Monday, April 27, 2015

Curbi: Great Option for Filtering and Monitoring an iPhone/iPad/iPod

Please note, as of February 28, 2019, Curbi is no longer available.

Please see Apple Screen Time a Huge Win for Everyone, Including Parents! for a great solution to use instead.

Curbi is a great option for parents to filter and monitor their child's iPhone/iPad/Droid and provides valuable data to spark conversations around the use of technology.

Earlier this year I posted about options for cell phone filtering for parents, and how there aren’t any working options I’m aware of through cellular providers on 4G LTE Networks (Quick & Easy Cell Phone Web Filtering for Kids (*and limitations). That hasn't changed. I continue to get no response from Verizon (see photo to the right of their response from a Twitter exchange). Unfortunately my petition requesting that cellular carriers resume offering this feature closed. Another question that I haven't found an answer to yet is why they stopped?

So I've been trying a number of tools out besides just using iOS Restrictions. Restrictions work and are free, but you have no choice over the level of web content filtering, so it may be too restrictive for a middle or high school student's iPhone or iPad compared to an elementary student's device.  Other apps like Mobicip and NetNanny only filter web content through that specific app but not other apps on the phone/device.

For the past few months I've been using Curbi on my children's iOS devices and found it works quite well. It costs $7/month. It uses the same type of technology to manage a device that a school uses to manage thousands of devices by having you install two profiles on the phone/device. It not only filters web content through any app on the device like iOS Restrictions, it gives you many more features. Curbi lets you choose a filtering level (elementary, middle, or high school student) and choose what preset categories to block (see photo below).
You can set up rules as to when the Internet connection gets turned off, such as bedtime or at study times, plus toggle the Internet connection on and off at will whenever necessary. Through Curbi you can turn an off iOS apps like the camera, FaceTime, and more. You can also see a list of what apps have been installed on each device as well as how much time was spent using each app daily and weekly. There is a parent Curbi app which allows you to monitor and change these setting from your own device. You can log in to a web browser to do this as well. Each week you will receive a report of each child's usage as pictured below, which makes for a great conversation starter.  

Some things to note about Curbi: 

  • Usage times will be inflated because apps run for 10 minutes in the background after use or even after a device has been turned off. 
  • There will be time totals for apps listed you and your child haven't installed/heard of which are just advertisers within other apps.  
  • Curbi can't turn off/monitor iMessage or Facetime or track time spent using these tools. These can only be turned off through iOS Restrictions.
  • Turning off the Internet traffic on a device doesn't stop video games that don't need an Internet connection to work, such as Angry Birds.
  • Your child could delete the profiles which need to be installed on her/his phone for Curbi to manage the device.  Doing so removes the filter and monitoring, but you also receive an alert to notify you that this has happened.  Again, this is a great opportunity for a conversation about why to have a filter in the first place.
Overall, Curbi is an excellent way to prevent inappropriate content from reaching your child's screen as well as helping to keep tabs on tech use.  I have contacted Curbi's developers many times with questions and suggestions and found them to be very responsive and receptive.  

Here are more tips and resources to help with parenting high tech kids.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Technology & Relationships

This month the pastors at my church, Westwood Community Church, are focusing the messages on technology based on a book titled “The Digital Invasion: How Technology is Shaping You and Your Relationships” by Dr. Archibald Hart and Dr. Sylvia Hart. Yesterday I was interviewed by Pastor Joel Johnson during the message at each service. We discussed digital footprints, filters, fragmented focus, solitude, digital yawns, parenting high tech kids, and more. I explained how last fall, because my five year old daughter pointed out how much time I spend on my phone, I made changes to limit my own screen time and distraction and shared my tips for dealing with this. The video of this interview is about 15 minutes long.   

You can start the video from the beginning if you'd like to here the entire message from Joel about how technology affects our relationships. He has some great insight about the importance of solitude with a great Henri Nouwen quote and an outline of the five benefits of solitude. Joel also gives a great overview of Sherry Turkle's TED Talk: Connected, but Alone?  If you haven't watched it, do!

Cyber Safety: Catching Up With High Tech Kids On Thursday, April 30, from 7–8:30pm, I have a parent ed class scheduled at Westwood.  If you are in the area and able to attend, please register online (it's free). Invite others, too.

Tablets, Smartphones, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Minecraft... Technology is a big part of our kids’ world! Keeping up can be challenging, but a positive and well informed approach can have a big impact on your child’s future and habits. Learn how to help your kids develop a balanced and healthy use of technology. Get tips and ideas for maintaining open dialog about technology and understand the significant role you play in helping your child be responsible and safe in today’s high-tech world. Numerous ideas and free resources will be shared.  

Past related posts:

Monday, April 13, 2015

My First Apple Watch: Solution to Distraction?

Image Source
I read with interest the recent Wired article by David Pierce entitled, iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple Watch, specifically that 
"the Watch’s raison d’ĂȘtre... came down to this: Your phone is ruining your life. Like the rest of us, Ive, Lynch, Dye, and everyone at Apple are subject to the tyranny of the buzz—the constant checking, the long list of nagging notifications. “We’re so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now,” Lynch says. “People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much.” They’ve glared down their noses at those who bury themselves in their phones at the dinner table and then absentmindedly thrust hands into their own pockets at every ding or buzz. “People want that level of engagement,” Lynch says. “But how do we provide it in a way that’s a little more human, a little more in the moment when you’re with somebody?”
How intriguing; I never thought I would read that the iPhone engineers wish we weren't spending so much time on our screens and that the phone is "ruining our life."  Imagine stepping back and looking at everyone's interactions with their screens as you go about daily life, and knowing it was something you helped to create!

