Three easy offline activities to keep the kids distracted this Thanksgiving

by Anna Hughes on 07/11/2018
Thanksgiving, in an ideal world, is a valuable time to be with our families. To laugh, to embrace one another, to joyfully reminisce about the good old days. To make new memories and enjoy a day full of meaningful conversations with loved ones. This scenario is of course completely fictional for most. Anyone with children who claims their Thanksgiving was in any way straightforward or dreamlike, is probably bending the truth quite significantly. Especially if they were the ones hosting the festivities.

There’s the late-night food prep, the cleaning and decorating, the mental preparation for pending potential or inevitable family dramas. Not to mention the daily challenges (to put it politely) set mostly by the smallest person/people who share your home.

It is definitely tempting to give the kids some bonus screen time on their tablet or phone just to keep them out of the way while we dress and stuff the turkey, set tables, quietly glug eggnog etc. With the parental controls Screen Time provides, this is easy to do without the usual fear of overindulgence/online dangers/switch-off meltdowns.

And that’s fine.

Or, rather than lose our children to their devices while we do all of the work, we could always find ways to get them involved with the preparations (bear with us here).

The tasks you set needn’t be anything complicated. Baking something simple or making table decorations for example not only gets them away from their screens, it will also get them using and developing their creative skills, math skills, science, reading, time telling…the list goes on.

Who knows, you might even bond a bit too.

Then once your house is filled with the sweet smells of pumpkin pie and your table is scattered with lovingly crafted decorations, you could treat your offspring to some bonus time on their device as a ‘well done for being so helpful’ reward. Which also means more ‘you’ time later on. Everyone wins 😉

We’ve scoured the pages of Pinterest to find the best Thanksgiving recipes and crafts for you to try with your kids. Not only that, but we at Screen Time Labs have MADE each one to ensure they are as quick and as easy as promised (kids attention spans vs parents patience levels were taken very seriously during the testing period).

 

Evidence is posted below in our quick video tutorials, each lasting less than 60 seconds.

We’d love to see your creations. Feel free to share on here or on our Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter feeds using #kidsunplugged.

Successful AND unsuccessful attempts are all welcome! Good luck 🙂

Mini Pumpkin Pies (Thank you @crafty_morning)

Turkey Cupcakes (Thanks @MarthaStewart)

Turkey Paper Bag Puppets (Thanks @1littleproject!)

 

 

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How to Protect Your Teen from Porn and Sexting

by Anna Hughes on 03/10/2018
One of the downsides of the rapid changes in technology we've seen is that it creates new complications to some very old problems. Even before the internet, explaining the differences between physical and emotional intimacy, or addressing the differences between porn and reality were problems parents struggled with. Now, parents have the internet, sexting, and social media built on sharing sexual content to deal with, and parental control software and smartphone addiction is only one part of what's an important conversation. So, what's changed, and how can you deal with it?
Person using their phone.

They’re not going to put down the phones entirely, but they can understand how to use them intelligently.

It’s Awkward. That’s OK

Many parents are surprised to discover it’s not the mechanics that are the most awkward or embarrassing. To sit your kids down and discuss sex means you’ll be discussing some personal intimate emotions that you probably don’t share with even your closest friends. Most of us don’t have much practice in talking about how sex makes us feel, but that’s OK. Really, that’s the point you should be making: Sex is about far more than the physical act. One of the problems with porn and sexting is that they can’t capture the unique emotional fingerprint each person has when it comes to sex. This can leave adolescents more confused than ever.

Many, if not most teens don’t necessarily have the emotional tools or the will to discuss their most intimate part of themselves with you.

Closeup of person sitting at a table using their cell phone.

Parental control apps should be accompanied by strong parent-child communication.

Talk About Your Concerns And Expectations

Anybody can talk to teens about peer pressure and cyberbullying, but they tend to think, fairly or not, that only their peers understand what they’re going through. What you can do is be honest with them about what you’re concerned about, what you expect from them, and why. Teens want to be treated like adults, and avoiding treating them like children will go a long way. If you level with them, they’re more likely to level with you. Sex is a complicated topic, and if you give them room to discuss their feelings, they’re more likely to do so.

