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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How to Limit the Time Your Child Spends on their Phone

by Anna Hughes on 18/04/2018
Our phones have quickly become part of the fabric of our everyday existence because they're just so useful. They give us directions, they keep us on task while we're stuck waiting for appointments, they're cameras and research directories and so much more. But they can also suck us in, and kids, even more so. If you're concerned about how much screen time your kids are racking up with their phones, here's how to install some limits.

Screen time

Set An Example

To start with, look at how you use your phone. Make a diary of phone usage and what you’re doing, and sort out how much time you spend with your phone as a tool versus how much you use it idly, and then focus on cutting down on that. Or consider installing a parental control app and locking off your idle time games and the like for a few days and see how things change. It might surprise you how much time you spend looking at your own phone, and if you stop using your phone, your kids will notice.

Design A Schedule

Another method is to set a family schedule for screen time. This schedule can be flexible and tied to needs. For example, if kids have a phone to use as an assistant at the table while they do homework, that use probably doesn’t need to be that restricted. But set a schedule, for the whole family, and make sure everyone holds each other accountable for sticking to it. If your children have a say, and you abide by the same rules, they’ll follow your example.

Parental control apps

Install Parental Control Apps

If usage has gotten out of control, or you simply want to ensure that there’s a method to “ground” kids by shutting down their phones if they break the rules, parental control apps can be a useful method of keeping phones locked off. The phones can be set to be unlocked only during certain times of day, or can be set to only be unlocked when a parent agrees to it. This can also be a good option in cases of shutting down cyberbullying or enforcing other rules, such as discussing what they’re saying on the internet and who they’re talking to.

Disable Their Phones

Another tool, especially if there’s bad behavior, is the “nuclear option” of parenting, namely taking the phone away completely, or simply disabling certain functions physically or with software. For example, if they’ve racked up a large phone bill, you can pull out the SIM card, which will keep them off cellular networks, or you can delete apps that hog data off their phone and block them from being reinstalled. This is a bit drastic, though, and really should only be used when there’s not another solution to the situation. Be sure explain why you’re doing this in the first place, and make it clear which rules were broken and the length of the punishment.

With the right tools, the right conversations, and most importantly, the right attitude, your kids will have a healthier appreciation for screen time, and a respect for when and when not to use screens. The Screen Time app gives you the tools to achieve this – click here to try it for free. Learn how to make your phones work for your family, and not the other way around.

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Kids’ Mobile Device Use Worldwide: How Do Yours Compare?

by Anna Hughes on 07/02/2018
References are often made in the media about whether the US is “lagging” or “further ahead” of Europe or Japan or another nation. And if you look at the raw numbers, it can feel a bit surprising; the older an American child is, and the more affluent they are, the more likely they are to own a smartphone. But is that a bad thing? And is that really the whole story?

Screentime

Culture Matters

The first point that needs to be considered is that every culture has different approaches to smartphones and other devices. For example, in Italy and the UK, according to one survey, kids were expected to shut off their phones and didn’t use them in school. In Denmark, schools made use of smartphones extensively. But the US is well behind South Korea, a nation where most children have a smartphone by the end of grade school.

It’s important to look at the different cultures and expectations, here. Asia is a good example: Singaporean children often get their homework assignments via app, for example, and often classes use educational software on phones to enhance lessons, such as working out complex equations and helping students understand how they function, or to teach calligraphy without wasting paper. But the American educational system, as any parent who’s had to look up Common Core and how it works knows, is very different in its approach.

There’s also the question of “addiction,” although we should be careful about using such a loaded term to describe behavior. Kids have less self-control, and as a result, there’s one thing universally agreed on, by parents, teachers, and device manufacturers alike: Parents need to set boundaries, and parental control apps can help parents enforce those boundaries fairly and consistently.

Screentime

Family Matters

Just how much screen time is too much screen time depends on both what your children are using the screen for. Research for homework and checking notes for assignments can’t really be classified as part of “smartphone addiction,” after all. And many parents see phones not as toys but as lifelines; busy kids especially need to be able to call for a ride or for help. Clearly, parental control apps can’t interfere with legitimate smartphone uses.

The first question to ask starts with the rest of the family. Parents need to lead by example; if you’re playing games and goofing off on screens all day, kids take note of that and will follow your lead. They’ll also likely angrily point out the “do as I say, not as I do” nature of banning phones for them while you indulge.

The second question is the hard boundaries. These are moments like bedtime, school hours where a phone isn’t necessary, and other blocks of time where the phone isn’t needed. These should be imposed clearly and everyone should understand why these rules are in place. Again, the right parental control app can be an excellent backstop for keeping boundaries in place and consistent.

