Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the use of digital technology with children aged 0-12 years, particularly with the introduction of the touch screen, icon-driven whiteboards and the increased popularity of computer games and consoles ( X-Box, PlayStation, etc.).
Children ages 5-12 use digital technology to satisfy a variety of needs and interests, including using the Internet to obtain information, access and complete homework, research for educational purposes, participate in informal learning opportunities, social activities, leisure and recreation (eg watch YouTube videos and play online games).
Parents should be aware that with increased exposure to digital technologies come risks. Digital technology is effectively integrated in 5-12 year olds only when used safely and appropriately. When using digital technology to support or supplement our programs, parents are aware of the consequences that come from prolonged use of technological tools. Lower levels are associated with reduced health risks.
In this article you will find the importance of constant monitoring by parents of their children while they are using technological devices. You will also find the best ways to prevent misuse or long-term use of technological equipment.
Table of contents
- Best Parental Control Apps
Monitoring the use of technological devices by children is a challenge in itself that parents have in growing up as healthy as possible.
The importance of monitoring will be understood below:
When to try and control the technology usage of children?
Look out for these signs on your children. If your children start to show these symptoms, you start restricting the usage of technology for them.
- When kids complain that they are unhappy and easily get bored when they cannot use technology.
- When your child starts throwing tantrums and starts resisting harshly whenever you start setting screen time limits on your devices.
- When you begin to see that your kids are spending too much time with screens so that it starts interfering with their sleep, school work, and physical conversations with other individuals.
- When you start realizing that kids are showing strange or unusual behavior. (E.g., an extroverted and easygoing kid suddenly starts becoming introverted)
Once you know when to control your kids’ technology use, then you can follow these proven strategies to control their technology use and keep them safe.
Why should parents monitor their children’s internet usage?
Modern technology has brought with it great advances and unforeseen challenges. Among the most demanding of these challenges is the need to ensure that our children know how to use the Internet in a healthy and productive way. The question of whether parents should monitor their children’s Internet use is central to this process.
Parents should monitor their child’s Internet use because the Internet is filled with unfiltered potential for children to be exposed to harmful interactions with inappropriate content. There is a real potential that a child online can become involved in relationships with people pretending to be someone online who they are not in real life.
Parents must be firm in their commitment to support their children as they learn how to interact online in an age-appropriate manner. Monitoring your child’s internet usage will be a long and tedious process. You have to stay committed in those moments when it seems like it would be easier to give up the reigns.
Steps for monitoring children’s use of technology
Have enough knowledge about technology
Most parents today don’t understand much about new technology than their children do. Children today have access to an unlimited amount of information on technology from the Internet. They can use that information to stay up to date on the latest technology trends.
As a parent, you need to learn how technology works. You don’t need to learn it comprehensively; however, a general understanding is necessary. Also, technology changes rapidly. What you learn now may not be useful very soon.
So, you need to make sure that you are constantly updated with the latest technological developments so that you don’t fall behind and let your child fool you and frustrate your observations.
Put your home computers and digital devices in a public setting
Children should not be given private access to the internet. If children are left unmonitored in their use of technology, then there is a high risk of being exposed to its bad effects. Some of them include cyberbullying, pornography, videos related to racism or violence, etc.
As such, your house computer should be in a place where you, as a parent, can walk by and see what’s going on. Make sure your children understand a simple concept “Privacy while using electronic gadgets is a privilege and not a right.”
As for smartphones and similar gadgets, you can ask your child to use them only in the presence of adults. You should not let your kid run off somewhere quiet with smartphones where you cannot monitor what they are doing.
However, as your child grows up, you can release your authority little by little and give them more autonomy in using various digital gadgets.
Establish accountability with your children and be a role model
Establishing accountability means holding kids responsible for their actions. Children need to know that they are being watched. This prevents them from overusing technology and inappropriate content on the internet and helps you understand their behavior online.
Check up on your kids often. You can look at their browsing history. If you find them erasing their history, then something must be wrong. So, take action immediately. Your kid needs to understand that accountability is needed when using technology.
You also need to be a role model to your children as your kids will follow you and your activities. If you start getting addicted to your PCs and Smartphones, then it is only natural that your child copies you in doing so.
Internet filters such as OpenDNS act as a safeguard and prevent access to inappropriate or offensive content. You can choose the degree of filtering based on the age of your child. However, you should also make sure that your child does not bypass these filters with a technical solution.
If Internet filters are not available, you can use a firewall or other similar protection tools to restrict access to your home Internet network. If you discover that your child is trying to bypass any of the firewalls or other restrictions, or you are aware of any threats coming from outside your network, take action immediately.
Use Parental controls
Parental controls are a way for parents to monitor and control their child’s screen activity. These tools help parents track their kid’s online activity, set up screen time limits, perform location tracking and alerts, filter out inappropriate content from the internet, etc.
