At some point in the last couple of years, many of us gave up on monitoring and restricting screen time. When everything feels so out of control around you, this seems like an easy one not to battle. Whether it is a salacious story in your news feed or a conversation on Reddit, your parent radar might be going off, reminding you to look up and take stock of your family’s screen and device time as well as your family rules. The good news is that in the past year, there have been major improvements in most parental controls in the basic operating systems of phones and tablets, and monitoring apps have gotten much easier to use.
In March of 2022, Common Sense Media (CSM) released its latest nationally representative survey of 8 to 18-year-olds regarding time spent on screen-based media post-pandemic. The base line survey was done in 2019, not long before COVID hit, and the follow-up survey was done in October of 2021. There is a lot to break down in the report, but we want to hit the highlights.
- The report found that there has been a 17% increase in screen media for teens and tweens when comparing data collected in 2019 to data collected in 2021.
- In 2019, the average total media exposure on screens for entertainment for all tweens (ages 8 to 12) was 4:44 hours, and it went up to 5:33 hours in 2021. For teens (13 to 18), the number rose from 7:22 in 2019 to 8:39 in 2021.
- Social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Discord, Reddit, and Facebook) use for tweens has increased from 31% in 2019 to 38% in 2021. Surprisingly, for teens the increase was minor when compared to 2019.
- Tweens and teens prefer YouTube and TikTok as their platform of choice for social media. Watching online videos is the favorite media activity among 8-to 18-year-olds. And YouTube was also the one site teens said they wouldn’t want to live without (even more so than apps like Instagram and TikTok).
- Time spent gaming during the pandemic was about the same as pre-pandemic for both tweens and teens. Tweens age 8 to 12 spent an average of 1 hour and 27 minutes gaming in 2021 (compared to 1 hour and 28 minutes in 2019). Teens age 13 to 18 spent an average of 1 hour and 46 minutes gaming in 2021 (compared to 1 hour and 36 minutes in 2019).
So, while we saw an increase in screen time across platforms and apps, the increase was probably not as significant as initially reported. What we have seen is a major shift in the apps tweens and teens prefer, and the type of content they prefer to consume. Their preference of video platforms over static content is driving a whole industry of new content creation. For parents, it is time to dig into what our kids are watching and why.
Guardrails for Technology in the Home:
Before jumping into monitoring and control apps for all your devices, it is good to revisit your families rules for technology. There are some basic suggestions that can eliminate many of the issues early. Some of these might have been in place before the pandemic and just need to be reinstated.
- Phones, tablets, and computers should be used in public spaces of the home only, not in private rooms and not with the doors closed.
- Devices should be turned in to a common charging station or parents’ room prior to going to bed at night.
- For YouTube, TikTok, and other video platforms, our recommendation is typically that the child has to be in a shared space without headphones on when watching. If they are using headphones, you should be able to look over their shoulder at any time.
- Consider having a “favorites” sharing night when your kids can share their favorite YouTubers, TikTok accounts, and trends. If they sense you’re truly interested, they’ll be more open to sharing.
- Help your kids realize their social and emotional reactions to what they see online. Do they feel jealous, left out, anxious, frustrated, or even angry? By doing this, you can help them start the process of setting their own boundaries for technology use.
Use parental controls to support you in your efforts to keep your kids’ internet experiences safe, fun, and productive. These controls work best when used openly and honestly in partnership with your kids — not as a stealth spying method. Figuring out what type and level of parental control is best for your family should be based entirely on your own family’s needs. Some families can get by with simple, free browser settings to filter inappropriate content. Some families need help clamping down on screen time. Some folks are happy with only spot-checks on their kids’ devices.
Many of these applications and tools have been updated in the last year to make them more user-friendly for parents and cover more territory with a single application.
Google SafeSearch is the best for blocking specific websites based on the user’s Google ID. If your kid is under 13, you can download Google’s Family Link to track and control online activity, including text messaging and social media, using your own phone. (You can use Family Link on teens’ devices, but you can’t lock the settings.) Apple’s Screen Time settings let you manage nearly every aspect of your kids’ Apple device, including how much time kids spend on individual apps and games and what they download. You can even turn the phone off for specified periods, such as bedtime.
Parental Control and Monitoring
Bark is a full-featured, third-party parental control service. Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s online lives. It monitors 30+ of the most popular apps and social media platforms, including text messaging and email, for signs of digital dangers. Their screen time management and web filtering tools help you set healthy limits around how and when your kids use their devices.
Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Their parental control tools ensure your kids don’t access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.
NetNanny is a monitoring tool used by many families looking for a more holistic solution. NetNanny includes instant reporting of online searches, visibility to apps used by your kids, and real-time alerts on porn and content related to suicide, weapons, and drugs. A new feature includes geofencing that sends parents alerts when arriving and departing.
WebWatcher is a new player in the market and is a good fit for Android, iPhone, PC, Mac, or Chromebook products. It installs easily in 5 minutes or less, is discrete and thus tamper-proof, and all recorded data is sent to a secure web-based account which allows you to monitor remotely from any device at your convenience.
Teensafe has been around for years and is a great tool. You can now monitor your kids’ mobile phones easily. The phone tracker app lets you see their real-time location and know how they use their cell phones (messaging, calls, apps etc.).
There is no complete, incident-proof solution to monitoring and blocking your child’s devices. It is important to remember that if your child is motivated, they can get around any solution you put in place. For most parental control solutions, there are YouTube videos and instructions online for getting around them. It is important to continue the conversation about safe technology usage with your children, so they understand why the rules are in place and that the controls are for their benefit.
For additional solutions to specific problems, we recommend looking at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/articles/parents-ultimate-guide-to-parental-controls
For additional family resources, including phone and media contracts, you can download our free Family Media Kit.