Finally, you should deal with the grey areas, like using phones to help with homework or reading times where kids use a screen instead of a paper book. Talk about these grey areas and set clear, fair standards as well as consequences for trying to sneak in a few rounds of Candy Crush. And if you need help setting boundaries, learn more about Screen Time. Screen Time Labs understands that parental control apps, used by caring, conscientious parents, can help keep phones useful and fun, without allowing devices to take over too much of kids’ lives.

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5 ways your kids will benefit from using the Screen Time Task feature

by Anna Hughes on 16/10/2017
Do your kids jump for joy when asked to do their homework? Do they leap into action when told to tidy their bedrooms? Neither did ours. Which is why, when we designed the Screen Time app, we threw a Task Setter feature into the mix.

What’s this?

It’s a feature that lets your child earn bonus time on their device in 3 easy steps:

  1. You set a task, any task, for your child, using your Screen Time app. Task details will appear on their device. 
  2. When the task is complete, said child can use their mobile device to notify you, with photographic evidence if they wish.
  3. Once you have received the notification, you can send your child bonus time on their device. This extra time is in addition to their Daily Time Limit, as pre-arranged by you.

 

The beauty of this feature is that the promise of extra screen time motivates kids to complete tasks they’d otherwise avoid like the plague.

“I love all the features on this app. Every time my son accomplishes a task we can reward him with time. He has not missed a single chore around the house. It’s amazing!” – Lillila L

“I like this app a lot. Instead of nagging to do chores [my son] does them without prompting and likes sending me a picture, or if I do ask, he doesn’t argue nearly as much –Nikki P  

We love this feature so much we’ve gone and dedicated a whole list to it. Check it out!

5 ways your kids will benefit from using the Screen Time Task feature

  1. Doing chores = learning valuable life lessons (*whispers* and a break for the grown-ups 👌🏽)

There are so many benefits that come from a child helping out with household chores (we feel another list coming on) It provides them with the insight they’ll need when they grow up and move into a place of their own; It gives them an appreciation of the work that goes into running a household therefore enhancing their empathy skills; It introduces the concept of earning rewards, a valuable life lesson. And of course it means your workload at home is reduced giving you more time to put your feet up for once. #WinningAtParenting

  1. Homework is completed on time

This needs little explanation. A child is rarely going to feel motivated to do homework because of the learning benefits. But throw them an offer of extra screen time and that motivation suddenly appears and that last minute dash to complete homework while eating breakfast on day of deadline is history. Which bring us neatly onto point 3..

  1. They may strive for better grades

If your kid has a test coming up, you could offer them extra screen time depending on how well they do. Or offer an hour for an A, 30 mins for a B, 15 mins for a C etc…

  1. Getting outdoors could become a priority

The main reason Screen Time was invented was to help kids achieve a healthy online/offline balance. There’s a lot to love about mobile devices. But there’s also a lot to love about fresh air! Get the kids outdoors and set a task to collect 10 examples of nature. Perhaps you could offer 5 minutes of extra screen time for every item discovered.

  1. Exercise

31% of kids in the US aged from 10-17 are obese according to stats. Get your kids moving and add ‘exercise’ to their task list. If they’re not naturally sporty, try getting them to dance or jump or skip. For every minute they move, every star jump they manage, they could receive the equivalent in bonus screen time.

So there you have it. What else will you add to your task list? We’d love to hear some more ideas. Tell us in the comments!

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Is Too Much Social Media Bad for Your Pre-Teen’s Brain?

by Anna Hughes on 11/10/2017
Is social media bad for your preteen? It can feel like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat are toxic, sometimes, even for a grown adult who can take the occasional mean remark. But with worrying headlines about social media and mental health, what course should we take with pre-teens?

App to limit phone use

It’s In How You Use It

Research into social media and mental health has a very loud and clear message, in that what you get out of social media is what you put into it. Constructive uses, like support groups, positive interactions with friends, and sharing achievements, have been shown to have a good effect on mental health. Negative uses, like bullying and arguing online, though, can drag you down. Social media use is not the only factor in mental health, we should note. It’s just one of dozens or even hundreds, but it can help or hurt in equal measure.

So, with any social media account, you need to sit your pre-teen down and discuss both how to use it constructively, and why it’s important. Share the research with them, and make sure they understand your concerns. Encourage them to ask you questions, and to keep the channels of communication open.

