Should Parents Worry About Radiation from Smartphones?

by Screen Time Team on 26/09/2018
Teenage girl holding up her mobile phone taking a selfie.

Is there a risk of radiation from their smartphones?

Radioactive Phones? Not So Much

First, we need to understand a few scientific terms and concepts. First of all, “radiation” is simply a term that means “emitting electromagnetic energy.” Almost everything that exists emits some form of this: Human beings, for example, emit heat, or infrared radiation. The “radiation” that allegedly causes cancer is called “ionizing radiation,” extremely high energy radiation like x-rays, which can damage DNA. Your phone doesn’t have a battery powerful enough to emit ionizing radiation; think about the size of the x-ray machine you see at the dentist.

Some will also say they can “feel” the electromagnetic waves, that smartphone signals or WiFi signals cause them discomfort or even extreme pain. Whether this is a medical condition or psychosomatic is under heavy debate, but it’s a rare phenomenon, regardless.

The case is not necessarily closed, however. It’s possible, if perhaps unlikely, that perhaps a specific wavelength of non-ionizing radiation, if you’re exposed over an extremely long period of time, might cause cancer or other medical problems through a mechanism we haven’t discovered yet. This is the basis of those statements you read about keeping your phone in a bag or on your desk instead of in your pocket. The logic is simple: If there’s no risk, then it’s a mild inconvenience. If there is risk, you’ve thought ahead. Besides, there are good reasons beyond a possible health risk to consider a “bag rule” in your household.

Young teenage girl looking at her smartphone with a surprised expression.

Keep Phones Away

Even if there is no risk for cancer due to smartphone radiation, it’s still a smart idea to mandate phones are kept out of pockets and in bags. Part of this is the idea of “friction,” that is, the more steps and the harder it is to do something, the less likely people are to do it. If somebody has to reach into their bag and pull out their phone, it’s a little more effort than reaching into their pocket, and a little less convenient to take out in situations where they should have them, something adults and kids alike should consider.

Another aspect is that it prevents grabbing a phone from being an automatic action. We can fairly easily fall into a behavioral loop when it comes to our phones, using them to fill every free moment and to fill in every awkward silence. If we have to work a little harder to fill those emotional spaces with phones, we’re a little less likely to do it. Parental control software is another tool parents use to place limits on kids’ smartphone use.

In the end, once you set aside the preliminary and inconclusive science of smartphone radiation, what you’re left with is a reminder that we simply don’t know the long-term effects of these technologies. But why take the risk? Parental control apps for smartphones can perform double duty, by enforcing smartphone behavioral boundaries with kids, and by helping kids to interact with the world without having a phone in their hands at all times. To learn more about keeping your family’s smartphone use in line, contact us.

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Is the ‘Mobile Mindset’ Making Your Teen Self-Centered?

by Screen Time Team on 08/08/2018
Teenager standing outside using his mobile phone.

Phones constantly demand our attention, no matter where we are.

Me First, Me Last, Me Always

Part of the problem is teens and kids are just naturally more prone to smartphone addiction. At their worst, smartphones are designed to relentlessly demand our attention with alerts, texts, calls, notifications and hosts of other ways to pull you away from whatever you’re doing in the real world and go back to the phone. Device use is particularly tempting in awkward social situations, and we can all agree that being a teen means encountering plenty of those.

The problem, of course, is over time, humans may become less interesting to kids than the various pings and dings a smartphone offers up. It’s a question of punching through the world that smartphones present, and getting your teens to consider their actions in a broader context. Or, of course, keep device dependency from happening in the first place.

Teenagers dining in a restaurant looking at their mobile phones.

Phones can distract from anyone, for any reason.

Popping The Bubble

Parental control software is a common way to keep the “self-centered” bubble from forming. Strictly limiting what apps kids can use and when they can use them will address the problem from one direction.

