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Parental Controls for Children’s Devices

7 Mar 2023

A few times a year I receive emails from parents who are at their wits’ end with their child’s technology use. These emails usually are from parents who have already had conversations with their child, and often have implemented some clear boundaries. Some have even developed a family media plan. Below are some suggestions for dealing with this issue when talking and negotiating does not work. I listed the options from easiest to set up to increasingly more complex. Most of the solutions are are directed specifically toward Apple devices, but with a quick search you can find the Android/Google counterparts.

Parental Controls on the Child’s Device

All Apple Devices have the option for Parental Controls. It is on the device settings as Screentime. You set up the controls on the device your child uses, and set time limits and restrictions for apps and browsing. This works very well and after you set time limits the conversation with your child changes from the child getting angry when it is time to give up the device to them asking politely for more time.

Parental Controls Managed from Your Device

When you set up Family Sharing on Apple devices you can manage your child’s device from your device after doing the initial setup. You have access to all the same settings, but this avoids you having to have your child’s device in your possession in order to change the settings.

Viewing Your Child’s Screen

If you would like to view your child’s screen, Apple Classroom makes this very easy. This app was developed for teachers to manage their classes, but will work well at home. This app requires a Bluetooth connection, and tech savvy kids will often figure out how to turn off the Bluetooth in order to break the connection.

Another option is to purchase an app that allows you to monitor your child’s device. These types of apps are typically installed on your child’s device, with a “control” app on your device. I do not have any personal experience with these apps, and I think you will find that Parental Controls offers many of the same features for free. Carrots&Cake is an app that was developed to help children build healthy technology habits. This app requires the child to learn (Carrots) before playing (Cake). The parent decides on which apps on the child’s device fall into which category, and then sets the learning time required and reward time earned. 

Mesh Network

If you decide you prefer to control devices using your home network, a mesh network may be the way to go. In addition to adding wifi coverage to your home, it allows you to set family policies such as downtime, bedtime, and basic content filters for specific devices. You can also control the priority of which device gets bandwidth. A mesh network allows for remote monitoring of other devices on the network. Many internet service providers will rent you a mesh network and set it up for you. Note that if your child has a phone they could use their data instead of your network. They could also hot spot a device with a phone to avoid the network.

Lastly, I recommend taking a look at Common Sense Media for more ideas on parenting with technology. The site has great recommendations, app and movie ratings, online safety, and explanations of popular apps. They have a family tech plan/device contract that you can customise to your family’s situation. You can also sign up for their newsletter. Don’t forget, you own your child’s device. You are allowing them to use it.

Screenshot from Common Sense Media