Parental Controls and Alternatives to Monitoring Kids Online

Parental Control Alternative For Monitoring Kids Online

FTC Disclosure

As a Gen-Xer my digital footprint didn’t begin until I was well into adulthood. Initially there was a sense of anonymity because we were able to use screen names. Quickly, though, we came to realize that we could be identified. Even in the early days of the internet there were ways to find out who was hiding behind whatever goofy name we chose for our email, bulletin board, instant messenger, and other lame-in-comparison-to-today social networks.

For many of us, though, our kid have grown up around increasingly sophisticated technology. These digital natives have faced concerns that most of us never did.

I grew up in an analog age. The fanciest of technology came about in high school when the Apple IIe came out when I was a freshman. While that was a huge step forward, it really didn’t impact daily life like technology does today. There was no risk of anything I did going too far beyond my little community. That’s not the case today.

Parental controls when I was a teen came in the form of not getting dropped off at a friend’s house, being picked up earlier from a party than my friends, or having to sit with enough distance between us if a boy had come over to do homework together. Ah, good times!

Now, though, parental controls are more invasive than your mom walking in offering milk and cookies when you’re trying to hold hands with that boy who came over to study with you. While we still could make decisions back then, today there is technology that takes the decision-making out of our kids’ control. For most parents it’s like manna from heaven. But what if you’re like me and are not a big fan of parental controls? What are the options? Is it even possible to parent today without enabling some feature on a smartphone or tablet to make sure our kids aren’t exposed to “inappropriate” content or spend too much time online?

When BabyGirl was about 5 or 6 I installed parental control software on the computer she used. It was a desktop computer I had used but replaced. It was her computer for all intents and purposes. I was homeschooling her at the time and she’d spend time online doing schoolwork or playing. That was in 2007 or so. Seems like an eternity ago some times.

Anyway, back then you’d do a search on Google or Yahoo and, like today, pages of results would be presented for you to check out. Search engines were primitive compared to what we use today. Invariably she’d click on something that was inappropriate for a 5 or 6 year old. She’d close the window and come tell me. We’d talk about it, and she’d go on with her day.

There was a big push about that time for monitoring software. I installed some monitoring software and set the parameters. And then every 5 or 10 minutes I’d hear that the computer wasn’t working. Instead of filtering out what would be truly objectionable content, the software had so many keywords it was checking that nearly everything was filtered and nothing would get through. I go in to adjust the setting and make it less sensitive. Still, it wasn’t possible to get to a lot of legitimate content. That’s when I stopped using parental controls.

Fast forward to 2016 and the sophisticated monitoring software and built-in controls on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other types of mobile devices. BabyGirl is officially a teen and I have never used parental controls on any of her smartphones or tablets. Really. I know many people love them and I have friends who’ve written extensively about the benefits of parental controls for TV and mobile devices. For me, I’ve taken a different route since she got her first mobile device.

Talk Openly – Since she was very young, BabyGirl knew that sometimes there would be things on the internet that weren’t for kids to see. Just like in the “real” world, we can’t keep our kids blindfolded until we’ve had the opportunity to evaluate everything they see and hear, we can’t do that on the internet. And while there are filters that will prevent kids from gaining access to truly inappropriate information, for some it’s a false sense of security and doesn’t leave much room for open communication. As uncomfortable as these conversations can be for both of us, it has to be done.

Be Proactive – I’ve always been very up-front with BabyGirl about what she may see on the internet. No, I haven’t been graphic or given her information beyond what I thought she could understand. But I have worked with her one-on-one to learn how to use different search methods, what to look for in URL names and extensions, how to determine if she’s clicking on a reliable source, and things like that. Just like we role play for fire safety, we need to do the same thing when it comes to internet safety.

Follow the Rules – There’s a reason why most social networks have an age requirement. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13. Not that all of a sudden at age 13 they gain a magical sense of maturity and capability. Millions of kids under the age of 13 have social media accounts, despite it being a violation of the terms of service. A few years ago my friend Heather wrote about why kids under 13 shouldn’t be on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the multitude of social networks available. If we allow our kids to start out their digital life with a lie, it’s hard to expect them not to lie about other things.

Know their Login Information – I’ve been told many times that asking BabyGirl for her login information shows that I don’t trust her and I should just use parental controls if I’m so concerned. I’ve always explained that they’re missing the point. I ask this information because I do trust her, but I don’t trust the people on the other side. Being able to get in to her device and the different programs isn’t about snooping and seeing what she’s talking about. I go in to make sure other people aren’t doing stupid things that whether or not there are parental controls they shouldn’t be doing. It’s also an opportunity to make sure her device is up-to-date, clear out apps she doesn’t use any more, and encourage her to continue to make good choice since her parents can check in at any time. It’s kind of the digital equivalent of mom offering milk and cookies right when you’re thinking of kissing the boy who came over to study with you.

