I’ve had a few people ask me how we protect our kids online and other limitations we have around screen time. We believe it’s important for them socially as well as developmentally to protect them from certain things online and teach them good screen time habits.
Here’s a look at what we’re currently doing for them.
What We Use To Limit Their Phone and Computer Searches
A few years ago, we tried Circle by Disney, but we ran into some compatibility issues and decided to try a different route. Overall it was very helpful and something that we recommend that parents use. Like anything, there are some workarounds with it, but it does put up walls.
We have always been Android users, so we switched to Google Family Link. It allows us to manage our kids’ phones and chromebooks. On phones, we can:
- Block access to any app (it won’t even appear on their phone).
- Set time limits per day globally and per app.
- Set schedules (their phones are basically bricked after 9pm).
- We can also set up safe search, but we actually just block Google, Chrome, and YouTube.
Apple has an equivalent of this for idevices, but we’re not as familiar with them so we can’t speak to them.
We Blacklist Everything And Whitelist As We Go
On a broader scale, our approach is one of whitelisting rather than blacklisting. By that, we mean that we block everything and decide what to let in, rather than trying to let in everything and filter it. So, on their chromebooks they can only access sites we specifically allow. They can request access to a new site and it pings our phone so we can decide whether to allow it. YouTube is pretty much banned unless we’re around, so mostly they watch it on TV, not on their own.
How We Monitor Their Phones
On their phones, they can make calls and text, with the understanding that we randomly spot-check their conversations. They can listen to podcasts & music, and we randomly check those, too. They have access to the Google News app and we spend a LOT of time discussing what they’re reading and how to vet info and interpret it.
We allow the occasional game app or self-help-oriented app, but any time a new app gets installed we get an alert.
Screen Time Limits
Even broader, we also limit screen time in general. They are allowed 20 minutes of video games a day and some TV at night, mostly as a family. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, they can watch a few shows. Although, they’ve been pretty lax about how long they watch TV and we have to stay on top of them to shut it off.
When We Tell Them to Put Their Phones Away
It’s not uncommon for us to tell them to put their phones away when we are out and about. If we’re shopping and they are on their phone, we tell them to put it up. Unless they have a friend or someone trying to get in touch with them for a specific reason, we don’t feel they should be disconnecting from their environment when we are out running errands.
Yes, those things can be boring to a child, but we parent with the future in mind. To us, it’s more important that we teach them how to go shopping for food and clothes than to let them stay at home or check out on their devices.
Also, we tell the kids to put away their phones in social situations. Obviously, no phone at dinner. And we expect them to put their phones up when they are listening in church or at school.
No Social Media is Allowed At This Time
At this time, we have not allowed our kids to have social media accounts. There’s no way for us to monitor their social media to the degree that we think is necessary to keep them safe. Seeing as how we grew up before there were social media, we think that they’ll be fine to wait until they are 16-18 to get on social media.
This doesn’t mean we never scroll Instagram with them or show them things on our Facebook accounts. You’ll often find me sitting on the couch with the kids piled around me looking at hedgehogs. If we see a meme or something funny that we think they’ll appreciate, we share it. But we’d rather limit what they are exposed to as much as possible.
All Devices Are Put Away After 9 pm
The kids’ phones are set to go on do-not-disturb from 9 pm to 6 am in the morning. I’ve been amazed at the number of times my kids received texts at midnight or later. It’s important to me that I teach them boundaries with their devices so they can disconnect and relax at night.
In addition to the phones having a bedtime, their other devices will end up in my room if I think they are abusing them. This goes for their Nintendo Switch, Chromebooks, and school-issued iPads.
The Age We Give Our Kids a Phone
Our kids have to wait until they are 12 years old to get a phone. While I would have preferred to give them a phone later than that, I went with that age, because they are expected by our culture to have phones at that point. Because of that, parents don’t tend to check in with me on the older kids. They just assume they have a phone and are keeping me up to date.
We Talk To Them About Online Safety
You can’t just put a bunch of things in place and expect it to be enough. That doesn’t mean you should put things in place, but you can’t rely on it solely. It’s important to talk with your kids at every stage of the game about online safety. Even if they don’t have a phone or computer, their friends likely do.
We talk to our kids about being aware of potential scams, bad websites, what they can and can’t trust, and more. Also, we talk to them about making sure that they make other people a priority and not use their phones as a way to hide out from relationships.
This is our approach to phones and screen time in general. Whether you put the same kind of boundaries in place that we have, you should at least put something in place.