In addition, teach your kids, or have them teach you, how to go into an app or a settings menu and shut off unnecessary notifications, such as game alerts and “reminder” notifications from social media networks that want your time. Explain to them why these apps do this, namely to get your attention so you’ll look at ads. The good thing about these forms of manipulation is that once you’re aware of them, you can push them away easily.

Similarly, when you install parental control software, your kids should understand both why you have installed it, and the rules around the software. Rules like “no phones after bedtime” or “phones for homework use only after school” shouldn’t just be coded into the phone, but clearly articulated for your kids, with punishments made clear if they break the rules.

And remember, finally, that not all apps and games are bad. Some games are designed to bring groups of friends together in real life, such as Pokemon Go, while other apps allow kids to discuss their social situations with friends in a healthy way. You should talk with your kids about how they use their phones and who they’re interacting with. If the rules are clear and you’re involved, then you’re setting them on the right track to a healthy online/offline balance. To learn more about parental control and software that supports it, check out the Screen Time app.

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Is Too Much Phone Time Diminishing Kids’ Personal Social Skills?

by Screen Time Team on 27/06/2018

Two girls lying upside down on a couch side by side.

Phones Vs. Faces

To some degree, your teen will interact with other people no matter what. After all, they go to school. But there are areas where some have concerns, and while those concerns might seem overblown, they’re not entirely unwarranted.

The appeal of making friends on the internet is that you can meet people almost exactly like you. This has had some enormous positives: For example, teens with chronic illnesses are able to find online support groups with other teens, which helps their mental and physical well-being. But the downside is that if teens only speak with and text the people they find online, just like any other skill, their interpersonal skills can indeed suffer. Perhaps not to the degree people fear, but enough that it can be a concern.

So, how do you address this with your teens? There’s a number of approaches, but it starts with education and encouragement and ensures you get a little help from parental control apps.

People at a concert taking photos and video with their mobile phones.

Getting Kids To Limit Phone Use

  • Don’t panic. This is the equivalent of being a bit rusty with a skill you haven’t used in a month or two. Bar any genuine mental health concerns, assessed by a professional, all teens really need is a little practice.
  • Talk with them about your concerns. Before you set rules and limits, your teens should understand why you’re putting them in place. They’ll be more likely abide by them and less likely to evade them.
  • Encourage them to take on activities and skills that don’t require a phone. Working on the school newspaper, joining a sports team, joining a club, there are all sorts of ways to ensure kids regularly interact with their peers.
  • Talk to your kids about what they’re doing online, and who they’re doing it with. This can prevent getting too caught up in a message board or chat app.
  • Send boundaries, rules and times of day when the phone or the tablet needs to be off. Parental control apps allow you to set schedules and times that the device is locked, and apps like Screen Time offer “instant pause,” a button which allows a parent to shut off their kids phone instantly. This is especially handy when kids go places where the rules are different, and they might be tempted to cheat.

Every teen is different. Some are just naturally social, while others might need to work at it. But by ensuring they have phones when they need them, but can’t use phones to hide from social interaction, you can encourage them to develop a stronger social skill set. To learn more about parental control apps like Screen Time, click here!


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How to protect your children from cybercriminals

by Screen Time Team on 22/06/2018

 Targeting vulnerable children through Internet connected devices, hackers can wreak havoc using the stolen data. Identity theft as covered here, isn’t limited to adults, in fact, in many ways child identity theft is considerably more attractive to criminals. In 2017, more than 1 million U.S. children had their identity information stolen, totalling nearly 2.6 billion dollars in fraudulent losses. Due to the victims young age, thieves can utilize their clean record without notice for a significant amount of time. Although identity theft is often the worst-case scenario, breaches of data, such as stolen passwords, hacked social accounts, cyberbullying, and even cyberstalking, should be just as concerning. As parents, we have the responsibility to our families to keep them and their information safe.

