Monday, June 3, 2019

Google's Family Link Parental Controls: Improving But Still Limited

Last fall when Apple released Screen Time, Google had a similar service called Family Link but it only worked on Google Pixel phones. Now it is available for a wide variety of Android devices. Parents of children with Android phones and other devices like personal tablets and personal Chromebooks can now set up Family Link to help guide their child's use of technology, monitor time spent in apps, set limits and more. I don't have an Android device so I can't write about my own experience with it. Go directly to Google's site to learn more and obtain directions. I found this article helpful. 

Some things to note: it only seems to work for users under age 13--after that kids can opt out of parental supervision. That may be problematic for some families. It also appears that your child needs a new Google account to set this up- it won't work with  an existing Google account or school/parent's work Google account. It also only allows YouTube Kids, which older users will likely find too limiting. Perhaps kids could still use a web browser to get to YouTube. These limitations make me hesitant to see this as a great solution for many families- it's a good start, but still limited and doesn't provide parents with the full functionality they need compared to Apple's Screen Time.

Recently Google expanded their Digital Wellbeing resource website. It has helpful tips nicely laid out about how to use technology in a healthy and balanced way. They include tips like limiting notifications, setting daily limits for apps and screen time, tips to unplug and more. They added some video interviews of people reflecting upon their use of tech. All of this is a great step in the right direction to help us use our technology. They state on their commitment page: "Great technology should improve life, not distract from it." I hope Google continues to improve their work in this are to make their services even more healthy, give parents more options, and improve the wellbeing of people using their products. 

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Top 10 Parenting Tips For a Tech Healthy Summer with Kids 2019

As one of my most viewed posts I'm updating this for the start of Summer 2019:

Summer vacation is a great time to help our children (and ourselves) practice a healthy balance with our use of technology. Take advantage of relaxed schedules and more downtime to reflect upon the role of technology in our lives. It is an opportune time to practice control and moderation and form healthy habits for the future. Below are 10 tips to make this happen:
  1. Be proactive. Begin talking to your kids now at the start of the summer about your expectations, hopes, and your own struggles with technology. Listen to theirs as well, and form an agreement about what is OK, too much, etc. Check out these parent-child media agreements from Common Sense Media as a starting point. Print and add your own rules on the back and discuss consequences, too. A smartphone, video games, and social media accounts are a privilege, not a right. If necessary, you can turn off internet access and most apps including YouTube by using Restrictions for a while, but still let your child have a phone for contacting you when needed. On an Android, turn on Google's Family Link.
  2. Limit access to adult content. Summer often means less parental supervision. Turn on free Restrictions in the settings on an iPhone to reduce the availability of porn sites, inappropriate content, and age 17+ apps. On an Android, turn on Google's Family Link. Do the same for your home wifi, too, using a free tool like Open DNS. You can't cut off all access to bad content, but certainly can make it less likely to be seen. Talk openly about why you're doing this, too, explaining why it's important to avoid pornography and other inappropriate content.
  3. Say no to violent video games, or if you don’t feel you can do that, at least limit the time spent playing them. Just because some of your child’s friends are playing Fortnite or Overwatch doesn’t make it OK to do so. There are plenty of video games that don’t require killing characters to win. Play video games with your child to understand the story they are role-playing and talk through how you and your child feel both when playing and not. Common Sense Media has great questions for parent-child discussion about most movies, apps, and video games. 
  4. Take advantage of tools to help you monitor the time spent on devices. On an Apple iPhone and/or iPad, set up Screen Time. On an Android, check out Google's Family Link. Set goals for reducing times if necessary. These tools let you set time limits and create automated rules, remotely turn on/off apps and internet access on your child's phone and see how time is being spent. Set a weekly calendar appointment to review this data with your child. Talk through your own struggles and tech dependency or brainstorm ways to overcome problems.
  5. Summer doesn't have to be tech free.  Entertainment on a screen in moderation isn't bad--just don't let it be a huge part of your day. Decide what an appropriate amount is for you and your child and try to stick to these guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two hours of entertainment screen time per day for kids over age two.
  6. Help your child create a positive digital presence. Talk about how your kids represent themselves online and how it will affect their future. Discuss what is OK to share through Snapchats, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, etc. Nothing is temporary with technology, and anything can easily be stored, re-shared, or captured through screen shots. Help your kids T.H.I.N.K. before they post and digitize things Grandma would be comfortable viewing.
  7. Get off the grid occasionally; boredom is OK. Help your child learn it's not necessary to always be entertained, watch something, play video games, surf the internet, or check social media to see what others are doing—joy can even be found when missing out. Model this as a parent when you have downtime, too! Get creative and find ways to occupy your time without technology. Encourage physical activity, going outdoors, reading a book, and playing a board game. Do something with your child and don't post about it on social media. Show children that the time you spend with them is important, doesn't have to be shared with anyone else, and doesn't require likes and comments from others for validation or affirmation. Keep devices out of kids' bedrooms overnight, too.
  8. Practice being present. Limit distractions when technology is present (three ways to do this) and be where your feet are. Establish tech-free zones like the dinner table, car rides, and on family outings. Friends are especially important to teens, so talk through and agree to boundaries and expectations for vacations, such as allowing an hour of social media/gaming each evening to maintain those connections yet prevent constant distraction and interruption, texting and Snapchatting during the day.
  9. Learn how some technology has been purposely designed to be addictive. Watch a TED Talk by Tristan Harris about How Better Tech Could Protect Us from Distraction, learning how notifications and likes feed our brains with a shot of dopamine and how automated recommendation engines purposely deliver controversial content to hook us more. Discuss the trap of using your phone as a pocket slot machine and check out the Center for Human Technology's efforts to Prevent Human Downgrading, including a great 45-minute video.
  10. Trust your kids and gradually give them more freedom as they show responsibility. Check in with them and discuss how they are using technology and social media. When your kids make mistakes, use them as teachable moments rather than having harsh consequences. Don't snoop or spy unless your child is really struggling, having behavior problems or mental health issues--and if they are, don't go it alone--seek professional counseling.
Now take action. You made it through reading all 10 tips (great job!) but don’t stop! Talk with other adults about helping kids have a healthy balance with technology. Compare notes with other parents and share successes and struggles. Even though your child may tell you that everyone has an iPhone, Snapchat, and uses Instagram by fourth grade, the reality is that's not the case. Many parents don't give kids smartphones in elementary school and hold off on allowing social media until middle school or later. Subscribe to Common Sense Media's parent newsletter and check out the parent webinars on the District Digital Health & Wellness Page. Remember, you are the parent and can set the rules. Research shows that the most stable adults had parents who set limits and said "no" to some things when they were kids.

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