Learn To Spot The Marketers

One decidedly powerful form of social media is Instagram. Mental health research has confirmed two things we’ve all suspected: One, people present an overly cheerful and exaggeratedly positive view of their lives, and in fact might keep the more emotionally complicated parts of their lives off social media entirely, and nowhere is this truer than Instagram. And two, we tend to misinterpret that as being left behind somehow, something unscrupulous marketers and social media “influencers” leap on eagerly to sell products on Instagram. Even ads clearly marked as such can still provoke these emotions.

So, teach your pre-teen about marketing, and discuss with them what people share and what people don’t. And more importantly, how that’s exploited.

App to limit phone use

Be Involved

While you can’t hover over your preteen whenever they use social media, you can keep track of who they’re talking to and who they follow. If possible, you should follow each other, and you can, among other things, model positive behavior. Every parent knows the sinking feeling upon hearing “But that’s what YOU do!”

And don’t hesitate to ask them what’s going on. How are their friends? Have they seen anything funny online? Show genuine interest, and they’ll be happy to keep you up to date.

Limit Screen Time

While the connection between screen time and mental health is controversial, and likely always will be, it’s fair to say that spending all day scrolling through Facebook is just like spending all day staring at a video game or watching TV. It may not be bad for you, necessarily, but it’s probably not good for you, either. So set limits; have certain times social media can be used, and strict cutoffs for it. Phones shouldn’t come to bed with preteens and remember to model good behavior.

Social media is here to stay, but our already complicated relationship with it won’t be going anywhere either. If you need an app to limit phone use in a healthy way, sign up for Screen Time.

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Is Your Child a Victim of Cyberbullying?

by Anna Hughes on 04/10/2017
Can we stop cyberbullying? With increasing reports in the news, and the misbehavior of teens coming out online in our schools and between parents more and more, cyberbullying has been central to political debates, PTA meetings, and arguments between friends. A third of our kids have been bullied online. Fortunately, the answer is "Yes, we can stop cyberbullying." The best defense against bullying, online or otherwise, is you. So what should you look for, and how should you act?

Parental control apps

Teach Cyber Self-Defense

The good news about cyberbullying is that if kids know what to do, they can easily stop bullying in its tracks. Teach kids how to block, unfollow, and mute people on any social networks they use. Sit down with them and learn how the abuse and reporting system for each social network functions, and how to report bad behavior. Make sure they understand that if somebody is pressuring them to follow them, listen to them, or otherwise intrude on their social media, that they should do the exact opposite. Finally, make sure they understand that it’s OK to seek help if they feel overwhelmed or scared.

Ask If They’re OK

The signs of bullying are usually fairly clear. Bullying tends to cause abrupt shifts in behavior, like suddenly avoiding the computer, withdrawing from interaction, acting out, being anxious over text messages or social media notifications, and so on. If you notice this, ask them if they’re OK. Don’t pressure them, but let them know you know something is going on, and that you want to help.

Keep Communicating

Once they hit a certain age, your kids view talking to their parents as a huge imposition. But ignore the rolling eyes and the short sentences and make sure they understand they can always come to you. Bullying is only effective because the bully believes their target is isolated, whether online or in the real world. Even if your children want independence to some degree, they’ll give you clues that they need your help, and just having your support can help them through tough times, whether they’ll admit it or not.

Parental control apps

Teach your kids how to deal with bullies online.

It’s OK To Step In

The struggle between supporting your kids and smothering them will be an eternal one. And it’s fair to want to encourage your kids to stand up to bullies on their own. But sometimes, they’re going to need your help, whether it’s navigating the waters of bureaucracy to report a student at their school for harassing them or for you to speak to the bully’s parents. And sometimes they’re simply batting out of their league. Sadly, if an adult is targeting a teen, and it does happen, the teens don’t have the rights they deserve.

If you’re worried, if your child seems overwhelmed or scared, it’s OK to step in. Perhaps you simply back them up, or maybe you take control of the situation; it’ll depend on what’s happening. Your children may be embarrassed or even offended, but in the end, they’ll likely be grateful.

Set Limits

One final way to stop bullying is to simply limit social media and where and when it’s used. There’s a lot of reasons to close the tab and do something else, and if you keep reasonable limits on social media, that limits opportunities for bullying and helps your kids keep control of how they use it.

Parental control apps can help you learn more about how your child is spending their time online, and help them find a healthy balance between online and offline activity. Ready to get started? Try Screen Time for free.