Although nearly every American home, school, and office has an Internet connected computer, smartphone, or television, it doesn’t have to be a challenge to convince a child to unplug. Conveniently, there are tools like Screen Time that help parents understand their child’s tech usage, schedule access, and restrict data. So, this June, set aside some time to celebrate National Internet Safety Month, and learn how parental controls can help you take control of tech this summer!

What Are Parental Controls?

Parental controls are software and applications that allow parents to lock off certain types of content; to lock an entire device for set periods of time, such as bedtime or school hours; to keep a device from sharing certain types of information, like photos or device data; and to control which apps are downloaded to the device. You can usually find them in the Settings section of your device. However, many devices make it complicated. Google Play, for example, requires you to set up a PIN, making it one more password potentially at risk. As a result, third-party apps have stepped in to fill the void and create a solution that doesn’t involve sharing passwords and can restrict what data is shared from any device.

How Do You Use Parental Controls?

First, establish ground rules and educate your kids about what you’re doing and why. They should see these apps not as punishment but as protection, so they don’t attempt to disable them, and explaining why you’re installing a parental control app will help. Before downloading any app, check the reviews carefully and study the features, so you understand exactly what you’re buying and that it’ll fit your needs. If parents you know have tried apps, ask them about their experience.

It’s generally the best approach to find an “all-in-one” parental control app that handles these tasks, as otherwise you may have to configure multiple apps on each device your children use. Screen Time gives parents a suite of scheduling tools, like time limits and calendars; notifications that alert parents each time their child tries to download an app which you can approve or reject, as well as data tracking for the apps your children use; and an “instant pause” button which parents love. A useful one for getting the kids to the dinner table.

Parental controls help parents take back control of tech. Modern devices are so simple even a baby can download apps and start playing games, but with no understanding of the potential risks involved from data theft and unethical apps. But at the same time, they’re useful tools, even for kids, Apps are only part of the equation: Parents need to offer clear, consistent rules for their kids to abide by, and to understand the risks not just of strangers asking seemingly innocent questions, but the apps that let those strangers near your children in the first place. More than just protecting your data and credit cards, parental control apps like Screen Time give you peace of mind.

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The 10 most popular kids apps for Android

by Screen Time Team on 18/06/2018
Tween girl on a tablet

Photo credit: Patricia Prudente

As the summer break looms, now is as good a time as any to get app savvy before your kids disappear behind their devices. For example, it’s no good blocking their Minecraft app at ‘homework time’ if their new obsession is dodging trains on Subway Surfers.

So, in the spirit of being ‘down with the kids’ and keeping on top of our kids’ digital lives, we did a bit of digging into the apps that are currently being installed by Screen Time families. Then we split them into 3 groups of top ten apps – Entertainment apps; Social Apps and Gaming apps. We found some of the results surprising. Check them out for yourself.

Top 10 most popular Entertainment Apps

It’s no surprise to see that YouTube is by far the most popular entertainment app among Screen Time kids. What is surprising is it has had 79% more installs than Netflix. And don’t forget, the Screen Time app allows parents to monitor kids tablets too. Even more interesting, the YouTube Kids app appears much further down the list at No. 6. A possible indication of a lack of awareness of a kids version of YouTube perhaps? (Never heard of YouTube Kids? There’s a handy parents guide to it here.)

  1. YouTube
  2. Spotify
  3. Netflix
  4. Bitmoji
  5. Amazon Kindle
  6. YouTube Kids
  7. Shazam
  8. Sandbox – Color By Numbering Pages
  9. Pixel Art – Color By Numbers
  10. Amazon Prime Video

Top 10 most popular Social Apps

Move over Snapchat, and make way for the more grown up social app contenders! Whatsapp is by far the most installed social app by Screen Time users, with a whopping 69% more installs than Facebook Messenger. And with Instagram bagging 25% more downloads by kids than any other social media apps, could this mean the end is nigh for Snapchat?

