go, but one of the most popular mobile games has stayed in the top spot for kids and tweens for several years. Roblox has taken its place in pop culture as one of the most popular games for elementary school and middle school kids. But is Roblox safe?

Roblox isn’t just one game. When kids (or you!) download Roblox, you open up a world of millions of games. Roblox brands itself as “the largest user-generated gaming platform.”

The platform has become so popular with kids that Roblox Corporation posted a parent guide created by ConnectSafely specifically to address concerns, questions and potential privacy issues. So what do parents need to know?

A child playing Roblox on the computer

Parental Control: Safety First

Kids can connect with other users via the platform, and, for parents, this raises safety red flags. The ConnectSafely parent guide notes that the games can become “virtual play dates” between peers but that these interactions can be supervised by parents by utilizing privacy features.

ConnectSafely’s guide doesn’t take a firm stance on whether or not a user should game with individuals that s/he doesn’t know, because, really, this is a parenting call. Some parents are lenient with interactions (especially if a gamer is an older teen), but others might want more control.

Parents should make it very clear to kids what the rules are regarding online interactions. If you prefer that your child only interacts and plays with peers, then utilize privacy settings and make sure kids fully understand online boundaries. Parents also may want to set consequences for breaking family-guided online rules.

MeepCity is one of millions of games found on Roblox

Parental Control: What Games Should Your Child Play?

Roblox has—per the company—15 million games. That gives kids lots of choices. ConnectSafely’s guide recommends that parents get in on the fun and actually experience Roblox with their child.

This recommendation relates to parents seeing how kids can interact with other players. Plus, gaming with your child allows you to see the different games your child likes.

Understanding a gaming platform may give parents the best insight into how it works and what the potential issues may be for their child. Immersing in the experience allows you to see the intricacies of the platform, and, as the saying goes: knowledge is power.

Since kids often have more tech knowledge than their parents, this advice is even more important to help parents stay on top of trends and the ever-evolving gaming worlds.

Parental Control: Block the Trolls

One of the best tips on the Roblox guide is all about ‘blocking’. The online world is filled with trolls and bullies (and, unfortunately, predators). Parents need to know how to block problem users and how to report bad (or even dangerous) behaviors.

No child should be bullied online. Parents can take steps to protect their child by learning how to block and report problem users that could pose a threat to their child. To “Report Abuse,” the guide notes that parents need to fill out a form about the issue.

A young girl under the covers looking at a tablet screen

Parental Control: How Much Playing Should Be Allowed?

Every parent has different preferences and rules regarding screen time. Maybe during the summer months that time limit is expanded  they can play longer hours…or maybe there is no limit.

Parenting is unique for every family. However, there are medical guidelines to how long a child should spend staring at that screen.

According to recommendations issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and included in the online guide: “For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

Roblox and screen time should not become such a preoccupation that real life gets kicked to the curb. Parents should set time limits and make sure kids balance the screen with other experiences. 

For kids who own a smartphone, time spent on digital activities can quickly become out of control. Cell phone addiction is becoming a problem among teens, and parents should be cognizant of how often kids are using that device.

Other Tips/Tricks

ConnectSafely also makes it clear in the guide that passwords should remain private—but this should be well understood by parents.  Don’t ever let kids share personal information with anyone online. Ever.

So what is personal? Real names, where they live, birthdays, their school and other info that could let a predator or hacker gain access. Kids should never share that parents aren’t home or when they are going on vacation.

Online smarts should start at home. Parents need to go over public and private info and what should NEVER be shared online.

Online etiquette is important for kids to learn at an early age. Bullying is never acceptable, and kids should never use foul language, incite violence, insult, degrade or say/do anything that makes another user to become fearful or feel threatened in any way.

Teach kindness and make sure kids abide by the rule of Thumper’s mom: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

And whatever a user shares online could be forever. Choose words wisely and carefully.

What if You Don’t Have Time to Play?

Some parents may want to check out Roblox and play with their kids, but they just might not have time. How do time-constrained parents keep their kids safe, too?

Parental software programs can limit what kids see online, what games they play and how much time they actually spend gaming. ScreenTime helps parents keep track of what kids download and how long they spend looking at those screens, among many other features.

Parents who can’t play in the virtual Roblox world can have peace of mind that their kids are staying safe and playing smart. As with any parental control software, though, parents should never use ScreenTime to snoop on kids. Before you implement this or any monitoring software, let kids know you’re using it and why. An honest conversation helps kids understand the importance of their safety.

Is Roblox Safe for Your Child?

So is it safe to play Roblox? Yes, but parents need to be involved in the experience…especially when younger users are signing up. Play Roblox with your child so you understand the games on the platform and you may help your child learn to navigate this unique community.

When playing with your children, help them understand how to interact appropriately and how to be safe online. For elementary school and middle school kids, Roblox can be a great way to hang out with friends in a virtual environment. In many ways, the online experience becomes an extension of a child’s social world, and, as long as they understand how to be safe and smart, Roblox can be a fun online ‘playdate’ with friends.

Some parents, though, may decide that they don’t like the idea of their child interacting online. Others might not have time to game with kids. Parental control software like ScreenTime can help parents understand how long kids play Roblox and what else they’re downloading. 

Again, every parent needs to choose what’s right for their family and their child. While Roblox offers millions of games, the idea of these online interactions makes some parents feel unsafe and vulnerable.

If your child is already playing Roblox and you haven’t experienced the platform, head online and check it out. Set boundaries with your young player and always make sure they know the basic rules of online safety and etiquette. Parents should make use of the parental controls functions on the game if they want to limit online interactions. Happy gaming!

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