Expect Some Rule-Breaking

Unlike many, many other topics, this is one in which rule-breaking of some sort may well be inevitable. Teens are curious about sex, and as we said, they’re still shaping the mental tools they have to deal with it. So are their friends, and the parents of your teen’s friends, and a united front is extremely rare. While you can’t control what they do everywhere, you can anticipate and block some rule-breaking with parental control apps. In some cases, it’s better to remove temptation until teens know how to handle it.

How Parental Control Apps Can Help

The texting associated with the phone itself may not be a primary communication channel for your teen. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and other downloadable messaging apps often become their de facto communication channel. Some parental control apps, like Screen Time, allow parents to approve or reject the downloading of apps, so you can be confident that you know which texting channels are available to your child. Screen Time also provides information on app usage, so you can see which apps your child uses most.

While you may not be able to read individual  messages, you do have oversight over which messaging apps kids use, and can keep up with how often they use them, which can tip you off to potential problems. The content of the messages is something that warrants a one-on-one conversation with your teen, so it’s important that you maintain regular communication about rules, sex, and smartphone use at all times.

Sex isn’t a simple topic, even for adults. For teens, it’s even harder to sort through the many conflicting demands placed on them. It’s going to take patience, honesty, respect, and listening to help your teens through a challenging stage of life. The Screen Time parental control app can help;  try it for free.

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Schools Ease Up in Smartphone Policies: Should You?

by Anna Hughes on 29/08/2018
In the battle for the teenage mind, schools across the country are trying to declare an armistice with smartphones. Schools are loosening their policies, either by incorporating smartphones into daily school activities or by simply taking policies off the books as impossible to enforce. So where does this leave parents? Should they lighten up too? Probably not.
Group of teenagers walking and using their smartphones.

Kids now have smartphones in school, but the rules shouldn’t change.

Rules Are Rules

To start with, schools aren’t simply letting kids goof off on their phones during third-period math. There are still a set of baseline rules that schools require kids to abide by, even if the school has dropped stricter policies. What’s changed is the approach, as society accepts smartphones, and the availability of parental control apps for cellphones have given parents better tools for monitoring kids’ smartphone use.

Most schools are dropping outright bans not because the kids have won, but because the smartphone is such a useful tool in the classroom when used correctly. Remember, just a decade ago, the “smartphone” was a novelty and a luxury available only to a select few. If kids had phones, they were mostly used to talk or send texts. While we may have called the latter “passing notes” back in the day, it’s still been against the rules the entire time. But most teachers don’t mind that kids are able to tap into a deep well of human knowledge. Schools instead are increasingly asking parents to put some form of parental control app on their teens’ smartphones.

Besides, the issue was never with the item, but how it’s used. Teens are more susceptible to smartphone abuse, and that needs to be considered by any parent. So, how can we balance the usefulness of smartphones against their addictive potential?

Teenager sitting using their smartphone.

Is a tool or a distraction?

Smarter Smartphone Rules

  • Know the school’s policies, in detail. Especially if the school is requiring any smartphone to have a parental control app installed, parents should know what standards kids are expected to abide by.
  • Remember that school and home are two different places with two different needs. Even if kids have more freedom to use their smartphones at school, that doesn’t mean you should allow them at the dinner table or during family time.
  • Kids need to understand that they need to be respectful and accountable, and why the rules are in place. It’s easy for kids to write off rules as unfair, especially if they seem arbitrary, so explain why you’ve chosen the rules for your family.
  • Always talk to your kids about smartphone use and let them know that they can come to you with any issue, no matter what. Often kids just need somebody to share their concerns with, and being able to talk them over is a relief for them

There’s no perfect solution to balancing the different spheres of life your kids will deal with. School, home, work, and the houses of friends will all have different rules, different requirements, and different standards that kids will just need to learn to balance. But if they know they have a friendly ear and a firm but fair parent, they’ll get the hang of it. To learn more about parental control apps and how you can schedule what your kids use on their phones, sign up for Screen Time.

