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

by Screen Time Team on 29/05/2020

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

Protecting Physical Health

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

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

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

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

Apply hand sanitizer.

Protecting Digital Health

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

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

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

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

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

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Is There an “Ideal” Digital Parenting Style?

by Screen Time Team on 27/05/2020

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

What Is “Digital Parenting?”

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

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

Building The Right Digital Parenting Style

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

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

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

Teen lying on a couch looking at her laptop.

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

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

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

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

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

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Parents’ Guide to the VSCO App

by Screen Time Team on 22/05/2020

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

What Is VSCO?

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

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

What Is A “VSCO Girl?”

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

Young girl sitting on steps using a mobile phone.

Should I Be Concerned About VSCO?

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

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

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

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

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

by Screen Time Team on 20/05/2020

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

What Is Yondr?

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

Does Yondr Interfere With Phones?

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

Why Are Schools Using Yondr?

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

Are There Any Concerns?

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

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

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Can Sports Help Kids Reduce Hours of Screen Time?

by Screen Time Team on 13/05/2020

We all know that too much sitting is bad for us. We have watches that encourage us to get up and move, standing desks to keep us from sitting too long, and even more tools. Yet what’s true for adults is also true for kids, and sports and outdoor activities can help reduce screen time.

Sitting and Screen Time

It’s worth recalling that we ask kids to sit quite a bit. Depending on who you ask, kids sit for between 3 to 4.5 hours on an average school day, and while schools will break this up with activity periods and walking to and from classes, that’s still quite a bit of seated time. Similarly, they have homework to do, meals to eat with the family, and other time spent sitting, which can add up to a majority of the time spent in a sedentary position.

Video games, social apps, and other downtime treats can also lead to sitting. In this, kids are really only taking our lead. So that’s where solutions should begin.

Set Family Rules

There’s nothing wrong with sitting down some of the time, in fact, increasingly it appears that the idea is to change positions often between walking, sitting, standing, and reclining. Your family rules should aim to achieve some form of balance.

For example, you might set a rule where outdoor activity and chores, which can be surprisingly active, earn screen time, and the more time spent away from screens, the more they can earn. Or you can simply lead by example; see how you can phase more sitting out of your life, like taking a bike to the coffee shop or to run small errands instead of a car, or walking where you can.

Monitor Overall Screen Time

Data can help you make decisions, so set up third-party parental control apps and other monitoring tools to track how much time your family spends sitting. Remember that transparency is key if you’re going to monitor activity. You should be upfront about what you’re doing and why, and allow boundaries to be drawn when necessary; teens on the cusp of becoming adults will need more space than tweens or young children.

Smiling family forming a circle.

Create Opportunities

Kids can only be active if they have the chance and interest. Remember that everyone’s different; some of us enjoy a contemplative hike through the woods, while others want to get involved in team sports. Give your children a range of opportunities to explore so they can get a sense of what they enjoy and what they want to do. This has the bonus of building their social skills and giving them interests other than screens.

Remember Down Time Is Important

Kids need downtime just like adults do. They can feel tired, out of sorts, or just not up to heading outside for strenuous activities. Or they could be absorbed in a good book they want to finish. Make space in the rules for just simple downtime, so kids don’t feel overscheduled or pushed into activities. Among other things, it may make them want to push back.

Giving kids opportunities beyond screens helps keep them in shape and gets them outside. To learn how a third-party parental control app can help, try it for free!

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Benefits of Phone Tracking When Kids Are Outside

by Screen Time Team on 06/05/2020

Every parent worries about their kids, and with smartphones, that worry can veer into some potentially unhealthy places. Families are built on trust, after all, and as the weather warms and kids want to be outside, you need to show that trust. However, a phone tracker when kids are outside can be handy, provided there are some ground rules.

Before Installing Tracking

Most important, before you install any third-party parental control software or tracking software, you should sit your family down and lay out what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the ground rules for both. There’s a vast difference between monitoring somebody you love and are responsible for, versus tracking where they go and what they do without their knowledge.

