Electronic Safe Guards Every Parent Needs to Know
The trending question among parents of tweens is how old kids should be to get their own phone. Our family chose to add a cell phone line for our kids last summer. We’ve stressed the phone doesn’t belong to one or the other of our kids, but is to be used like a “house phone”.
When I was a tween and teen, I had a phone in my room. Granted it wouldn’t do anything other than make and receive phone calls, but it served as my connection to my friends outside of school. It’s important for our kids to have connections with other people and these days that means having access to technology.
Phones aren’t what they used to be. Providing our kids with a connection to their friends comes with the responsibility to protect them from cyberbullying, pornography and over-use of games. I’ll be the first to say our process isn’t fool-proof and it doesn’t replace having frank, age-appropriate conversations with our kids about what’s appropriate for them and what’s not.
Even with these safeguards in place, my kids still come to me and tell me about things said or done in a television show or YouTube video that skirts the border of our family’s values. As a Gen-Xer I’m an alien in this techno-savvy world, learning the language and navigating a territory that didn’t exist even when I was in high school. My kids, however, are natives and they need to understand the culture so they can live successful lives while being aware of the pitfalls.
We are iPhone/Apple fans, so my suggestions on specific safety measures focus on these technologies. The ability to lock down certain access is one of the reasons we prefer this platform. I do not know if other phones or tablets have similar safeguards.
One of the scariest aspects of the digital world is access to billions of websites from the totally innocent to the depraved. You can’t completely block a determined child from seeking out inappropriate sites, but we as parents can make it harder to access and reduce the chances they will accidentally happen upon those sites.
In your child’s iPhone/iPad go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Content Restrictions > Web Content
Look at all of these options to limit your child’s access to explicit or even age-inappropriate content. Set all of these at the level you choose for your child. When you go into Web Content you can choose to restrict all websites or just explicit sites. The screenshots are from my phone. For our kids, we’ve chosen to restrict all websites.
When my kids want to look something up online, they bring their iPad to me and I key in a code to allow them access. My son took the “house phone” to school one day last week because I asked him too and the class was playing a review game that required internet access. Not every kid had a phone but those who did shared with those without. He text me to ask if I’d give his teacher the code to allow access to the site. I sent it to her and he participated. Easy peasy and his teacher was glad to know at least one parent was safeguarding their kid’s online experience.
We have our kids' devices set so we have to approve any apps they download. One of the big social media trends is installing and uninstalling social apps so parents don’t know a kid is using a specific social media site. Another is having multiple accounts. This method at least makes it harder for kids to be deceitful.
First, you’ll need to set up Family Sharing from your own device.
Go to Settings > [your name] > Family Sharing
If it’s not set up you can follow the prompts to set it up here and to invite your kids into family sharing. You can also set to share apps. Not all apps are shareable but we’ve found some both of our kids wanted that cost a couple of dollars. We purchased it once and both were able to install the app on their device.
[Side note: I do not share my cloud storage because one of my children is obsessed with selfies and pictures of our dog. I don’t want to use all my storage for that!]
Once it’s set up, you click on your child’s name and then turn on Ask To Buy.
Now, let’s talk about apps. Not all games are created equal. We know that, but do we really know that. Every game comes with an age rating. My nine-year-old daughter asked to download a game that looked benign, like Tetris. But it had a 12+ age rating.
I scrolled down, clicked on the rating and found out why.
Why would a game about a paintball reaching the lowest tier of a tower have nudity or sexual content? Violence? Alcohol or drug use? Then I did some research. Many apps are free which is fantastic for our pocketbooks, but these developers are not paying their mortgage off the dopamine we get from playing their games. They have advertisers, who sometimes advertise nudity, violence, and alcohol or use those things in their advertisements.
For us, these games are a hard pass. I explain to my child that while the game looks like fun and does not appear to be a bad game, the advertisers have turned it into a bad game and I don’t want to risk them clicking on an ad they shouldn’t see.
Please, please look at the apps your child’s devices. Those ratings mean something. Pay attention to them.
My kids watch YouTube more than Netflix. While the site has certain standards, it doesn’t mean my child won’t see something that’s too mature for them. We’ve given access to YouTube Kids app, which filters the content even more and allows you to set up parental controls based on how much access you want your child to have.
This app isn’t available as a feature on YouTube’s desktop website. I’m not sure if there’s an android app, but it would be worth checking out if your child likes to watch videos of other kids playing with toys.
Safeguards are like the rails at a bowling alley. At some point, you have to grow enough in your skills to take them down and see what happens. Sometimes you will still land in the gutter. As adults, we’ve all searched for things that didn’t return the results we wanted or we’ve had our computer infected with a virus. Setting protections around our children is our responsibility as a parent, but so is discussing what’s right and wrong in the content our children view.
It may start by talking about “good pictures” and “bad pictures” and how we sometimes feel uncomfortable when we see something but we don’t know why. Make sure your kids know they can come to you -- no shame, no punishment -- when (not if) they stumble on or even seek out the wrong material. Talk to them about how it made them feel. Figure out what went wrong. Google how to handle these situations. But whatever you do, do not shut the conversation down.
Our kids learn from making mistakes. As they grow, we have to let go of some of our controls. If my kid has to have my permission to download an app while he’s sitting in his college dorm room, I’ve probably let this thing linger a little too long. I’m reconciling myself to that reality. I pray by then my kids have developed some sense of discernment to set safeguards for themselves.