Help Tweens Use Their Phones Less With These Tools

From screen limits to break reminders to Do Not Disturb, OS and app settings may help us break unhealthy digital habits and tune into what’s really important.
By Caroline Knorr 
Use Your Phone Less (with Tools from Apple, Google, Snapchat and More)

The internet invasion started slowly. But then it came all at once. Suddenly, we’re checking email at 3 a.m., fighting with our kids to make them shut down their devices, and staring at screens instead of making eye contact. No one asked for this life, but here we are: wasting time online, getting distracted (even when our phones are off!), and playing catch-up on all the latest stuff our kids are doing on SnapchatInstagramYouTube, and who knows what else.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A new wave of so-called “digital wellness” features designed to prevent screen overload is taking hold in some of the most popular tech tools. From operating systems including Apple’s iOS 12 and Google’s upcoming Android Pie update to social media like Snapchat and Instagram, you can see exactly how much time you’re spending online, set limits for yourself and your kids, and reduce distractions and interruptions from notifications.

You have the right to remain skeptical. The idea of tech companies trying to help us stay off their products — after using every trick in the book to keep us hooked — is pretty ironic. And there’s no proof that digital wellness features work — much less help mental health issues associated with technology use, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. But if you’re concerned about your tech use, as well as about your kid’s, they’re certainly worth trying. Whether they help depends a lot on your family’s needs, your kids’ willingness to be on board, and the kinds of conversations you have around self-regulation. Take a look at some of the most popular platforms’ efforts to protect your digital well-being.

iOS 12

Screenshot of iOS screentimeScreen TimeYou can enable Screen Time on your kid’s phone and password-protect the settings so they can’t change them. Or, you can also manage the settings remotely by setting up Family Sharing. We recommend using the features together with your kid. Work on using screens intentionally and mindfully, and help your kid learn to regulate their own use when you’re not around to do it for them. Key features:

  • Usage report. A daily and weekly readout of the time you’re spending on your device. You can see exactly how much attention you and your kids pay to app categories such as social networking versus, say, reading and reference.
  • Downtime. Turns the phone off during a specific period of time — for example, 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.
  • App Limits. Sets daily time limits for app categories such as games and entertainment as well as for individual apps.
  • Always Allowed. Lets you choose which apps (for example, music apps) that never turn off — even during downtime.
  • Content & Privacy Restrictions. Controls what your kids can see (such as mature content) and do (such as download and delete apps). Also puts limits on how much information third parties can access about your kid.

Android Pie (available now on Pixel devices; rolling out to other users)

Screenshot of Android's Digital Wellbeing toolsDigital WellbeingUnlike the Screen Time features in iOS 12, you can’t enable Digital Wellbeing settings on your kid’s phone and password-protect them. Instead, Digital Wellbeing is designed for individual users to customize their devices to their own needs. If you’re an Android family, you can discuss and try various features to make the phone work for you — instead of the other way around. (If you want to have more control over your kid’s Android phone, check out Google’s Family Link parental-control app, which allows remote monitoring.) Key features:

  • Dashboard. Graphs the time you’ve spent in individual apps and lets you set daily time limits for apps that keep you hooked longer than you’d like (for example, 15 minutes tops on Snapchat).
  • Do Not Disturb. Silences your device entirely or allows you to specify which alerts you want to see (or not).
  • Notifications. Personalizes your alerts, so you can snooze them and schedule them at a convenient time.
  • Wind Down. Automatically turns your phone grayscale and enables Do Not Disturb at a time you specify.

YouTube

Screenshot of YouTube's Time Watched featureAccount Settings. One of the most popular platforms for kids and adults, YouTube is easy to get lost in — or it used to be, anyway. Now you can see a full rundown of how much time you and your kids spend scrolling through videos, and if you think you’re overdoing it, you can enable settings to curb your use. You can’t password-protect the settings, though, so they’re mostly helpful for you if you let your kids use your phone or if you help your kid set them so they can regulate their own use. Key features:

  • Time Watched. Available only on the app, these stats show how much time you’ve spent watching videos for the present day, the day before, and the past week. Within this feature, you can also set a reminder to take a break after a certain amount of time and disable autoplay so you won’t get sucked in to watching endless videos.
  • Scheduled digest. Instead of random notifications about the latest video that distracts you at all hours, you can get all your alerts bundled together at one time.
  • Disable sounds & vibrations. If you can’t see or hear your alerts, you’ll stay blissfully engaged in important stuff (such as talking with your kids) until you check your phone.
  • Restricted Mode. Though it’s been around for a while, Restricted Mode can be a helpful additional setting to give you some peace of mind. It limits mature content from showing up in your kid’s feed (it’s not perfect, though).