To monitor your child’s online activities, you should use parental controls like Fenced.ai, NetNanny, Qustodio, etc. These parental control apps make your job of parenting in this digital age much easier.
Set family rules for computers and smartphones
Setting up family rules needs to be done while keeping the maturity level of your child in mind. Children below 5 years should not be on TV, computers, or smartphones because they are not mature and are not responsible enough to handle it.
As a parent, you should set up some ground rules for your family about using technology and a system to implement these rules. You can implement rules such as no smartphones during supper or other family activities. This will also assist you in protecting your family from any scams.
You can also make some rules based on who uses technology most in the house. The one that uses tech most (be it a parent or child) has to do chores like cleaning toilets, mopping floors, walking the dog, etc.
Talk to your children about the overuse of technology and its impacts
There are plenty of stories about people who abused technology by overusing them and got into trouble. You can share some of those stories with your kids. Talk to them about how the overuse of the internet in digital devices is harmful to their physical, mental, and psychological health.
Children need to understand the dangers of online predators, cyberbullying, etc., that come with the overuse of the internet. So have conversations about your concerns. You should also listen patiently to what the kids have to say and not just speak to yourself.
Not all the conversations have to be negative, though. There are many positive ways to take advantage of the internet, like learning new programming and design skills, using social media platforms to earn money, etc.
Use technology to build relationships with your kids
Today’s children love to communicate with technology. So, you can learn how to use the technology and interact with your children.
You can ask them to teach you about the latest development and features of a certain technology. As they are informed and want to show it off to their parents, they will be more than ready to teach you.
However, always keep in mind that technology can never take the place of personal face-to-face communication with your children.
Restrict online spending
Online spending through in-app purchases in games or social media apps has become widespread among children. Children are naive and do not know the value of money, so they splurge their parent’s money online.
As they spend more money on online in-app purchases, they get more ‘would be’ benefits (e.g., an upgrade of a game character), which has no effect in real life. However, it does get kids hooked on, and in return, they start spending more money. Very soon, it becomes a vicious cycle.
The way you can stop this vicious cycle is by restricting how much money your kids can spend online. As you restrict their online spending, they will soon get bored with their tech and do other productive things.
Encourage other activities apart from using digital devices
Although the internet holds plenty of advantages for communication, spending time together is still the best. You can engage in other activities besides using tech, like taking your child out for ice cream or sitting on the couch and talking.
Some of the activities may include drawing, taking your kid outside to buy toys, playing physical games, going swimming, hiking, etc.
You can play with those old board games that you have stacked up in a corner. As long as you can keep your children away from an electronic screen, it is fine. Keep your activities fun and entertaining.
Ensure that you do not annoy your kid with their home assignments or make them clean up their rooms whenever they are not on screen. Doing so may instead backfire, and your children will be more likely to go ahead and start playing with their PCs or Smartphones.
Tools to help manage your kid’s tech usage
Apple and Android Devices
Apple and Android devices come with built-in software focused around screen time limitations. Apple products have a Screen Time feature that can be found within “Settings” that provides a detailed report on web activity and apps usage. The feature allows parents to set time limitations on the device overall as well as specific apps such as YouTube and TikTok.
In addition, parents can place a “Downtime” setting that will blackout the device during certain times and will only allow phone calls or approved apps. Screen time limitations can be adjusted by parents with a PIN code can be adjusted and disabled should the need arise.
Similar to Apple’s “Screen Time’ function, Android products offer a screen time limit enforcement within their “Digital Wellbeing and Parental Control” online tool. The tool provides screen time limitations on the device and the apps with Family Link that allows a parent to connect a child’s device to their so that they may set digital ground rules as well as a graph highlighting screen and app usage in addition to “Nighty Night” locking feature at bedtime.
Computers and Laptops
Google provides a Family Link app for download onto Android devices and is on Google Chromebooks for assistance in enforcing screen time and schedules. The MacOS Catalina operating system offers parents that have Mac products the same screen time features that Apple devices have, where they can monitor usage, schedule downtime, set limits, etc.
Microsoft users can also limit the screen time for their children on Windows 10 laptops and desktops, in addition to XBox and Android devices. Parents can enable this function by navigating to the “Family Settings” in their Microsoft account.
Video Games and Consoles
Video game console makers have also incorporated screen time controls into their consoles. Microsoft’s Xbox, as mentioned earlier, will only allow parents to control the screen time on Xbox video games through their Microsoft account. The Nintendo Switch offers a comprehensive parental control function through an app that you can download to your smart device. The app allows parents to enforce screen time and play. Screen times, game time schedules can be adjusted, disabled or launched through a customizable PIN that will alert kids when playtime is over or has been allowed.
