Screen-time and Dark Chat Rooms
How many of you Dads out there have un-wittingly allowed your kids to grow up with a digital pacifier? If you’ve had kids in the last 10 years, smart phones and tablets were probably part of your kid’s life. Given your vast life experience before having kids, undoubtedly you know about the horrors that lie on the other side of clicking the wrong link on Google, offering countless opportunities for your innocent boy or girl to have their minds polluted forever. Parent locking the tablet your kid holds more precious than their favorite stuffed bear is probably intuitive, but what about the rest of the horror portals around the house? Thankfully, more than a few companies out there battling the forces of internet dwelling evil.
On top of filtering, let’s talk screen time: how much is too much, how much is just enough? For some parents, zero screen time is the goal, and there are others who wonder why their kids never want to go outside and play. For those of us somewhere in-between who have concerns about the long-term effects of screen time, there are ways to put devices on a timer, and only allow usage during certain times of day, so little Johnny doesn’t’ wake up to play Roblox at 3am on a Tuesday.
Some technologies are provided by your cell phone manufacturer – both Apple and Android devices now have screen monitoring features to help keep track of how often you pick up your phone, what apps you use most, and even limit your usage. Unfortunately, that only counts for the mobie devices themselves; what if your kids use a PC as well?
In our home, we use an app called Qustodio. At the time I did my research it was the only cross-platform parental control app that worked both inside and outside of your home. The app can be controlled by a parental login on your own phone in case you need to quickly leverage screen time to punish or reward behavior. Not only does this app give us control over screen time, it also gives seemingly ubiquitous visibility into what our child is doing on her PC, phone, or if she uses our tablet. I’m not advocating this approach as a substitute for keeping a watchful eye, but it does help immensely.
Another method is to put a firewall on your home network which locks down network traffic and access by proxying all traffic. There are plenty of family centric versions out there like Disney Circle, but the downside is they generally work on your home network, and not when your child is traveling.
Again, none of this is a substitute for being involved in what your kids do online. Sometimes just having an interest in what games your kids like to play, and sometimes playing with them will open doors to getting a feel for what’s OK for them to take part in, and what’s really not. At the end of the day, your best defense is you. Take time to educate your kids on why chat rooms are dangerous, what to look out for, and what personal information to never share, no matter what. I’ve yet to see a technology that can stop everything, so as Dad’s its our job to keep our kids safe, no matter what it takes.