Make sure everyone understands both the rules and the rationale behind them, and that the rules apply to everyone. Boundaries are also important; older teens may assert their right to privacy and that should be accepted within the framework of the trust you’ve established. Once this is settled, you should install the software.

Why Install Tracking Software?

Find Lost Phones: No matter how level-headed and responsible any family member is, they’re probably going to lose their phones at least once, even if it’s just a mistake. In fact, many Americans lose their phones at least once. Tracking software will let you find phones that fall out of pockets, accidentally get wandered off with, and otherwise go missing.

Emergency Safety: Most of us will hopefully never be in a situation where we need to know exactly where everyone in the family is, but, if you do, tracking software can help. As long as people keep their phones with them, tracking software is useful for emergency personnel to find someone who’s injured, lost, or otherwise in trouble. Consider setting a rule where if an emergency is declared, you flip on everyone’s tracking so you know where they are and can inform authorities or trusted family members to come to get them if need be.

Young teen wearing headphones while sitting on the ground using a phone.

Reinforcing Grounding: Most children probably didn’t realize when they asked for a smartphone that they’d be getting an accountability device. And yet, that’s what a phone can be, with the right software. If it’s necessary to ground your children, you can use tracking to ensure that they go to school, stay there, and come back, no visits to friends or stores.

There are some important limits to remember here. The most basic is that phone tracking software tells you the location of the phone, not the person who owns it. You should also remember that the GPS systems on phones can vary in precision, showing anything from a phone’s precise location on a map to just the general neighborhood that the phone is in. If somebody is on the bus passing the house of that friend you’ve forbidden them to see, their phone could tell you, however briefly, that they’re standing in front of that friend’s house.

The right third-party parental control software can make a real difference when you’re talking about tracking. To learn more about third-party parental control software, contact us!

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Help Kids Stay Occupied and Happy During the COVID-19 Crisis

by Screen Time Team on 01/04/2020

The COVID-19 crisis has put parents in an unexpected position; they’re now at home, all the time, and so are their children, as schools are closed and workplaces order employees to work from home or simply not come in. How can parents keep their kids from losing it, while keeping it together themselves?

Be Fair To Yourself

Many parents are feeling the pressure to be super-parent, to both be at work on time, showered and ready to go, and to be the greatest parent possible at all times. But nobody can be a super-parent all the time, and there are going to be moments where you have to tell the kids turn on the TV for an hour or play a game while you handle something else. Give yourself permission to be human and make mistakes.

Use Teamwork

Part of making all this work is teamwork. Look at your current chore and work schedule and figure out who needs to handle what. Older kids can reasonably be expected to wash dishes, vacuum, prep food, and so on, while younger kids can help out in other ways. Everybody in the family should make clear what they most need from each other to get through the current situation, and who’s expected to give what.

Stick to Schedules

While there may not be classrooms or after-school activities to go to, that doesn’t mean you should just get up whenever and go to bed when you’re tired. Work on sticking to schedules across your whole family, including wake-up times, bedtimes, chores, and other requirements. 

This will both help you make time in your day for other tasks, and give kids a sense of normalcy; they may not be leaving the house as much, but they know where they need to be at what time. Leaving the schedule on a parental control app in place can be particularly helpful with this.

Family playing a game together.

Design New Screen Time Rules

Many school districts are developing online education courses or other tools in an attempt to prevent the “summer slide,” where an extended period of time away from school chips away at kids’ skills. Develop rules for screens that can accommodate these, or shift time away from other screens for school, and place an emphasis on skills and activities that can help at school.

This is also true for socialization. The unexpected upside of social media like TikTok and the widespread use of phones is that it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Work out rules that allow kids to stay in touch with friends.

You Can Go Outside

While you should check local ordinances and alerts, in most cases, you can in fact go outside under a stay-at-home order. The goal of these orders is to avoid gatherings of ten or more people in close quarters, so solo recreation, or just going out in your backyard, is allowed. Simply be sure to follow social distancing rules.