Sony’s PS4 and PS5 gaming consoles have parental controls which can be accessed within the game console or through web-based access to the PlayStation network (PSN). Monthly screen time limits can be set for your child as well as their friends when they are having a playdate.
Children are spending more time online than ever before. And they will get there faster. Around the world, a child goes online for the first time every half a second.
Growing online offers endless possibilities. Through computers, smartphones, game consoles and televisions, children learn, imagine and develop their own social networks. When used properly and accessible to all, the Internet has the potential to expand horizons and ignite creativity around the world.
But with these opportunities come serious risks. Therefore, you should be careful in technological education with your children, preventing the misuse of technology, which affects the healthiest growth.
Educating children about technology
Educating your children about technology literacy is important. It helps them learn about the world around them and allows them to be part of decision making, for more read the article Educating children about technology…
Tools to keep kids safe online
Keeping kids safe online
Children’s’ increased online presence may put them at greater risk of child exploitation. When a child is using your computer, normal safeguards and security practices may not be sufficient. Children present additional challenges because of their natural characteristics: innocence, curiosity, desire for independence, and fear of punishment. It would be helpful if you consider these characteristics when determining how to protect your data and child.
You may think that because the child is only playing a game, or researching a term paper, or typing a homework assignment, they can’t cause any harm. But what if, when saving their report, the child deletes a necessary program file? Or what if they unintentionally visit a malicious web page that infects your computer with a virus? These are just two possible scenarios. Mistakes happen, but children may not realize what they’ve done or may not tell you what happened because they’re afraid of getting punished.
Online predators present another significant threat, particularly to children. Because the nature of the internet is so anonymous, it is easy for people to misrepresent themselves and manipulate or trick other users. Adults often fall victim to these ploys, and children, who are usually more open and trusting, are easier targets. Another growing problem is cyberbullying. These threats are even greater if a child has access to email or instant messaging programs, visits chat rooms, and/or uses social networking sites.
Below we will break down the different tips that you can use to protect yourself and your kids against these different scenarios while using the internet online.
Be involved – Consider activities you can work on together, whether it be playing a game, researching a topic you had been talking about (e.g., family vacation spots, a particular hobby, a historical figure), or putting together a family newsletter. This will allow you to supervise your child’s online activities while teaching them good computer habits.
Keep your computer in an open area – If your computer is in a high-traffic area, you will be able to monitor the computer activity more easily. Not only does this accessibility deter children from doing something they know they’re not allowed to do, it also allows you to intervene if you notice a behavior that could have negative consequences.
Set rules and warn about dangers – Ensure your child knows the boundaries of what they are allowed to do on the computer. These boundaries should be appropriate for the child’s age, knowledge, and maturity. Still they may include rules about how long they are allowed to be on the computer, what sites they are allowed to visit, what software programs they can use, and what tasks or activities they are allowed to do.
Monitor computer activity – Be aware of what your child is doing on the computer, including which websites they are visiting. If they are using email, instant messaging, or chat rooms, try to get a sense of who they are corresponding with and whether they know them.
Define the types of websites or games they can access and why they are appropriate or not. It is especially important for younger kids as they will want to play the latest games, not realizing the adult themes and content involved. The danger here is not just the games themselves but who your children can end up interacting with without you knowing. For example, if a younger child plays an online game with mainly older teenagers, that younger child could be bullied or exposed to inappropriate behavior.
Keep lines of communication open – Let your child know that they can approach you with any questions or concerns about behaviors or problems they may have encountered on the computer.
Consider partitioning your computer into separate accounts – Most operating systems give you the option of creating a different user account for each user. If you’re worried that your child may accidentally access, modify, and/or delete your files, you can give them a separate account and decrease the amount of access and number of privileges they have.
Consider implementing parental controls – You may be able to set some parental controls within your browser. For example, Internet Explorer allows you to restrict or allow certain websites to be viewed on your computer, and you can protect these settings with a password. To find those options, click Tools on your menu bar, select Internet Options, choose the Content tab, and click the Enable… button under Content Advisor.
While working on many different applications online you may need to keep track of usernames, email addresses, and passwords. It may be tempting to use the same username and password wherever you can to make things simple. If you use the same username and password and your credentials are compromised or leaked someone would be able to access not just that site but other sites as well that you use. Trying to keep track of many different credentials may become very overwhelming. It is recommended to use a password manager in this case.
- Stores passwords for different sites
- Automatically fills in passwords on websites (depending on which password manager
- Store secure notes generate strong passwords, etc.
- Reduce the number of passwords you have to remember. You only have to remember one master” password
- Makes keeping secure passwords easier
It is recommended that you use a different username and password for each site that you are logging into.
Reduce screen time
- Devise a family media policy and stick to it. If kids abuse it, limit access to or take away cell phones, gaming devices, TVs or tablets.