Instagram (available soon)

Screenshot of Instagram's Digital Wellbeing toolsDigital WellbeingRunning neck and neck with Snapchat as the most popular social media app among teens, Instagram is a key social lifeline. Its parent company (Facebook) has made an effort to help users manage their time and reduce exposure to cyberbullying by adding settings such as Comment Controls, which allow you to micromanage your friends’ replies, and All Caught Up, which lets you know you’ve seen every post since the last time you scrolled through your feed. Digital Wellbeing, which will roll out soon, will add even more functionality. You can check back for updates after the new version is released. Key features:

  • Activity Dashboard. Displays a daily average of the time you’ve spent on the app for the week.
  • Daily Reminder. Allows you to set a time limit and receive a notification when you’ve hit your limit.
  • Mute Push Notifications. Silences push notifications (you can also turn them off entirely in the app’s settings or on your phone’s settings).

Snapchat

Screenshot of Snapchat's Do Not Disturb featureDo Not DisturbThe pioneer of the disappearing message, Snapchat is now a full-fledged portal to friends, videos from around the world, current events, and much more. Needless to say, it can take up a lot of time. But you can cut down on the noise — a little bit. Key features:

  • Do Not Disturb. Instead of disabling the phone or the app altogether, Snapchat lets you mute notifications from individual people. If you have a chronic oversharer on your friends list, you don’t have to block or remove them. Just “shush” them for a while and you won’t be alerted to their posts.
  • Mute story. Muting a story pushes the friend down your contacts list, effectively making their posts the last in line.

TikTok – Real Short Videos

Screenshot of TikTok's Digital Wellbeing featureDigital WellbeingTikTok serves up endlessly scrollable 15-second videos from people all over the world. Averaging 13 million video uploads per day, the app could certainly eat up a lot of your kid’s time. You can password-protect the Digital Wellbeing features on your kid’s phone so they can’t change them. Key features:

  • Screen Time Management. Sets a two-hour daily viewing time limit. (The time limit isn’t customizable.)
  • Restricted Mode. Filters out videos that may not be age-appropriate.

Facebook (currently in development)

Screenshot of Your Time on Facebook featureYour Time on Facebook. Though research shows teens prefer Snapchat and Instagram to Facebook, you’re probably on it more than you would like. The company is rumored to be creating some options to help you keep track of the time you spend on the platform, which in theory should help you cut down. You can check back for updates after the new version is released. Key features:

  • Time on Facebook. Displays a daily average of the time you’ve spent on the app for the week.
  • Manage Your Time. Allows you to set a time limit and receive a notification when you’ve hit your limit.
  • Mute Push Notifications. Silences push notifications (you can also turn them off entirely in the app’s settings or on your phone’s settings) or choose which alerts you want to get.

What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

There are no silly questions when it comes to the technology your kid will be learning on. By Caroline Knorr 
What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

Good news, folks: You can cross off pencils and paper from your back-to-school shopping list. School-issued laptops and tablets are steadily replacing workbooks and practice packets. Yes, it’s exciting: a shiny new device kids get all to themselves; software that adapts to their level; and a much-reduced chance of mysteriously missing homework. But you may have mixed feelings — and lots of questions — about managing the device in your home (which probably already has a bunch of screens).

Schools handing out devices will almost certainly send home an information package with rules (called an acceptable use policy, or AUP) for the device’s use, including what the device can be used for and the consequences for misuse. But it’s up to you to figure out how this new device is used at home. Teachers and even other parents can help you work out any challenges you may face. Here are some common questions parents have when kids bring a device home from school.

What will the school device be used for?
Schools have a number of online learning options. Those that implement a 1-to-1 program(meaning every student receives their own device) should have a well-thought-through plan for how these devices will be used in the classroom and for homework. They may assign a few apps or implement an entire curriculum. Depending on whether your school chooses a little or a lot of technology, your kid may be using the device only for lessons and practice work or following specifically sequenced modules for, say, an entire language arts or math class. Some schools simply use the devices to interact on a shared platform, such as Google Classroom (which you can read more about on our educator’s site), for group collaboration, and writing and turning in papers.

If you don’t understand what the devices are being used for in school or at home, make sure to bring these questions to back-to-school night or contact the teachers or administrators individually. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, bring your questions to the PTA or the wider community.

How much time should my kid be spending on the device for homework?
Are students expected to do all their homework on the device, do only some of their homework, or use only a few apps? The answer will give you a good idea of how much time your kid should be devoting to online and offline work. Just as in pre-device days, teachers generally use grade level as a guide for how much homework to assign. If you think your kid is spending too much time on the device for homework, check in with the teacher to better understand his or her expectations.

