18 Ways to Monitor Your Kids' Screen Time
It's only a matter of time before a child begins reaching for a phone to watch videos or spending increasing amounts of time playing on an iPad. Kids are getting tech earlier than ever, too – on average, children with smartphones received them before turning 8, according to the Family Online Safety Institute. While the offer of instant entertainment can be a lifesaver, by and large parents struggle with finding a balance for their children's screen time, not to mention keeping tabs on what kids see and do while online. There are tools that can help.
Monitor children's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts with MamaBear, which sends warnings and shows previews of photos when they're posted; alerts when a child has a new follower, or follows someone; and notifies parents when inappropriate, bullying language or restricted words are used. The ad-friendly version is free; there's a $6 one-month membership, or pay $15 for three months or $25 for six months.
Qustodio is designed to protect children from cyberbullying, cyberpredators, screen addiction, and seeing inappropriate content. Parents monitor use through an app that enables filtering automatically to protect from harmful content and has an easy online dashboard to set limits. Price options range from $55 a year to protect five devices to $138 a year to manage up to 15.
TeenSafe got a plug from "The Today Show" for its ability to show parents a kid's SMS and iMessages, even if they've been deleted, and incoming and outgoing calls, including contact name, number, date, and duration. It also allows for viewing a child's browser history and a list of all third-party apps on a phone.The $15 per month charge after a seven-day free trial includes a feature that tracks a child's location in real time.
Circle manages screen time by pairing with a home's Wi-Fi and letting parents manage every device on the network without needing to install software. Circle lets parents establish time limits for app and website use, create age-appropriate filters for devices, and gives awards (such as increasing a daily time limit or granting later bedtime) for good behavior such as doing homework or chores. There's a one-time cost of $99 for the device..
Netflix provides two ways to control what children view: requiring a four-digit PIN to be entered to see programs with mature ratings, or to see specific shows and movies; and setting a "maturity level" for each Netflix viewer profile. The limits don't add to a Netflix bill.
Amazon Prime Video allows for establishing parental controls that require entering a PIN to bypass purchasing and viewing restrictions enabled on an account. Viewing restrictions let parents block playback of videos from specific ratings categories, choosing which categories to restrict and on which devices for no additional cost.
Access to mature content on the Hulu video streaming service can be restricted based on the age associated with a Hulu profile – blocking viewers under 17 from watching R-rated films and television shows with a TV-MA rating, for instance – but resetting limits is confusing and unwieldy. On devices that have their own set of parental controls (think: Xbox One and Wii), Hulu says its content will respect the devices' settings.
The free Bosco app relies on artificial intelligence to predict and prevent threats to children and offers parents "insights" about children's activity instead of providing actual data – meant to keep kids safe but allow some privacy. Bosco collects data from online activity, location, and social networks to create behavioral profiles, and alerts parents if it identifies irregular activities and events, such as changes in sleep patterns or unusual social media activity. Smart notifications are designed to help parents talk to children about what's happening online.
Similar to a dog barking to alert you of something, Bark warns parents about inappropriate technology use. The app monitors text messages, emails, and 24 social networks for such things as online predators, adult content, sexting, cyberbullying, drug use, suicidal thoughts, and more. Parental alerts are delivered via email and text when Bark's algorithms detect risks, freeing parents from having to comb through every post and text. (No, there is no actual barking noise for alerts). Bark is $9 monthly or $99 per year. Created with child psychologists, it includes advice on speaking with kids about digital dangers and other sensitive online issues.
Instead of blocking sites, KidLogger is essentially spyware that tracks keystrokes, web history, and other use on five to 10 devices, showing how long a child is online, which apps are used and which websites are visited, and who they're communicating with. It even logs USB flash drives and external hard drives being connected to a PC. There are free and paid tiers based on number of devices, log length, and disk space.
The Kurio Next tablet ($80) from KD Interactive comes with a password-protected Parental Area where adults can customize use for up to eight child profiles, setting time limits, managing which apps are allowed, and even creating a list of specific approved and blocked sites for web browsing. The proprietary Kurio Genius internet filtering covers more than 18 billion websites in 200 languages.
Moment Family knows it's not just children who spend too much time on high-tech devices. It monitors the entire family's iPad and iPhone use to limit time spent and encourage screen-free, quality time together. Moment Family tracks such things as how many times you've picked up your phone, which apps are used most frequently, and overall time spent online, and can set time limits and make devices unusable at specific times, such as during dinner. Three months of Moment Family costs $15, six months costs $27, and a year is $45.
Parental control software that works on Macs, PCs, and mobile devices, Kaspersky Safe Kids ($15) lets parents monitor children's communications and Facebook use and allow access to websites, content, and apps they feel are appropriate, as well as keeping watch over call and text activity. (Some uses vary on iPhones and iPads.) It also has location tracking for children on a real-time map and lets parents define a geographic "safe area" for kids to stay within.
SafeDNS is designed to work on a home network and individual Windows computers. Customizable filters block any of more than 55 categories of websites – from pornography to online gambling – and watch out for intrusive advertising and vulgar content. You can also create whitelists and blacklists to allow or block access to sites of your choosing. There's a 15-day free trial; then connect up to three home networks for $20 a year, or use a free parental control plan with limited features.
Designed for the Chrome and Firefox browsers, the FoxFilter extension helps block porn sites and any other user-defined content. The free, customizable filtering include custom keywords, identifying specific sites that are blocked or trusted, and allow for controlling how much detail is provided to users about blocked content when they visit a site.
Zoodles basically replaces the entire web-browser experience on devices with its Kid Mode and includes age-appropriate curated content such as games, videos, books, and more. There's a free mode and premium ($8 per month, or $60 per year) with additional features such as recordable storybooks, detailed activity reports, time limits, and the ability to add and block sites and apps.
An alternative approach to interactive apps or software, printable Screen Time Charts (a little over $3) are designed to let adults track and limit how much screen time a child has over the course of a week. The kit includes tokens and a board, and punch cards for older children. Adults decide how much screen time each granted token is worth, and children get the privilege and responsibility of deciding when to use their screen time allowance.
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