- Learn how much time your child spends on social media and what she is viewing and/or posting. Some children access pornography or enter sex chat rooms, send nude photos to boyfriends/girlfriends, buy drugs, watch R-rated movies, cyberbully other kids or get cyberbullied themselves. Don’t like your child’s activity? Pull the plug or confiscate the device.
- Convey that nothing online is secret. “Teenagers don’t realize that once you put it out there in that great beyond of media, it’s out of your control,” Dr. McDavid says. “Adolescents don’t live in the future, only in the present. Parents have to help with that.”
- Consider installing an app that disables cell phones while the car is running because accident rates increase when drivers are texting.
- Remove TVs from children’s bedrooms. Bedroom TVs increase the risk for obesity, drug abuse and exposure to sexual content.
- Forbid electronic devices at the dinner table. “If everyone’s looking at a cell phone, you’re negating the positive aspects of eating meals together,” she says. “Put your own cell phone away and listen to your kids.”
- Place desktop computers in the family room or other common area, so you can monitor activity.
- Ban cell phones at bedtime. Charge phones in the kitchen overnight, so kids don’t have access to them and can enjoy a full night’s sleep.
- Don’t give decked-out phones to young children because it makes them a target for thieves and puts them at risk of physical harm. If you think your child needs a cell phone, consider purchasing an inexpensive flip phone.
- Review the cell phone bill carefully to identify red flags. Again, if necessary, limit or take away the device for a specified period.
Be social network savvy
Educate yourself on ways to be safe on social networks so that you can give the best advice to your children. Sign up to the social networks and apps your children are using and find out how to use the privacy settings and reporting mechanisms. Talk about how they can stay safe on social networks, including talking to a trusted person when they are worried, and being aware of what constitutes online bullying – both as a perpetrator and a victim.
If your child uses social networks, be sure they know how to:
- Report inappropriate and/or offensive posts
- Block someone
- Keep information private.
Keep control of your family’s digital footprint
Every picture and personal detail that is posted and shared on social media and the internet contributes to someone’s digital footprint. The big risk with this is that once information is shared publicly, it can be used in ways you may not expect and cannot control. You should also assume that anything that is put online is permanent (it can sometimes be deleted but not always before others have seen it and saved it). For this reason, children and young people need to be smart about protecting their images and information. The same goes for parents who regularly post pictures of their children’s online.
Teach your child to stay in control of their digital footprint, by only sharing with people who they know and trust. Rather than posting to all their friends on social media, encourage them to be selective and use the privacy settings on the social media platforms they use.
Place the tablet/computer in a public place
Children should not have private access to the Internet. The temptations are too great. The computer should be in a place where mom or dad can walk by and see what’s going on. Remember that privacy is a privilege, not a right. Children online face new and challenging temptations, so close monitoring is essential. Parents should be able to read emails and review the pages the child has visited. Keep in mind that in this age of wireless Internet access, a child with a computer in the bedroom can access the Internet through a neighbor’s open WiFi system.
Use parental controls
Parental controls are software tools that allow you to monitor and limit what your child sees and does online.
They can be set up to do things like:
- Block your child from accessing specific websites, apps or functions (like using a device’s camera, or the ability to buy things).
- Filter different kinds of content — such as ‘adult’ or sexual content, content that may promote self-harm, eating disorders, violence, drugs, gambling, racism and terrorism.
- Allow you to monitor your child’s use of connected devices, with reports on the sites they visit and the apps they use, how often and for how long.
- Set time limits, blocking access after a set time.
If a device or program is shared by multiple members of your family, you should be able change the tool settings to reflect each user’s age and skills.
Best Parental Control Apps
Between tablets, phones, and laptops, many kids have access to all corners of the internet starting at a very young age. Unfortunately, along with the educational, resourceful, and fun content online comes concerning and potentially dangerous apps, websites, and interactions. Thankfully, parental control apps give parents the ability to monitor and restrict what their children can do on their devices.
Unlike a parental control router which allows parents to control what websites kids can and can’t access when they’re using their home wifi network, parental control apps let parents keep an eye on what their kids are doing on their devices no matter where they are. With everything from location tracking, call and text message monitoring, and even real-time alerts, the best parental control apps can give caregivers peace of mind whether their child is at home, school, or anywhere else.
We know parents can become overwhelmed trying to find the best app for their family with so many different ones to choose from. So, we researched and ranked some of the best parental control apps out there to help you narrow down your options.
- Best Overall: Qustodio
- Best for Budget: Google Family Link
- Best for Older Kids: Bark
- Best for Younger Kids: Canopy
- Best for Real-Time Monitoring: NetNanny
- Best for Time Monitoring: FamilyTime
- Best for Location Tracking: Life360