  1. WhatsApp
  2. Instagram
  3. Facebook
  4. Skype
  5. Snapchat
  6. Facebook Messenger
  8. Twitter
  9. Group Play
  10. Pinterest

Top 10 most popular Gaming Apps.

With Minecraft at the top spot, there is no great surprise here. But with Clash Royale and Subway Surfers only slightly behind, Minecraft might not stay on top for much longer.

  1. Minecraft Pocket Edition
  2. Clash Royale
  3. Subway Surfers
  4. Roblox
  5. Clash Of Clans
  7. Helix Jump
  8. Pokemon GO
  9. Rider
  10. Love Balls
Teenage girls on phone selfie

Photo Credit: Elijah O’Donell

So there you have it. If you wanted some extra guidance on the world of kids’ apps, you might find this post useful: 5 apps you need to talk about with your teenagers.

Remember, with the Screen Time app, parents receive a notification every time their child tries to download a new app. So next time you get a request to download one of the above, you can surprise your kids with your amazing app knowledge!

If you think you might benefit from having this feature, Go Premium today!


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Why Smartphone Addiction Is a Greater Risk for Teens Than Adults

by Screen Time Team on 13/06/2018
Group of people sitting around a table using their mobile phones.

We all love our phones but are teens too attached?

What Is Smartphone Addiction?

Again, we need to qualify the term “addiction” here. If you take away a teen’s smartphone, they won’t go through a Hollywood-style medical withdrawal. The addiction we’re talking about here is more like the phenomenon called a Skinner box.

We all know the experiments of B.F. Skinner. He’s the psychologist who taught rats to ring a bell and get a pellet. What people often forget is that Skinner found that if the rat got a pellet every time, it would lose interest. But if it got the pellets at random, it would hammer the bell until it broke. It was the potential for reward, not the reward itself, that made the rat hooked.

Many smartphone apps, such as messaging apps and social media apps, operate, sometimes intentionally, on the same principles. They offer a dose of validation, of attention, or achievement, but not always, so you find yourself checking again and again. It’s an easy pattern to fall into, in part because our phones make it so easy to do. But teens are particularly susceptible to this because they both don’t understand how they’re being manipulated and their brains, particularly with understanding risk and reward, are still growing and changing in certain specific ways. If the habit forms early, it can harden into a problem much more difficult to break.

Two teens looking at a mobile phone together.

How do we encourage healthy smartphone use?

How Do We Prevent Smartphone Addiction?

The good news is that smartphone addiction is easily prevented with a three-pronged approach. The first is parental control apps. These apps will allow you to limit how much time your teen spends on their phone in the first place, control which apps are downloaded and used and when, and will allow you to block the re-installation of apps you’ve decided your teen needs to delete.

The second prong is education. Teens get hooked in part because they don’t understand how this feedback loop works. Once you grasp how it functions, it becomes much easier to shake it off. So, talk to your teens about these apps, their motivations, and how they need to approach them as products, not ignore what they can do to them and their friends.

The final prong is communication. You should talk with your teen about how they’re using their phones, concerns they might have about things they’ve found on the internet, problems they may be having with friends or bullies online, and any other issues they may have with their time online. They may not ask for help directly, but leaving the door open to help can often be a powerful tool.

Still, it’s best to trust but verify with your teen. To learn more about parental control apps like Screen Time, click here. 

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How to Keep Your Child Safe from Phishing

by Screen Time Team on 06/06/2018
Teenager lying down in the grass using a tablet.

Protect them when they’re online.

Don’t Click

The most basic rule of internet safety is “don’t click.” If somebody sends a link, even a friend or a family member, kids should be taught not to click it. If a link is posted on a social media account, kids shouldn’t click it. If somebody is trying to bully you or cajole you into clicking a link, definitely don’t click it. In short, if there’s a scrap of doubt, adult or child, don’t click.