There are going to be frustrations and unexpected problems along the way; this is a unique situation we’ve never faced in our lifetimes. But we have the tools to get through it safely, while not compromising on our parenting. To learn how we can help, try Screen Time for free!

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PS4 Parental Controls: What Are Your Options?

by Screen Time Team on 25/03/2020

Game consoles can be a source of entertainment and even education. But they can also be the wellspring of tears, tantrums, and arguments. While there are currently no third-party parental control apps for the console, here’s how to manage the PlayStation 4 (PS4)’s parental controls to keep the rules in place.

What Can PS4 Parental Controls Do?

Sony has incorporated several types of parental controls into the PS4. They include:

Web filters
Spending limits
Age ratings for games and Blu-Rays
Access to network features and PlayStation VR

The first step to take is to make sure only you can change these settings.

Father and son sitting on a couch having a discussion.

How To Take Control Of The PS4

First, you’ll need to set yourself up as the Family Manager. You’ll find this under Settings, and then Parental Controls. The system will walk you through the configuration of the account.

Once this is done, you’ll be able to access “PS4 System Restrictions” in the same menu. If you haven’t used this before, the passcode will be 0000, or press Square on the DualShock 4 controller four times. Disable guest accounts, and the ability for others to create new accounts. You’ll also be asked to create a family manager passcode, different from your login, and a system restriction passcode.

This will allow you to configure all of the above, for each user. If you and your adult family members have separate accounts, for example, you can give them free access to games and movies. However, this is just the technical side. The social side is equally important.

How To Keep Control Of The PS4

It’s relatively easy to put in hard limits that kids can’t get around on the PS4. What’s hard is making them understand why those limits are in place. Rules only work when everybody who has to follow them understands fully why those rules are in place.

Have a meeting for the entire family and discuss what’s being put in place, and why you’re making those decisions. Give them concrete examples that you’re concerned about, such as bullying, hate speech, and cruelty.

These rules should extend beyond the console itself. For example, if you don’t want kids to play video games or stare at screens all day, you should set standards such as “No screens until homework and chores are completed,” or a screen-time-to-work ratio where, for example, for every two hours of homework, chores, or for teens time spent at work, they get an hour of screen time.

Setting an example will also be an important strategy. Any rule you set should be one you’re willing to follow, especially if you’ll be monitoring usage and controlling how kids use the many screens in our lives.

Finally, leave a door open for changes to the rules as things change. Elementary school children probably shouldn’t be playing gory first-person shooters, but older teenagers probably understand the inherently campy nature of such games. If everyone knows that the rules are fair and can change with circumstances, they’re more likely to try and improve the circumstances, instead of get around the controls.

To learn more about how parental control apps can help parents and children manage their screens, contact us today!

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The Essential Parents’ Guide to TikTok

by Screen Time Team on 18/03/2020

Tracking every social media phenomenon kids fall in love with can be tough. And sometimes they’re difficult to understand, not least in terms of the appeal. TikTok, in particular, can be one parents struggle with. Here’s what you need to know about TikTok.

What Is TikTok?

Formally called, TikTok is best described as a sort of music-video maker. You choose the music, shoot your footage on your phone, and use some basic editing tools and filters to make it best suit what you’re trying to communicate. The videos have a strict time limit of fifteen seconds or less. It also allows people to record “react” videos with the video they’re watching alongside, or to “duet” with a video, placing two videos together.

It has, however, become much more than that. For example, a user on TikTok became enormously popular for sharing tips on how to fight medical bills. As TikTok evolves it’s more likely to become more like a cross between YouTube and Instagram, with the dangers and benefits of both.

What Are TikTok’s Safety And Privacy Settings?

Like any social media app, a core concern is who’s watching and listening. Discuss with your children your concerns about safety and privacy, and consider setting their account to private.