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Your Teens May Want Help Curbing Their Smartphone Use

by Anna Hughes on 01/08/2018
A smartphone can be a useful tool for anybody, even teens. Smartphones can help them get jobs, stay in touch with friends who move away, and can help them with their schoolwork. But they can also trigger reward systems seated deep in the brain that we don't fully understand, and start cycles it can be difficult to break. When we first encounter these cycles, sometimes called “smartphone addiction,” we need help, and teens need it in particular, since they're fighting it for the first time. So how can you help?
Group of people using smartphones.

Teens love their phones, but they might need help putting them down.

Stop It Before It Happens

The simplest method is, especially if your teen is about to get their first smartphone, just to stop the problem before it starts. Use tools like Android and iPhone parental controls to block certain apps, set specific rules about when the phone can be used and for what purposes, and have clear and fair punishments in place when those rules are violated that you can enforce, like deleting apps and no phone at bedtime.

Have An Honest Talk

The first step is to give your teen some perspective. For example, if they’re checking an app or playing a game to the point it interferes with their homework, their job, and their social life, you should ask them about why this is. One important discussion to have is about the “Skinner box,” the infamous psychological experiment where a rat was put in a cage with a button that occasionally dispensed a treat, and which taught the rat to keep hitting the button, to the detriment of everything else.

Some argue certain apps are like these boxes, and while the science is more complicated with the human mind, it’s not a bad analogy. Social media and games offer us a small reward, such as a like or a powerup, and we keep playing. Once we become aware of the cycle, we can fight it.

Young teen looking at her tablet while leaning against fence.

Phones are useful, but they can also be addictive.

Make A Plan

Once your teen can face the problem, you can make a plan to solve it. This should involve a mix of parental control software, scheduling, and self-awareness. For example, if one app like Snapchat is the problem, you might delete the app, set a rule about when phones are allowed at home, giving your teen a little time to do work, answer emails, and so on, and then have a strict block on having a phone in bed. To enforce the rule, you might install an app to block the downloading of other apps, or certain apps, without your express consent via software.

Ideally, your teen will be on board with this plan. But if not, they should at least understand the reasoning behind it. A conversation about the problem is part of the solution, in this case.

While parental control software and Android and iPhone parental controls are incredibly useful tools, the key to stopping smartphone problems is to get your teen to admit there’s a problem in the first place. Once that happens, you can begin truly fixing the problem. To learn more about how to schedule phone time and enforce the house rules about phones, try it for free.

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The Risks of Sharing Vacation Photos on Social Media

by Anna Hughes on 25/07/2018
One of the most unexpected changes to the world smartphones have brought us is that now, cameras are everywhere and can share any image they take to the entire world instantly. The problem is that often this tells the world more about us than we care for it to know, and vacation photos are no exception. When planning a trip with your kids, it's important to talk about when, and why, to share vacation photos.
Family posting outside together for a selfie.

A selfie in the moment is great. But it doesn’t need to be posted.

What’s Wrong With Vacation Photos?

The main problem with vacation photos, at least if you share them while on vacation, is that they tell the entire world that you’re not at home. This alerts criminals, vandals, and other people that your home is unprotected and wide open to whatever they want to do. Granted, the overall probability of this is somewhat low, but at the same time, we don’t take unnecessary risks online, why should we take them in the real world?

Just as difficult, though, is that social media and photo sharing is a distraction from your vacation. Even if your profile is completely private, the reality of social media is that people interact with the things you post. They like them, they post comments, they ask questions, and, especially if you’re in a beautiful place, a supposed escape from the hustle of the every day, why are you paying attention to social media in the first place?

Setting The Rules

Teenage boy walking on a pathway with tall grass to the side.

Those great vacation pics will be just as shareable after you’re back home.

So, before you set off on your vacation, you should set a few rules, and perhaps install a parental control app to enforce them. Parental control software can be useful for any vacation, but it needs to be backed up with a conversation about why you’re putting the rules in place.

    • First of all, set a standard for the whole family, not just your kids. While children may be more prone to being glued to their smartphones, we can all be lured into the same cycle of posting for likes and comments, and it can ruin our vacation just as easily. So, your whole family should agree to ignore social media.
    • Second, kids shouldn’t talk about vacation plans on social media, for much the same reason they shouldn’t share photos while on vacation. Make sure they understand the risks.
    • Next, everyone should be allowed to take all the photos they want, just they shouldn’t post them until they get back. Even with strong parental controls in place, kids should be allowed to take snapshots and selfies to remember their vacation, just like adults do.
    • When you get back, set aside a little family time to pick out photos for an online “family album” to be shared. This isn’t just a good way to maintain a little privacy, it’s also a great family bonding activity. You might even consider using a photo printing service to create an album of vacation memories to keep on the coffee table.