Teach Them The Signs

Beyond not clicking, education is the best weapon against phishing, and will be useful to your kids in the long run. So teach kids to spot the signs of phishing email. Does the email address itself come from an official account? Is the subject line properly spelled and grammatically correct? Does the email take a threatening tone or otherwise attempt to scare you? Is there a way to independently verify the email, such as an 800 number you can call? Are they told not to tell their parents? Sit kids down and show them phishing emails you get, and why they’re fake.

Girl with headphones around her neck and tablet in her hand.

Reroute Email

A very useful and effective way to prevent phishing is to simply route all communications online through you, at least in some cases. Just like kids need their own space as they get older, they also need their own space to some degree online, and trust is important between parent and child. At the same time, though, if you found a letter from a total stranger for your child in the mailbox, you’d probably want to know what’s happening. Email is much the same way. For official functions like school contact, kids should give your email.

Control Access

Unfortunately, even the smartest kids can make mistakes, or get fooled, just like their parents. So it’s also worth controlling what kids can click and otherwise access with parental control apps. These can be installed on any platform kids use and can control everything from the times the devices is available to the websites that device can access. Parental control apps can even prevent apps from being installed or used, which can be particularly handy with messaging apps where phishers lurk. Similarly, if you can afford it, you can have platforms strictly for the kids, with any sensitive information kept well-separate.

To some degree, we’re always going to be nervous about letting our kids on the internet. But with education and software, we can ensure it’s safe to be on. Screen Time is a good place to start. Learn more about it here.

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How to Keep Your Child Safe Online at Friends’ Homes

by Screen Time Team on 30/05/2018
Three teen girls lying down using their phones.

When they travel, make sure the rules come with them.

Get Everyone On The Same Page

To start with, you should discuss with your fellow parents what their rules are, especially around screen time. You might be surprised to discover that in fact the rules elsewhere are much more strict; in some cases, the tablet might need to stay at home. You should also ask if they use specific parental control software on their devices, or lean more toward using device settings, such as the iPhone parental controls. You might want to email over the necessary passwords, if doing homework and other tasks are on the table. But regardless, you should know the rules around screen time and make sure your kids understand them. They are guests, after all. You should also make it clear that just because they’re out of the house and under a new set of rules doesn’t mean they’re off the hook.

You should also discuss other points that are tied to technology, but aren’t software adjacent. For example, if you don’t allow your kids to play certain kinds of video games, have explicitly banned them from certain apps, or have parental control settings on your Netflix account that other parents don’t, that’s a good conversation to have.

Two teen boys playing video games.

Every sibling should have the same rules, even if they leave the house.

Set The Schedule

Once the rules are in place, you can set expectations and reconfigure parental control software to fit them. If, for example, your kids are working on a group project for homework that might take them past the usual amount of time you have allotted for homework, you can free up extra time in the app to let them get their work done. Also be sure to have your phone handy, if you’re using software that had a remote unlock.

Beyond that, keep a schedule locked into their devices, not just to enforce the rules, but also to encourage them to do things like talk to their friends. Be a little flexible here; if kids want to watch a movie together after bedtime, and it’s OK with you and the other parents, then go for it. Just be clear this is an exception, not a new rule.

Keep The Software Running

Finally, a good way to keep the rules in place is to have your software running. The reality is even good kids can egg each other on, and sleepovers are a moment where boundaries can be pushed, or at least kids will try. Parental control software on devices is a useful tool to trust, but verify, so that kids don’t try to access things you’d rather they not see.

If you need to have some parental controls in place before the first sleepover, sign up for Screen Time – it’s free!

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How to Keep Your Child Safe Online

by Screen Time Team on 16/05/2018
Parental control software

The internet can be dangerous, if you allow it to.

Educate Them

First and foremost, teach them lessons about being safe online, whether to protect them against viruses or teach them how people try to manipulate them. Even kids in the most tightly curated internet monitored by the best parental control software need to learn how to spot and block abusive behavior from others. Sometimes this will involve awkward discussions, but better to be a little uncomfortable now than scared later, for both of you.

