Parental Control Apps: Why You Need One and What to Look For

We live in a digital world and our children are right smack dab in the middle of it. It’s important now more than ever to know what your child is doing on the Internet and help them learn how to responsibly use it. Here are some tips on what to look for in parental controls for the Internet to help your child!

Internet Safety for Teens and Children: What You Should Know

“My kid would never send or receive dirty pictures!”

“Giving my child a smart phone shows that I trust them. And I do!”

“It’s just the world we live in – they have to learn to deal with temptation of technology.”

These are common thoughts I hear whenever a conversation on Internet safety comes up.

Last year, I had the opportunity to teach some of the women at my church about Internet safety and some of the rather depressing statistics on it. A lot of people were shocked at what I told them.

As someone who works in the online world, I see a lot of the good of the Internet – but also a lot of the bad.

And as much as I would like to just ban all social media and electronics from my children, I realize that by not allowing my children access to technology at all, I would be doing them a disservice.

Because the truth is, part of being a parent in this day and age does mean teaching our children how to responsibility use the Internet.

So how do you find the balance? How do you limit their access (time, what they can see, etc.) while allowing them to learn how to be responsible and one day be able to limit themselves? Should you just let them run loose? Should you put strict limits and micromanage everything they do?

With all things, there must be balance. My children are still young – 6 and 2 – and I’d be lying if I said they didn’t get any screen time. We are particular about what and when they watch or play, but we don’t keep it away from them.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know how addictive the Internet can be. I know how horribly mean people can be when there is a screen separating them from who they are talking to. And I know that good kids can get in trouble without even meaning to.

So today I wanted to share some information on what you can do to protect your child while teaching them how to use social media and technology responsibly. Because, like it or not, eventually they will grow up and be on their own….and they need to know how to regulate themselves.

Before you know it, your child will go from this:

to this:

And it’s important to know how to handle this crazy digital world!

Thank you to WebSafety for partnering with us on this important topic. 

Issues with Unregulated Internet/Smart Phone Use

So, what’s the big deal? Does it really matter if your kid is on the Internet 24/7?

Yes. It does. Social media and smart phone consumption is a relatively new thing, and as such, the effects are only now starting to be seen. This article about what happened when a family gave their children 48 hours of unregulated screen time is eye opening (and scary).

When I think about it, a lot of adults seem to have trouble regulating themselves – how can we expect our kids to do it without a little bit of help?

We live in a very screen and tech-filled world, and while there can be a lot of good that comes from it, there is a lot of bad, too. I’m grateful I grew up as a teenager when most people just had phones that were black and white and only had snake on them!

Every week I read another article about how smart phones are making kids more depressed, have more anxiety, and struggle more in school. And I can understand why!

In previous generations, if you were bullied, you could go home and not deal with it.

Nowadays, you can be bullied 24/7 through social media, emails, and texts.

If you weren’t invited to an activity, you didn’t usually hear about it – and if you did, it was just in passing.

Nowadays, you log on to Instagram and see all the fun people are having without you.

Texting and messaging take away the personal and engaging part of conversing with someone else – it makes it easy to be someone you are not, say things you would never say to someone’s face, and do things you would never do otherwise.

Don’t think your child would ever do something you woudln’t agree with? Well, after reading this eye-opening story about what a Utah middle school teacher found out…you may change your mind.

We need to be aware of what these devices are doing to our children and families – and part of the solution is being smart about consumption.

This is a great video that goes over why you need a web safety monitoring service for your child:

 

What to Look For in Parental Controls for Kids

There are a lot of filters out there – some great, others not so much. Not every filter is going to be right for every family either. As you search for the one that fits your family’s needs the most, here are a few things to consider.

We have partnered for this post with WebSafety which can monitor text messages and social media use, see the photos your children posting and/or interacting with, and sends alerts whenever any dangerous activities have happened or boundaries you’ve set have been violated. It really is quite intuitive to use, and I think it’s a great option.

Cost

There are some free filters out there – but I don’t think most of them are very good. For a high quality filtering and monitoring program, you will likely have to pay a fee each month (or one lump sum up front).

I do think this is worth it for the peace of mind to get one that has good reviews and that you know will do what you want it to do.

WebSafety is only $5.99 a month or $59.99 for a year, which is very affordable. I’ve looked at a lot of different services, and this is definitely very reasonable for what you get.

WiFi versus Data

A lot of filters are dependent on WiFi….which is great, if your child never leaves your house or doesn’t have data enabled on their phones.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most – especially teenagers. If all they have to do is flip off the WiFi and jump on their data, the filter you are using is pretty much worthless.

Time Limits

Can you have time limits? I think this is super important to be able to set when your child can be on their devices and how long they can be on them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends only one hour or less of screen time a day for children 2-5, and for kids older than 6 it should never take place of sleep or physical activity. It’s important that your child not use their phone during bedtime. If you start to see your child disengage from things they used to enjoy (reading, playing sports, spending time with friends), it’s probably time to revisit things.

