Tag Archives: parental controls

2019 Family Media Goals

Depending on your child’s school district, your little ones are likely back to school or gearing up to go back, and that means cracking down on screen time now that your family is getting back into its routine.

It also means that there’s no better time to examine your family’s media guidelines and see where you need to tighten – or lighten – up. There are no hard and fast rules and no one-size-fits-all guidelines for media use. Every family is unique and based on lifestyle and personality, what works for you may not work for your neighbor. But, having a few ground rules in place gives you a starting point, and by including your kids in the conversation, you can ensure you’re raising responsible digital citizens who understand the importance of a healthy balance of online and real-world experiences.

Start by being interested in what they’re interested in. Are they as obsessed with Minecraft as my nephew Tristan? Instead of allowing your eyes to glaze over and planning out your next vacation when they start to regale you with their latest achievement, be intentional in listening to what they have to say – they’re telling you because your opinion matters to them. Shared interests spark bigger conversations.  By sharing their online activity with you, they’re inviting you to be part of their world, an opportunity you’d be wise to take advantage of while they’re young. Besides, if they’re venturing on to sites or exploring YouTube territory you’re not happy with, your opinion and reasons for limiting or banning such content will carry weight if you can speak knowledgeably about the topic.

One of the most critical skills we can teach our children as they mature is self-control. Nowhere is this more tested than when it comes to screen time. Every online activity from social media games, apps, and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are specifically designed to keep you engaged. Why do you think they all have an “Up next” pop up as your current video is ending? It’s an endless loop of entertainment, and children simply don’t have the maturity level to be able to say no. Frankly, most adults don’t either, but that’s a story for another day.

To help them get there, use apps like iOS12’s Screen Time or Android Pie’s (available on Pixel devices; rolling out to other users in the coming weeks) Digital Wellbeing to monitor online activity. There are several great apps available for both iOS and Android devices. It’s also a good idea to make sure parental controls are in place, and again, there are several user-friendly options available.

This is also the perfect time to talk about online privacy and safety. If we learned anything from 2018, it’s that our data is at risk. Talk to your kids about being careful what they share online, then go one step further by cleaning up your digital footprint. Not only is your information at risk, many companies skirt the Children’s Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) and actively monitor and collect information on your child’s online activity in order to target them with ads.

Most importantly, lead by example. If you’re already doing a “device-free dinner,” go a step further. We used to play “Best Thing/Worst Thing” with our kids at dinner. It’s as simple as sharing the best part and the worst part of your day. Or, play another simple game like “Two Truths and a Lie” or “Never Have I Ever.” Conversation sans emojis is becoming a lost art. Help your kids stay in the game.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.



Keeping Our Kids Safe on Social Media

By Tracey Dowdy

Let me begin by saying not everything our kids are doing online is dangerous and not all social media platforms are bad.

As parents, trying to keep up with what our kids are up to online may feel like eating soup with a fork. Relax. We don’t need to be active on all the social media sites our kids are using. In fact, if we start using one platform, our kids will likely abandon it. But, being active and being aware are two very different things. We’re raising our kids in a digital age and at The Online Mom we advocate safe and responsible use of all tech devices and social media.

I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, no app, whitelist, blacklist or software can replace open and honest conversation with your kids. Setting boundaries while they’re young, when they are first becoming active online, is the key. If you’re late to the game, don’t panic. Educate yourself about what’s out there, what apps are popular and which of them pose the greatest potential for risky behavior.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of talking to your kids. Ask questions, but be prepared to do some homework. Your children likely won’t be any more forthcoming about what they’re up to than you were with your own parents. Did you give them all the details of the parties you went to? The people you hung out with? The dumb things your friends did? Of course not. The difference today is that instead of hanging out in the basement with friends while we’re upstairs watching TV, our kids are hanging out online, often with total strangers.

The key is awareness. According to a study by McAfee, 70 percent of teens have hidden online activity from their parents by erasing their browser history, deleting messages, photos or videos, or using mobile apps like Calculator%, an app that appears to be a simple calculator but in reality is designed to be a password protected online “safe” where kids can hide photos.

Looking through your child’s phone may seem like an invasion of their privacy and in many ways it is. It’s the modern equivalent of reading their diaries. I’m not advocating spying on your kids – it makes them distrustful of you and gives them more incentive to hide what they’re up to – but as parents we have a responsibility to protect them.

Be open and honest. Experts recommend telling your kids you’ll be monitoring their activity either by looking at their phone or, if necessary, by using an app that reports activity back to you. It’s tough isn’t it? It’s that difficult balancing act between helicopter and free-range parenting.

If you do discover apps, photos, videos or any other content that crosses the line, again, don’t panic. Talk to your child about what you’ve found and why it’s inappropriate. Talk about the consequences. If you freak out and overreact, your kids will just get better at hiding things from you rather than changing their behavior. It’ll also make them less likely to come to you if they feel unsafe about something that’s happened online for fear they’ll get into trouble.

Let me reiterate, not every child is up to no good and social media in and of itself is not harmful. Parenting in a digital age means we have to work a little harder at keeping up with trends in technology in ways our parents didn’t need to. The rest is Parenting 101: you’re my child and it’s my job to keep you safe. That never changes.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Take Charge with FiOS Parental Controls

Summer is a great time for teens and tweens to relax and take a break from those school and study routines. But it also leaves them with a lot of time on their hands – time that can be spent surfing the Internet or watching inappropriate TV.  If you don’t want to spend all your time monitoring your kids viewing habits or checking up on their Internet searches, then you need some parental controls that can give you a little peace of mind.

Now I know what a lot of parents think about parental controls: good in theory but not so good in practice. They are either too complicated for most parents to set up, or it’s just too easy for kids to find a workaround. The end result is that most available parental controls are simply ignored and the battle over screen time and inappropriate content continues much as before.

That was pretty much the case in my house until we switched to FiOS Quantum Internet and FiOS Quantum TV. Now, the FiOS Quantum Gateway router gives me the ability to manage Internet access by time and by device. That means my 13 year-old daughter can’t access the Internet on her tablet after 8 pm at night, while my 16 year-old son can keep going until 9 pm. It also means I can switch off Internet access at any time of the day on any device when I feel that the kids have had too much screen time or are not following the rules.

With FiOS TV parental Controls, I can block specific channels or use the age preferences to block content for a particular age group. I can even block access to certain TV widgets, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Best of all, both Internet access and TV parental controls can be managed remotely from my smartphone or tablet using the My FiOS and FiOS Mobile apps. If my babysitter tells me my daughter won’t stop Skyping with her friends, I can cut her off right from my office 10 miles away! Similarly, if I need to relax those TV restrictions so my kids can catch a PG-13 movie, I can do that remotely as well.

I’m a big believer that digital technology needs to be carefully controlled, otherwise it can end up controlling you. FiOS puts me firmly in charge – and makes those endless summer months a time when we can all relax!

The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional campaigns for Verizon.