Talk To Them

Parental control apps like time limiters are incredibly useful, but they’re only half the picture. Kids often want to talk, especially if something has scared them online or made them uncomfortable, but they may not have an opening to do so. Or they may not realize what’s happening. Talking to your kids about where they’re going online and what they’re doing can be an invaluable way to keep tabs on what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with.

Parental control software

Keep the internet a happy place.

Place Time Limits

Much like the best way to avoid crashing your car is to limit how often you drive it, limiting how much time kids spend on the internet is a good way to limit their risk. You should sit them down and work out a schedule and limits on where they can go on the internet. For example, an hour or two can be set aside for homework, with some strict limits on what sites they can go to, enforced with parental control software. Certain times, like bedtime, meals, and family time, should have the internet off-limits altogether. And leisure time shouldn’t be limited to the internet. One way to get a handle on-screen time is to make internet time a reward for completing chores or other tasks around the house.

Block Certain Apps

There are plenty of ways to excise certain apps from your life. Setting up separate profiles on your devices, downloading only kid-friendly versions of certain apps like YouTube, and password protecting certain features like in-app purchases, can work wonders not just for limiting screen time, but for protecting your kids in other ways. Also, make a point of adding apps on a case-by-case basis; if kids want a new game, make a rule they have to delete an old one, for example.

Enforce Standards

Finally, set standards and rules kids have to abide by, and if they don’t, have consequences in place. Consider that the most effective way to get kids to pay attention to rules is to control their “currency.” If breaking the rules means a favorite app gets deleted, or they lose screen time for a week, it’ll help keep the rules in place when all else fails.

Parental control software can help parents keep internet usage to healthy levels. To learn more, try it for free!

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How to Keep Your Child from Downloading Apps

by Screen Time Team on 09/05/2018
Parental control software

Apps can be great, but only if you and your kids are careful.

Education First

To start with, take the time to educate them about viruses and how they invade, and how the “Skinner boxes” of mobile games function. The truth is that the vast majority of viruses out there, just like most computer crime, are not propagated by master hackers. The signs of a would-be hacker are easy to spot. Apps with poorly translated descriptions, apps that are flagrant knock-offs of more popular apps, apps promising that you’ll get something for nothing, apps that help you cheat at other games, and apps that claim they help you get around parental control software are all examples of apps that can get your kids in trouble, so educate them about what apps are worth paying attention to, which emails to click and not click, and why they should never trust a link from anybody without verifying it first.

Similarly, explain the psychological tricks behind in-app purchases and teach kids to spot the signs they’re being exploited. Once they understand how it works, they’re more resistant.

Lock Off Downloading

It’s simple to shut off app downloading. In Google Play, simply open the menu in the upper left-hand corner, select “Settings,” then “User Controls,” and then set it so that to download an app, the user must enter a password. For iPhone parental controls, go into the Settings app, then General, then Restrictions, and then configure each app how you’d prefer it to function and enter a passcode. Make sure that passcode is something you’ll remember because if you can’t retrieve it, you’ll have to wipe your entire device and start over!

If you’d like more detailed control, or to limit more than just app downloads, look into parental control software that can lock devices at preset times and help you enforce punishments or agreed-upon restrictions. Trust, but verify, after all.

Parental control software

Have fun, and be safe, with smartphones.

Set And Enforce Standards

Once you’ve got Android or iPhone parental controls set, once the kids are taught, and once the parental control software is in place, make it clear what you expect of your kids and what they can expect if they try to get around the rules. Make it clear what they have to do to have an app downloaded, discuss how you’ve configured the device and why, and what they can expect if they break the rules. Also, if you refuse to download an app, explain why and make sure they understand.

We can’t protect our kids from absolutely everything. But we can ensure their time on the internet and using apps is healthy and smart. To learn more about making the internet and the app ecosystem positive for kids, sign up for Screen Time.

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