TikTok’s privacy settings are fairly straightforward; if you’ve set privacy on apps before, you should be able to navigate it. To make an account private, open the app, go to the profile page, and tap the three dots in the upper right-hand corner. Choose “Privacy and Safety” and you’ll see a toggle switch marked Private Account. You can also control who can “duet” with their videos and who can send comments to your kids.

As far as abuse and bullying, TikTok appears to have learned from the failures of other social media sites and generally acts quickly once negative or criminal behavior is reported. That said, there will always be predators and bullies who slip under the radar, so make sure your family knows it can come to you for help.

Teenage boy leaning against a railing while looking at his phone.

Can I Do Anything Else To Keep My Kids Safe On TikTok?

The main approach to take with TikTok, like any social media site, is to encourage a healthy relationship with it. Unlike a lot of social media, TikTok at least encourages creativity, but it can still suck you in with mindless scrolling if you’re not careful, eating up time and data.

So, set rules about overall screen time and time on TikTok, enforced with a parental control app. Make it clear TikTok should only be used in free time, not during school, chores, homework time, or other times of day that focus on a task is needed. Join TikTok and follow your kids to keep an eye on what they post, if necessary.

Above all, communicate with them and ensure they understand the reasons behind the rules. Any rule with a clear reason behind it is more likely to be followed than one that seems arbitrary. Kids deserve at least a degree of trust, with the understanding that you’re monitoring, and if they know the rules and the logic behind them, they’re more likely to follow them.

Want to keep more of an eye on TikTok and other social media apps? Screen Time can help. To see how, try Screen Time for free!

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Daylight Savings Time Is Here: Help Kids’ Enjoy Extra Daylight Hours

by Screen Time Team on 11/03/2020

With the arrival of Daylight Savings’ Time, the clocks roll forward an hour and suddenly there’s a lot more sunshine for kids to play in. The question, of course, is how, and why, to motivate them to get outside.

Why Kids Should Go Outside

Playing outside is good for a host of reasons, the simplest of which is they get some exercise and some sun exposure (bar getting a sunburn, of course). But there are other reasons as well. Playing with other kids outdoors allows them to develop better social skills, and also, being outside allows for unstructured time. Even educational apps and TV shows are essentially within a structure; they last only so long, they follow a certain set of steps, and so on. Kids need a little time away from that to fully nurture their creativity and originality.

How To Get Kids Outside

Start by going outside with them, as much as you can. Being away from a screen and in the sun benefits adults as well as children. You won’t always be able to come with, of course, but join them where possible. It also helps to go outside independently, such as going on runs, bicycling to the grocery store, and modeling being outside in other ways.

Commute by walking or cycling places where possible. While you can’t necessarily bike to the grocery store, fitting more outdoors time with your kids into your day will help them get used to being outdoors.

Girl flying a colorful kite.

Set them up for success with, friends, proper clothing and equipment. A good jacket, rugged toys and sports equipment, and clothes that can take the inevitable abuse from being outside. Similarly, invite their friends over, or work with other parents to set up outdoor playdates, or have a standing time to meet at the park so parents can watch over playing kids.

Ask your school what opportunities they have for outdoor fun that your children might be interested in. Even something as simple as intramural sports will keep them out and active well past the usual time.

Have a regular routine, enforced by parental control apps, that requires them to go outside, especially during the summer. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, just a minimum, like 30 minutes, but make it a part of their day even if they just goof around in the backyard or hang out in the park.

Look for “field trips” outside that you can go on. Visiting local farms, attending an outdoor sports event, going to an amusement park, coordinating a field day with the other local kids, and working at a community garden with their friends are just a few options.

Take vacations to outdoorsy places. Visiting the ocean or the mountains is a great way to get kids to enjoy the outdoors. Make sure to book activities that get out and about, such as kayaking trips and hiking tours.

Parental control apps can help keep kids away from screens and point them towards the outdoors. To learn more about how they can help, try Screen Time for free!

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