Parental controls isn’t just important for teens – our youngest children need limits, too. The number of children under 8 who have access to tablets and even their own smart phones has increased dramatically in recent years. They do not have the ability to monitor and limit themselves – if you choose to give your child technology, it is your responsibility to make sure they aren’t abusing it.

Block websites, categories, words, etc. 

Do you want to be able to block websites altogether? What about certain categories of websites or block access to searching certain words. A lot of apps allow you to totally block websites, which has it’s pros and cons.

With WebSafety, they don’t actually block someone from accessing a website – it will just send you an alert if one of these websites have been visited. They believe this gives them responsibility and helps you see if they can be trusted…but if they start to stray, you can know right away. They have a large database of inappropriate website, but you can also add ones you specifically want them to monitor.

Reports

Ability to turn off devices

Even if you set up curfews and time limits, there will probably be times outside of those where you just want to turn the device off.

Instead of physically taking the phone and turning it off, it’s helpful if you can turn it off remotely, especially if you aren’t nearby.

WebSafety allows you to remotely remove access at anytime. As mentioned earlier, you can also set up time limits, curfews, etc. I think it’s important to discuss these with your child to come up with an agreement you both can live with and give more freedom as they earn it. I know a lot of parents who have a contract their kids have to sign, which I think is important.

Social Media Monitoring

You definitely want to get something that will monitor your child’s social media consumption – especially in regards to uploading photos.

Instagram is huge with all ages – especially teenagers. Many of them have what is called a “Finsta” account, which is basically an account where they share things they don’t necessarily want others (i.e., parents), to see. If you don’t know it exists, it’s harder to monitor.

With WebSafety, it captures every photo uploaded to Instagram or Facebook – including accounts you don’t know about. This is important because one of the biggest issues with teenagers and social media nowadays is that they share pictures they shouldn’t (and they don’t always understand that anything you put on the Internet is no longer private).

App Monitoring

There are hundreds of thousands of apps out there with more being added each day. Many of them can be fun and engaging…but there are a lot of really bad ones.

Did you know there are even apps designed to hide apps from parents? There is one app that looks like a calculator, but it actually exists for the sole purpose of hiding things. How messed up is that.

With WebSafety, they let you know when new apps have been installed or when something has been uninstalled. This can help you to see what your child is up to and if you see an app you haven’t heard of, you can look into it right away to make sure it’s safe for your child’s age. This makes it so you don’t have to feel like you have to constantly be taking your child’s device and swiping through to make sure there aren’t any “banned” apps.

Text Monitoring

While a lot of issues arise from social media nowadays, text messaging can still be an issue. You want to make sure your monitoring service allows you to monitor texts. While a lot of parents have a policy that they can check their child’s phone at anytime (which I agree with 100%), it’s very easy to delete text messages before your parent sees them.

With WebSafety, all text messages can be seen directly from your app, so again, you don’t have to take your child’s phone and scroll through them. They have a database of inappropriate words and phrases, and you will be alerted as soon as any of those cross through the phone lines into your child’s text message folder.

You can also see how much your child is texting certain numbers, which can be very helpful, especially if you are concerned your child is texting someone they shouldn’t be or being bullied.

GPS Tracking

Does your service have the ability to tell your where your child is? I know some people don’t like this, but in this day and age, I think it’s important to be able to find your child at anytime – especially if they aren’t responding.

This is a pretty simple feature and you want to make sure it can’t be turned off by your child. Some apps allow you to accept/decline/remove who you can find your location, but you want to make sure this isn’t the case.

Does it teach responsibility?

I think some people worry that if they use a web monitoring app, it tells their child that they don’t trust them.

But here’s the thing – as a parent, it is our job to protect our kids, give them more responsibility as they earn it, and help them to learn how to make good decisions. If we just throw a smart phone at them with unlimited access and just say, “good luck!”, I think we are doing them a great disservice.

The thing I like about the WebSafety service is that it’s not a “snooping” device. It allows you to set limits – and give your child freedom – but it let’s you know when/if those boundaries have been broken. I think this is the type of service you should look for – one that helps you give your child more and more trust as they earn it (but

Can it be hacked? 

If there’s a will, there’s a way. No monitoring app will keep everything away, which is why it’s important to be involved in your child’s life, take note of any behavior changes, and be open with them about the dangers of social media and the Internet.

With that said, I think it’s good to play around with different apps to see which ones seem less likely to be “hacked” by your child. Look at reviews online, search “*app name* hack”, etc. to see if there are easy ways to get around the parameters you have set up.

No matter what your feelings are on social media and smart phones are, it’s important to be aware of the current climate and what’s going on in the world. It’s not enough to just turn the other cheek and hope for the best. We need to be proactive in helping your children navigate this technology filled world by teaching them how to responsibly use it.

At the end of the day, remember this – you are the parent. No child or person has an inherent right to have access to a smart phone, the Internet, or social media. If you feel like your child is too involved in the digital world – it’s okay to have them take a step back. They may act like they hate you for it then, but in the long run, it might be the best thing you can do for them.

As I look at my own life, when I start to feel the most down, discouraged, or sad, it’s often linked to increased screen time and social media. Moderation in all things is the key.

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