Managing Your Kids’ Time Online

Yes, you know your kids go online. While you want them to have access to apps, shows and communication tools to help them learn and grow, you still want your kids to be safe and not spend too much time staring at a screen. With more activities and tasks now online, parents often struggle to strike the right balance. Here are some recommended guidelines to managing kids’ time online.

What are the issues?

There are, of course, positives to going online. Beyond looking up facts, kids can be exposed to new ideas, become more engaged in the community and in civil rights and collaborate with classmates for schoolwork.

However, kids who spend too much time online instead of going outside are at risk of obesity. Issues also occur when kids spend time online instead of sleeping. Excessive unmonitored time can also lead to problematic internet use, ranging from inappropriate content to cyberbullying.

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Parental controls can manage children’s time online 

Controls come in two forms: preset controls that are part of the device or platform and separate apps that provide overall monitoring for content. Preset controls can give you more granular control, as they are geared to a specific use, such as social media or streaming. Many preset controls only restrict access and do not provide information about what your child is doing online. A monitoring app gives you information about their activities in order to track their overall usage, allowing you to monitor multiple apps and platforms and prevent excessive amounts of time online.

With a wide range of monitoring apps, it’s key to pick the right one for your specific needs and budget.

  • Bark allows parents to see what their kids are doing online in real time, including text messages and 30 different social media apps; limits children’s time online; and restricts access to specific websites.
  • Screen Time lets you set online hours (and give extra time) on iOS devices. Choose the free version for a budget-friendly solution. With the premium version, parents must approve all downloads and can view web history.
  • Aura lets you filter, block and monitor websites and apps, set screen time limits and pause the internet. You’ll also get alerts to active threats on gaming sites.

Check for controls installed with the device, app or platform. Because parents can only select from the preset controls, be sure to consider control options when purchasing devices. Common controls include setting the type of content and the time limits, including how long and what hours during the day. Preset parental controls are typically available on the following:

  • Devices Computers and cellphones (both iOS and Android) typically allow parents to set time limits. Many Wi-Fi routers also allow parental control to block access at specific times, but it applies to all devices on the network, including adults’ devices. Google devices allow parents to assign different limits to children who may share a device and give bonus time. Some devices allow parents to filter specific websites and set the rating for content, such as G only.
  • Streaming services – Most major platforms, including Netflix, Disney Plus and Prime Video, allow parents to select a maturity rating for each kid to determine what content is available to them. Netflix allows you to exclude specific titles that may fall within a selected maturity rating. YouTube also includes parental controls, but parents must select Restricted Mode both on the browser and the mobile app. Many parents instead can restrict their kids to YouTube Kids, which only allows videos suitable for children.
  • Social media platforms – Facebook has a variety of safety resources and allows parents to require approval before kids can download Facebook apps and view blocked accounts. Snapchat’s Family Center lets parents see their teens’ friends and who they’ve been talking to while keeping conversations private. Parents can also report any concerning activity.
  • Gaming consoles Similar to streaming services, gaming consoles such as Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch allow you to control the total time on the console, the times kids are allowed to play during the day and the content. Some gaming consoles let you restrict downloading new games or making in-game purchases.

Create a family screen time agreement

Controls only go so far in limiting and monitoring kids online. Your child can easily borrow a friend’s phone or tablet to get online and watch the show or play the game that they can’t access at home. Kids are also masters at figuring out how to get around or disable controls.

Many families find that setting up a family agreement helps open the conversation and gets everyone on the same page. Check out Family Online Safety Institute or ConnectSafely for suggested conversations.

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