    Vacations are stressful, at least until you get there and kick back. But by setting some ground rules, and making sure everyone sticks to them, you won’t have to worry about oversharing with the wrong people when you’re thousands of miles away. To learn more about phone safety apps for kids, sign up for Screen Time.

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Why Your Teen’s Smartphone May Be Necessary for Their Summer Job

by Anna Hughes on 11/07/2018
Most teens will argue that they need their smartphones, no matter what, although what they define as “need” is likely not the same as their parents. But when it comes to finding and keeping a job, your teen may well be in the right. Smartphones are becoming more and more useful in the workplace, even if they can be a hindrance to some workplace skills, and parents and teens will need to strike a balance between the rules at home and the demands of the workplace.
Young man working at a fast food restaurant.

Many places of employment have employees use smartphones for processes like timekeeping.

Why Do Teens Need Smartphones For A Job?

Technology has changed everything, and finding a job is no exception. Especially with the jobs teens are usually up for, the application process often involves using a custom app or a website to fill out forms, even with places that conduct on-site interviews. In some cases, the entire process is done online, or new employees are asked to view online training modules through their phones and tablets, which can fall afoul of parental control apps for smartphones.

It also applies to the day-to-day “paperwork” of a job. For example, employees may be expected to sign into an app to confirm their hours or tell their manager what hours they have available this week, or they might need an app to access company tools such as price lookup. In some cases, they even need their smartphones to get paid, as companies are increasingly turning to apps like Venmo and Zelle to pay their employees, rather than go to the expense of printing out and distributing paychecks.

And, of course, let’s not forget that having a smartphone means a manager can quickly reach an employee when they’re needed, so if your teen wants to pick up an extra shift, or at least be accessible for it, they can be reached. So, the phone’s necessary, but how do you balance that against the rules?

Young woman holding up a resume smiling.

The smartphone will be part of the job hunt.

Rules Of The Job

To start with, any parental control apps for smartphones should have a “whitelist” function that will let you approve work-related apps and websites, or permit certain phone numbers to call your teen’s phone. Of course, this depends heavily on the app and its function. For example, if you want to keep your teen from spending their whole paycheck in a day, you might put the paycheck app on your phone instead of theirs, and dole out the money where appropriate.

Similarly, you should discuss with their manager the needs for a smartphone at work; if, for example, teens only need their smartphone for their job when they’re not at work, they’ll likely be too busy to look at their phones in the first place. It’s important to, as much as possible, let teens manage their job on their own, however, as learning to negotiate with supervisors and time management are part of the reason teens get jobs in the first place.

Finally, be ready to ease up on your parental control app, beyond a certain point. Taking a job is a big responsibility, and if a teenager can handle showing up to work and getting the job done, then that should be a factor in the phone rules. Sooner or later they’re going to be full-fledged adults, and giving them more responsibility by slow degrees is the best way to make that transition an easy one. To learn more about smartphones and parental control apps, try Screen Time for free!

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How to Keep iPhone’s AirDrop Safe for Your Teen

by Anna Hughes on 20/06/2018
“It seemed like a good idea at the time” might as well be the motto of Silicon Valley, that stands out in particular with Apple's AirDrop. AirDrop is designed to be a tool for people who own Apple products to quickly share files with each other through WiFi or Bluetooth. Essentially, if you own an Apple device and share a WiFi network with another Apple device, in theory you can share files with coworkers, friends, or even total strangers. Used properly, it's a handy productivity tool. Misused, you can wind up with sexually harassing images, viruses, or worse. So how do you keep teens from the risks of AirDrop?
Two teenage girls taking a selfie together.

Help teens be safe with their phones.