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2 Tips for Encouraging Your Kids to Play Outside

by Anna Hughes on 20/04/2017
Do your children spend as much time outside as you did when you were their age? Probably not. The culture has changed, so it's understandable. Not only are there more screens than just the television to keep your kids busy indoors, there are also more safety concerns and more of an emphasis on planned, structured activities than there used to be. However, if you’re like many parents, you may be starting to worry that your children are missing out on something by spending so much time inside. The following are some tips for encouraging your children to get out into the fresh air.

Appeal To Interests They Already Have

If your child has learned the habit of playing indoors or sticking with structured activities over the years, they might be resistant to efforts to get them out of the house without a specific plan. Show them that they can pursue some of their existing interests outdoors as well as indoors. Does your child love taking pictures on their phone or tablet? Suggest that instead of selfies, they take pictures of birds, trees, or flowers. Show them how to use different types of cameras, not just the one on their smartphone. Your child may discover an interest in birdwatching or nature photography this way.

If your child likes playing building games, like Minecraft, they may enjoy actually building something. Help them make blueprints and find materials to build a birdhouse – or even a tree house! A child who enjoys drawing or painting indoors may also appreciate gathering materials outdoors for a nature-based craft project. Appealing to your child’s existing interests can help overcome any resistance they might have to abandoning their usual routine for some outdoor play.

Team Up With Other Parents

Parental control

Give your child more room to roam by teaming up with other parents.

Your child needs other kids to explore and play with, but chances are that you’re not the only one whose kids spend too much time inside. It’s not just screens that are keeping kids indoors – often, it’s also parental concern about strangers and various dangers that children might run into if they’re allowed to roam too far.

The truth is, the statistics say that kids are probably safer outside today than they were when you were a kid. Crime is down, and so are pedestrian, bicyclist, and car accident deaths. But if you’re worried, you can team up with other parents in your neighborhood to keep your kids safe while letting them have some freedom. Make an agreement to watch out for each other’s kids, and alert each other if you see each other’s kids misbehaving or ignoring agreed upon boundaries. The aim should be to make sure that your children have some loose supervision, but no hovering adults. This way, your child has a safety net, and all the parents in the immediate area can feel more comfortable sending their children out for some unstructured play, which gives your child more playmates. It’s a win-win!

Make sure that you also set limits on your children’s screen time. It’s easy for kids to get absorbed in games or social media and forget to do other things, even if they’d like to. A parental control app that sets limits on your kids’ screen time can help remind them to take some time to enjoy the outdoors — and it can make your life easier! Learn more now!

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Calling all Screen Time users… We have exciting news…

by Anna Hughes on 16/03/2017
...Our Web History Monitoring function just had a makeover. If you are Screen Time subscriber and your child has Android Marshmallow or Nougat on their device, keeping your kids safe online just got a whole lot easier.

 

…Our Web History Monitoring function just had a makeover.

If you are Screen Time subscriber and your child has Android Marshmallow or Nougat on their device, keeping your kids safe online just got a whole lot easier.

Once you’ve gone through the simple setup process, select ‘Web History’ from the main menu. There you will find a list of all of the sites that your child has visited during their ‘Play’ time.

Your screen will look a bit like this:

So at a glance it will become immediately obvious if your child has been on a site you don’t recognise. At which point you can check the site in question for any content you don’t feel is suitable.

This list will also reveal what your child has been searching for (if they have searched within a browser app). 

OK so your children might feel like they are being snooped on. But we’re not about snooping. We’re about good, honest parenting.

We designed Screen Time, our parental control app, with our kids best interests in mind. Everything from improving their time management skills to guiding them towards a healthy online/offline balance.

Did you know, according to a recent survey conducted for the Children’s Commissioner by Mumsnet, 73% of parents are concerned about their children accessing inappropriate material online?

There are already parental controls set up on some devices to help block inappropriate content, as well as search engine filters such as Google’s SafeSearch. However these aren’t 100% accurate. Which, for us, means they aren’t good enough on their own.

Our Web History monitoring feature adds extra reassurance that your child is surfing safe.

We know this feature is something our Android Marshmallow and Nougat users have been requesting for a while now and we always aim to please. So if you’re planning on giving it a try, do let us know how you get on either via the comments below or our Social Media channels. We’re always on hand to help too so if you have any questions, just ask.

We already have some happy customers 🙂

“Beautifully done. You guys rock!!!”

“Nice! Thanks for this update. Exactly what I’ve been waiting for.”

“Working flawlessly, including searches and cards in Google now, such as articles.”

“Fantastic!”

Our lovely Screen Time subscribers, March 2017

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