One of the advantages of online work is that it can track how a student is doing. Some apps time kid’s sessions, which gives teachers feedback on an individual student’s proficiency — even on individual problems. If you have that data, you can get a gauge of whether your kid is on track, stuck on something, or possibly dillydallying. If your kid is consistently taking more time than the teacher recommends, keep an eye on their progress to determine if it’s the homework itself or if they’re watching YouTube videos, playing Fortnite, or chatting in another browser window.

How much time will my kid be spending on the device at school?
When school-issued devices become a part of your kid’s life, it can add up to a lot of screen time. How teachers use the devices at school can be fairly individual. Find out if the teacher plans to have students using devices a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. If the 1-to-1 program is a school-wide initiative, students may use them more. If the devices are unique to your kid’s class or grade, they may be used for a more specific purpose. Some teachers use technology to supplement other work — so just a portion of a class is device-based. Some teachers take advantage of technology’s data processing and only use it for quizzes and tests. Knowing approximately how much time — and for what purpose — your kid is using a device during the day can help you better manage their overall screen time and make sure it’s balanced with physical activity, face-to-face conversations, and fresh air.

What apps is my kid using — and why?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what apps are on the device, how they were selected, and what the learning purpose is. There’s a huge range of educational appswebsites, and games available, and teachers may use a variety of ways to find the ones that will really benefit kids’ learning. Some teachers have a lot of latitude in choosing software. Some teachers must use a particular platform. Some teachers attend trainings to learn about new software or even how to implement programs in the classroom. Teachers also share tips and ideas about educational apps with each other online. During a discussion of the apps kids will be using is a good time to ask the teacher about his or her own philosophy about technology in learning.

Are there parental controls or filters on the laptop — or can I install them?
When kids use the school’s Wi-Fi during the school day, the network is filtered, meaning they can’t access inappropriate content such as pornography, information about illicit substances, and even games. But when they come home, unless you have filters on your home network, the gates to the internet are open. You probably won’t be able to download parental controls (or any other software) onto the device (administrators typically disable that capability).

Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there’s a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network. Before your kid begins using the school-issued device, you should review the school’s rules (often you both will need to sign a form saying you did this) and make sure your kid understands your expectations around safety, privacy, and responsible online behavior. Also, be aware that filters sometimes catch too much, preventing your kid from visiting legitimate research sites, and kids can also sometimes figure out ways to get around the filters.

Does the device track student data — at home?
You may have heard about schools keeping tabs on students at home, but that’s extremely rare. No one should be spying on your kid through the device. However, educational apps do track user data to tailor the learning experience to the individual user; anything more than that indicates a poor privacy policy. And teachers may have a dashboard that uses data to report how a student is performing. Also, aside from the apps your kid uses, the teacher may use social media to post photos and other class updates. If so, find out how student privacy will be protected. In all cases, any information that’s collected should be for educational purposes, and companies should not be able to use or make money from student data. (See our student privacy resources for teachers.)

Ask for information on the school’s student privacy policy, including whether they vet the privacy policies of the apps they assign to make sure they’re not over-collecting data. (Learn more about Common Sense’s student privacy initiative.)

Can my kid download anything on the device?
An administrator usually disables download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the learning tools. However, your kid may still be able to play games, chat, and use social media on the device’s web browser, since those services don’t require a download. The device is the school’s property, and anything you put on it — including photos — may violate the AUP, so check the rules. And if your kid has their own device at home, you may want to reserve the school device only for homework.

My kid never gets off his device, and when I ask him to, he says he’s doing homework. What can I do?
No matter what comes home from the school, your house equals your rules. That means you can still establish screen-free times and zones like dinnertime and the bedroom. You can make rules about when devices get shut down at night and where they’re charged (outside of kids’ bedrooms!). And if you think your kid is doing more than homework on his device, you can discuss the downsides of multitasking and your expectations around what the school device is being used for. If you’re still struggling, bring your concerns to the school — you can talk to individual teachers, administrators, or other parents to find solutions.

4 Ways to Prevent Your Kid From Becoming A Tech Addict

The Huffington Post

Posted:
KID TEXTING

A few months ago, I was leading my therapy group for struggling college students; young people who feel socially isolated and alone. Some have dropped out of school, some white knuckled their way through only to graduate and half-heartedly look for work while living with their over-accommodating parents.

While struggling to help them relate to each other, one young man became enraged at me.