Shut It Off

First, you can use the iPhone parental controls to shut down AirDrop. Just go to Settings, then General, then AirDrop on any iPhone or iPad, and turn it off. Then lock down the iPhone with a parental control app. While you’re at it, you should do the same to your phone. Cruelty and misuse aren’t limited to teenagers, either. If your teen uses a Mac laptop, it will be a little more elaborate, since MacOS defaults to having AirDrop on. Go to the Applications folder, then Utilities, then Terminal. Enter this into the window:

defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser DisableAirDrop -bool YES

Hit enter, and then log out of the Mac. Once you log back it, it won’t turn on unless you consent to it. If you or your teen need it for some reason, then you should configure the iPhone parental controls to only allow contacts and approved people to send files.

Teenage boy looking at his mobile phone.

Do you know what they’re getting?

Educate

If you don’t want to start with the parental controls, then start with education. Teens should already know not to accept files from strangers, and fortunately, AirDrop needs your permission before it will download a file. Sit your teens down and talk to them about the risks both to their devices and themselves about AirDrop.

If you have to leave AirDrop enabled, you should also talk to them about what to do if somebody tries to send unwanted images and files to them at school or at work, beyond declining to accept them. They should know who to talk to, when to confront and when to speak to authority, and how to get help if they feel unsafe.

Use Parental Control Apps

Another useful tool is parental control apps, which can lock down various aspects of a phone on a schedule or just lock off certain apps and behaviors altogether. This can do far more than just control files that arrive on devices, and it may be useful in situations where either teens need unfettered use of their devices, such as school or internships, or simply that you need to break a bad habit. The other bad side of AirDrop is that it’s also a method of “swapping notes” in class, which admittedly isn’t as harmful as the worst-case scenario, but teens need to pay attention in class!

If you’re concerned about AirDrop, the internet, social networks, and other ways teens can experience the dark side of the internet, Screen Time can help, and you can try it for free.

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How to Block Apps on Your Child’s Android

by Anna Hughes on 03/05/2018
Keeping malicious apps off your child's phone, or in some cases, keeping them from using certain apps, can feel like an intimidating task. But with Android, you can use a mix of the phone's features and parental control apps to control screen time and keep kids away from certain apps. Here's how to run a tight ship with an Android phone.
Parental control apps

You can put a digital lock on much of the internet.

Install And Set Up Parental Control Apps

Fortunately, Google makes this easy right off the bat. With a new phone or tablet, or even a current one, open the Google Play Store app. Open the main menu, which you can do by tapping the four-line icon in the upper left-hand corner. Select “Settings,” then “Parental Controls,” create a PIN if you don’t already have one, and then you can set the standards. This is tied entirely to industry ratings: For example, you can limit movie streaming through Google to G, PG, PG-13, R, or even NC-17. Keep in mind that this is only for Google and won’t impact other apps like Netflix, Chrome, or YouTube.

You can, and should, install separate parental control apps. Screen Time for example offers more granular control, such as locking off the tablet during certain times, blocking certain apps at certain times or just outright blocking these apps in the first place, blocking certain websites or classes of site, and other controls that are handy for parents. Whats more, with the Screen Time app,  parents receive a notification each time their child tries to download an app, so they can give the go ahead (or not) first.

Create A Profile On A “Family” Tablet

Another tactic is to create separate profiles on a “family” tablet, and have one or two tablets for the household, instead of one for everybody. Unfortunately, Android doesn’t apply this to phones yet, but it is useful for tablets and other at-home devices. A restricted profile lets you block certain apps and services right off the bat, everything from chat apps you don’t trust to games that want you to keep shoveling money into their till. If you regularly loan out your tablet, or you want just one tablet for the whole family to keep your eye on what kids are doing, it’s a useful tool. And limiting the number of tablets also limits the amount of screen time kids rack up.

Parental control apps

Put limits on the tablets.

Download Kids-Only Apps

Many app companies, well aware of parental concerns, offer kids’ version of their apps or more restrictive controls inside their apps. YouTube, for example, has YouTube kids, which keeps the more complicated and/or raunchy stuff away from kids using YouTube’s content rating system. Netflix has a similar system to Google Play, in that you can either keep kids to the kids’ profile, or set up account-level controls that demand a PIN for content above a certain maturity level. If an app doesn’t have a kid-friendly function, and you’re worried about it, just use your parental control apps to block it entirely.