I personally wish that Lynch wouldn't have stated that Apple wants to continue the same amount of engagement (substitute the less positive word distraction or interruption here) but in a "more human" way. I was hoping that the Apple Watch would become a tool to decrease the distractions and make it easier to be in the moment.  I know what they mean, but I think a larger question is whether the majority of the consumers will adjust their watch settings in order to tailor things so they can better focus on people around them and tasks at hand (pun unintentional), or if the majority of Apple Watch wearers will spend even more time on their screens due to the increased amount of alerts/vibrations that they now almost never miss--"subject to the tyranny of the buzz."  Sometimes with my phone in my pocket or my wife's phone in her purse, we miss alerts, buzzes, and notifications. Wearing an Apple Watch, it would seem those days are gone.

So for individuals like me seeing a need for ways to limit distractions, it would appear that my decisions as to what information is important enough to warrant an interruption/alert/vibration on a watch will be critical to my success.  Failure to carefully weigh in the importance of each of these could result in even further "engagement" with one's screen(s).  Alerts on my wrist to text messages, notifications of posts on social media, Tweets, news flashes, etc., even if they are all just for a few seconds as the Wired article states Apple has designed them to be, do not seem to be ways to regain focus, especially with those around you.  

Back in December I explained that my 2015 New Year's Resolutions were to Cut Back on Digital Distractions.  Specifically I explained that I was going to:
  1. Use the Moment app to track the number of minutes I spend on my phone and how frequently I check it.
  2. Decrease my nocializing/digital yawning.
  3. Turn off app notifications to decrease FOMO and interruptions
Since then, I've done better for sure. I continue to track my time, I am trying to decrease nocializing, and have found increased freedom by turning off notifications. More an each of these will have to be additional posts... So the option to buy an Apple Watch has caused me to reflect as to whether this tool would assist with my New Year's Resolution or hinder it. I'm hopeful it might.  At the end of the Wired article, the author writes:
"Lynch is leaning forward in his chair, telling me about his kids: about how grateful he is to be able to simply glance at his Watch, realize that the latest text message isn’t immediately important, and then go right back to family time; about how that doesn’t feel disruptive to him—or them."
That does sound appealing. Perhaps a short glance is better than turning on a phone screen. I know you could argue to not even have the interruption in the first place. But with today's news headlines that almost 1,000,000 people pre-ordered an Apple Watch on the first-day, there will be a lot of people around us glancing at watches instead of phones, and likely more in the years to come. Watch behavior and etiquette will be an increasing topic of conversation in our culture.

I hope that all of us can learn to adjust our settings so that we don't have to glance at our watches even more than we currently do our phones.  We could all set things on our phone to not interrupt us as frequently as they do now, but few have. Perhaps the next level of technology innovation with algorithms at some sort of artificial intelligence level will be able to decide which things to even interrupt/alert/notify/engage us and filter out needless disruptions, prevent some glances from even being necessary. I hope so. 

I didn't pre-order an Apple Watch.  I don't think I will be getting one soon, either. The price is high and I'm not convinced what I'd be buying would make me a better person. I'm not convinced that my first Apple Watch will be the solution to decreasing the distractions in my life that I am seeking. Time will tell (pun intentional).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Be Where Your Feet Are: Quality #RealTime with Those Around You

Recently I was in a local coffee shop and noticed what appeared to be a father and middle school aged daughter seated with one another before school.  I was struck by the fact that the two of them almost said nothing to one another and instead were both engrossed in their phones.  This went on for at least 20 minutes until they left. I'm sure you have seem something similar. I've been guilty myself.  

Lately I've been making a conscious effort to not be on a screen when I'm with my children and instead pay attention to them. Common Sense Media has a push right now with PSA encouraging parents to Make Room for #realtime, perhaps you've seen it. This takes effort.

I have noticed an increase in the amount of times I'm stopped at a light while driving and there appears to be a parent and child in the car next to me not talking, with the child looking at a cellphone screen.  My wife and I are trying to keep the space and time in the car as opportunities for conversation and limiting the amount of screen time that is taking place. A related article in yesterday's Washington Post shows the importance of quality time, not the quantity of time, we spend with our children: Making time for kids? Study says quality trumps quantity

I also see more and more movies being played in vehicles for kids in the back seat as cars are arriving and departing in school parking lots, grocery stores, or other places that are close enough to home that it's likely was just a short errand, not a long road trip. In our family, we have reserved the screen entertainment in the car for really long road trips.  We hope to increase the opportunities for conversation as well as allow for some down time.  We think that limiting the amount of time kids expect to get entertained will benefit them in the long run.  

I always enjoy receiving a good parenting tip from others who have experience and insight. A colleague of mine, Kelli Whiteside, is an elementary media specialist and parent of three children, some older than mine.  Kelli and I have co-presented on the topic of Parenting Tech Savvy Kids a few times over the past couple of years.  One of the tips I have heard her talk about is a phrase they use frequently in their family to remind one another to pay attention to those around them versus being distracted by a screens/device:

Be where your feet are.

She says this simple phrase is a great reminder to all in her family be engaged with one another in conversation and attention, not just physically share the same space.  I think this is a great reminder for families as well as for everyone. Be where your feet are.  

So, are you where your feet are?  In a coffee shop with others?  In your car with passengers?  As a spectator at your child's events?  At home at the dinner table?  It's an intriguing question, and not just one for parents and children. Are you where your feet are during a meeting?  While at work?

Have a tip to share?  Please do!  

FYI, a link to my collection of other tips and resources can be found at