“You don’t understand! You just don’t get it! This ’emotional education’ thing that you keep talking about, I never learned to do that. My computer was my babysitter, my friend, my playmate – I don’t know how to relate. I never learned how.”

It was a moment of heartbreaking clarity. Technology without supervision is not healthy for any young person. When staring into a glowing screen replaces meaningful communication in a child’s life, he or she will suffer mightily with intimacy in the future.

Welcome to “Generation Screen”

Can you believe that there was a time when people didn’t spend hours of their day staring into glowing screens? Phones never left the house, television put itself to sleep at night, and computers were just fancy typewriters. Technology didn’t come with you to the playground, school or on a family vacation.

Sure, this talk makes me sound like a geezer, but everywhere you look, children are staring into cell phones screens, computer screens, tablets, ipads, etc. Probably by the time you finish reading this article, someone will have invented a new glowing screen for children to stare into.
The real question is this: has technology improved our kids attunement and empathy with others or is it adding to their self-absorption and isolation?

Tuned-in and Out of Touch

Never before in history have kids had instant access to so much information. With endless data at their fingertips, kids can breeze through entire libraries with their thumbs, and even view earth from space. A tap or a click can deliver facts and statistics that would have taken hours to find in a library or books.

While technology has expanded our knowledge of the world, advanced education and provided for medical breakthroughs, it is quickly becoming a number one source of conflict between parents and their children at home.

Technology and Temperament

Some kids don’t fuss over technology. These kids tend to lead full lives filled with hobbies and numerous activities such as school clubs, social events, sports teams, band or music practice. To them, technology is just another pastime.

For other kids, technology devours their lives. They can’t put down or turn it off. These kids tend to be more isolated and anxious, have poor people skills, difficulty maintaining friendships or an unstable sense of self. For them, technology is just another way to avoid a frustrating world; a world that they have difficulty handling. By placing a glowing screen in front of their face, they can shut out contact and communication. Sadly, the more connected they feel to technology, the less connected they feel to the people around them.

For example, the best summer camps don’t allow any technology. That’s because they know that the more connected kids are to technology, the less connected they will be to each other.

If technology becomes your kid’s primary activity, if your kid spends hours a day gaming or surfing the net instead of hanging out with friends or participating in school activities, be warned: you may have a budding tech addict in your home.

Tech Addiction

Many kids who visit my office spend unlimited hours each day tied to some form of technology, such as a cell phone, a tablet, or portable gaming device. They can’t travel without it or put it down without a fight. In this way, technology starts to look a lot like addiction.

Like any addiction, as dependency increases, personal functioning decreases. Kids become more impulsive, moody, and less empathic. As their hunger for more tech time grows, clashes with parents increase.

Tech addicted kids are more likely to suffer:
• Social isolation
• Poor social skills
• Unstable moods
• Impulse problems
• Sleep disorders
• Low self-esteem

The biggest problem with technology is simple: it doesn’t turn itself off. Setting limits on unhealthy behaviors is a crucial part of good parenting. Taking the role of “guardian of technology” may make you unpopular with your kid, but it is key to preventing tech addiction tendencies.

Tech Rules

Here are some basic recommendations for parents who have a child obsessed with technology. Of course, every kid is different; what works for one child, may be a disaster for another. Consider this list a jumping off point for discussion. But be warned, the more dependent your kid becomes on technology, the more difficult it will be to wean him or her off it.

1. Tech Blackouts
Set aside specific times at home when no one (parents included) uses technology. Cell phones, computers, ipads…everything is off. If you want your kid to be less tech addicted, you must lead the way. Tech-free time can be spent reading, talking, playing games, cooking, making art…anything creative or social will do.

2. Tech Hours
Kids resist structure — but fall apart without it. Technology needs limits. For instance, I often recommend that families establish tech hours; time for homework, gaming or surfing the Internet. Scheduling tech time will help to limit battles by setting clear guidelines. For instance, when it comes to gaming, many parents may allow thirty minutes a day during the school week and two hours a day on the weekends.

3. Tech Spaces
When possible, keep all technology in a common space like the living room — not in a child’s bedroom. Establish communal places for tech time; try to avoid allowing your kid to disappear for hours behind a closed door.

4. Tech Limits
There are plenty of on-line services that can filter out inappropriate or violent material. These services can also limit Internet access by scheduling times that Internet is available and times when it is not. One example of such a service is Net Nanny.

Stop Tech Addiction Before it Starts

The bottom line: parents must control technology or risk technology controlling their kids. Even starting a dialogue with your kid about the effects of over-dependence on technology is a step in the right direction. Find the right balance for technology use in your home and eliminate tech addiction in your kid’s future.