The world of technology can be intimidating for parents, especially as tablets and phones are designed to be as simple to use as possible, so children can pick them up and start using them right away. But with the right controls put into place, and with the right software, you can fence off certain parts of the internet until your kids are old enough to understand them. Need help keeping an eye on your kids when they’re online? Sign up for Screen Time!

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Nail Screen Free Week with the Family Screen Time Pact

by Anna Hughes on 30/04/2018
Screen Free Week is great in theory, but asking kids to switch off their devices can be painful. Enter, the Family Screen Time Pact!

The Family Screen Time Pact

“But why?” – sound familiar? It’s great to have inquisitive kids, but those two words must pass our younglings lips more than any other.

We get constant feedback from parents about how beneficial the screen time app has been to their children and family as a whole. These compliments often come with: “After the initial arguments”.

So we are here to help. We have developed a fun way to help you, the parent, introduce Screen Time to the family. It comes in the form of ‘Our Family Screen Time Pact’ – a simple contract between parent and child on the use of mobile devices to help your children understand that small but complicated word – Why?

But be warned, it’s a two way street, what you ask your kids to do, you too need to adhere to.

It’s designed to be printed and stuck to the fridge, this way it will stay present as a reminder to all, during Screen Free Week and beyond. We’ll leave the penalty for breaking the pact up to you… and your kids!

Download the Family Screen Time Pact!

 

Or if you want to give Screen Time, Try it for FREE! 

Screen Free Week runs from April 30 to May 6 2018. Find out more here

 

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5 Apps You Need to Talk About with Your Teenagers

by Anna Hughes on 28/03/2018
The internet is full of both dangers and things your kid shouldn't see. And since apps are part of the internet, some of them aren't great for kids, or even adults. Here are five apps you need to have a conversation with your kids about.

Student in school hallway using smartphone

Musical.ly

The more things change, the more they stay the same, and Musical.ly proves the rule. It turns out the app, which allows fans to sing along to songs and play silly games with music, also has a raunchy side if you search certain terms. The app is presumably tightening up the ship as parents object, but this is a good reminder that not all apps are engineered with kids in mind, which can lead to some awkward situations.

Yubo

Yubo is a friend-making app with an unfortunate resemblance to a far more adult app, Tinder. Kids can swipe to decide if they’d like to say hi to somebody or ignore them. Laying aside the app’s structure, which is a bit unfortunate but seems to be a coincidence, the real concern here for many parents is how judgemental the app forces you to be. There’s not a “maybe” or “get to know” function, and many parents worry it’s teaching kids to be judgemental and shallow. Before allowing Yubo or not, lay out these concerns for kids and why the app bothers you.

Instagram

People tend to carve out their own private spaces on the internet, and Instagram is no exception. There’s a distinct chance that kids have a “finsta,” slang for a fake Instagram, which their parents and family sees, and then a real, private account that’s closely monitored and limited only to a small circle of friends. Really, there’s only so much you can do here, short of deleting the app off their phone, but make it clear to kids that they should be careful what they share online, and who they share it with.

Teenage Students Using Digital Devices On College Campus

Snapchat

Snapchat is the bane of many parents for a number of reasons. But the most glaring one, currently, is SnapMaps, a feature that shows where, precisely, Snapchat users are with a relative degree of accuracy. The feature, fortunately, can be disabled, but it’s safe to say many parents find it poorly considered and a potential safety risk. If you’re letting your children use Snapchat, and that may be a big “if” for you depending on the content, tell them you’re shutting off SnapMaps, and why.

Sarahah

This app allows people to send anonymous messages to each other, and it’s quickly become a locus of abuse online. In the absence of any accountability, Sarahah has become a mess for some parents and kids. It is worth remembering that some kids do need private spaces to talk to other kids, so that might justify Sarahah or a similar app, within certain contexts. But before you let the app into their phone, talk with them about emotional violence and that they can come to you to discuss disturbing messages.

Don’t think the list stops with these apps. Being engaged with your kids and what they do online is key to building a safe place online for them. Parental control apps can also be helpful to parents in setting boundaries. If you’d like to give one a try for free, check out Screen Time

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