Parental controls aren’t the be-all, end-all magic potion many like to believe they are. They are one tool, but there are “old-school” parental control we can use in addition to using tech-based parental controls or in place of relying on technology to do our job. There isn’t one right answer. As with most things related to parenting, you just have to do what works for you.

Sara

5 Tips For Getting Your Child Their First Smartphone

Tips for Kids First Phone

FTC Disclosure

As we approach the gift-giving season, I’m seeing many parents asking about “the best” smartphone for their child’s first phone. Most teens who’ve had a smartphone are very clear on which new device they want. When it comes to getting a first device for a child, or for the kids to share, there are many different opinions. And sometimes they have exactly what they have in mind.

While you may be decidedly in the iOS or Android camp, there is so much more to giving a child their first smartphone than picking out which device. While I do believe that there is such a thing as ‘too much phone’, the fact is you should choose a device that can grow with your child so you’re not needing to upgrade too soon. But there’s so much more to think about beyond which device to get. Sometimes I think picking out the device is the easiest part. Currently, I’m splitting my time between an iPhone 6 Plus and the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus Verizon just sent me. I love them both, for different reasons. But my almost teen daughter isn’t a fan of either of them.

5 Helpful Tips For Parents Getting Their Child Their First Smartphone

Talk About Expectations Before You Give Them A Phone – This is not the time to treat the kids like the crazy animals they sometimes are. Don’t throw the phone at them and run for your life like you’re feeding a wild lion. I fully realize they may not hear but a fraction of the words you’re saying., but take a deep breath and set expectations. Even better, consider a written agreement so the expectations are very clear.

Teach Them About The Importance of Using WiFi When Possible – Certainly you’ve heard stories of parents getting huge cell phone bills because the kids have been using data 24/7. Not only is wifi often faster than the data service, it also keeps data usage in check. Even if you have ‘unlimited’ data, you’ll quickly see that it’s not as unlimited as you think it is. Of course, not all wifi is secure so that should be discussed as well.

Require Their Login Information – This isn’t about snooping, it’s about parenting. If you ever believe your child is in danger, at risk, or doing stupid stuff you should be able to access their accounts from anywhere. You should have the ability to shut down your child’s access by logging in from your device and changing the password. They may not like it, but when used correctly this is to protect them from themselves and others.

Explain Social Media Etiquette and Reality – Kids use social media differently than we do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules, both universal as well as age-appropriate. Be very clear on the rules for using the device at school, taking photos of other people, sharing their location, giving out personal information, and other things that are of concern to you. In addition, make sure they understand that not everything they see on social media is reality. This last one is so important since they may not be aware that their favorite celebrities and Youtube or Instagram stars are posting photos that do not include any disclosure about being paid to post, it being staged, or that it’s really an ad.

Trust Them – I know this isn’t really a tip. And I know there are times when we need our kids to check in with us. Remember back when there was a time when we’d go to the movies, the mall, the beach, or just hanging out with our friends and our parents couldn’t get in touch with us. Yes, times have changed. But if you’ve laid the foundation and set the groundwork trust that they’ll do the right thing. Of course, you reserve the right to check in and to go all forensic scientist on their device while they’re asleep. So give them some freedom to grow and learn. And remember that talking about phone etiquette, the realities of social media, the risk of online predators, and other things about the online world will happen with or without our input. This is the time to make sure those lines of communication are open and free of judgement.

Bonus tip don’t surprise the kids with a phone you would want, get something they want. Sure, they’ll use it because the option of being without a phone isn’t really an option but their hands are smaller, they don’t usually carry a purse or bag to put it in, and wanting to be cool among their friends is important to them. You’d think BabyGirl would have the latest and greatest, but she doesn’t. She still has the Droid Ultra she got 2 years ago and she loves it. For her, it’s the perfect phone because it’s slim, lightweight, and very durable. It does everything she needs and she never worries about damaging it. And, ironically, it doesn’t have a case. Just a screen protector. There weren’t many cases made for it and she has chosen to be careful rather than have an ugly phone cover. Hard to argue with that, really.

If you’re thinking of passing on your phone to your child and upgrading, my newest obsession is the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. It’s beautiful, lightweight, has a sleek design, and a totally drool-worthy camera. And those Edge features? Super efficient and functional. Samsung has so many helpful features like Samsung Pay, wireless charging, reducing window size, opening multiple windows, and so much more. Whether it’s because you want a beautiful phone or need one to help keep your busy life organized, definitely take a look at the S6 Edge Plus.

And now that you’re likely getting a device for your child, or maybe you already have and just stopped by, what other tips do you recommend before getting the kids their first smartphone?

Sara