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Black Friday, Christmas, and Tech 2016:
What Parents Need To Know – Part I

shutterstock_154413884WOW! Halloween is past and the early Black Friday sales are in play! Time to start planning!

As parents are shopping they have to consider how they will keep their kids safe from inappropriate materials and media, and from predators. What should parents be aware of, and what actions are needed to protect kids from inappropriate material…and more?

In this 4-part series we will look at what parents need to know about protecting kids who use:

– Phones
– Tablets
– Game Consoles
– Video Games
– Streaming TV
– Parental Controls
– and more!

Let’s get started!

Today’s high-tech toys and gadgets are all inter-connected via the Internet and the cell phone networks these days! Responsible parents, then, need to remember that when kids have connections to the Internet then they can connect with anyone and anything!

Whenpicture1 kids receive a gift that connects to the Internet then first thing that parents have to check on is whether or not it has access to the World Wide Web via a browser such as FIREFOX, CHROME, SAFARI, etc.. If it does, then that device needs to be filtered. For example, PlayStation 3s and 4s both have browsers, so adding a keyboard makes for easy surfing on the web.  The iPod touch also has web surfing capabilities. In fact, many streaming devices, such as ROKU, also have browsers, as do tablets and e-readers such as KINDLE.

The adult entertainment industry has made sure that they can deliver XXX-rated material through these “toys”. In fact, back when the PS3 and Nintendo Wii first came out custom versions of adult web sites, optimized for how those machines operated, appeared in less than a week!

Don’t worry, though, because parents have options to protect their children.

The first step is for parents to  ensure that their entire home network is filtered at the router, or gateway. This ensures that ALL web-enabled devices using your network are filtered….automatically. This even covers devices brought over by your children’s friends that you allow onto your network (or guest network). That can bring a level of safety to your home that other parents will appreciate!

opendns_iphone01Network-level filtering is best done by using a service such as OpenDNS.  OpenDNS filters web sites by web address through a change you make in the settings of your gateway or router. OpenDNS is very capable and flexible.  You can choose among 54 categories for filtering, as well as create “white lists” (lists of sites you allow) and “black lists” (lists of sites you never allow). You can learn more in these articles:

Filtering Your Home Network via OpenDNS: What Parents Need To Know Part I – What is OpenDNS?
Filtering Your Home Network via OpenDNS: What Parents Need To Know Part II – Using OpenDNS

But, what about when your kids are not at home and on someone else’s network? OpenDNS has a solution for that, as well, called OpenDNS Family Shield. It is designed to be configured on mobile devices (not phones) so that they are filtered when devices are on other networks. Click on the link to find directions for how to do this.

CELL PHONES

Everyone uses cell phones.  Many now use tablets.   So, what do you get your child?
Well, they probably WANT an iPhone or iPad, or a Samsung Galaxy (the non-exploding kind). As parents, though, we know that kids shouldn’t always get what they want!  So, what is an appropriate phone for children? This depends on a number of things:

picture1What is their age/maturity?
What are their needs?
What are YOUR needs, as parents?
How can the phone/tablet be filtered?
How can the phone/tablet be “locked down”?

AGE/NEED BASED PHONE/TABLET RECOMMENDATIONS

shutterstock_18552799 Small Children (<6):

I am not a proponent of children under 6 having a phone, at all. It is too easy for them to get too plugged in when they should be outside running & playing, building stuff with blocks and Legos, or creating Crayola masterpieces, etc. It is also too easy for parents to let the phone entertain the child instead of the child leaning self-discipline.  And, in the realm of tablets, I only recommend that small children have limited access.

Children 6-12:

If a child in this age group really needs a phone (and older ones just might) then I recommend that they should only be provided a flip-phone. There are several reasons to do this:

– Kids don’t need constant access to the web, chat, and games.  They can make do with only voice and texting. Stay strong and give them what they need instead of what they want.

– Kids don’t need an expensive phone.  I don’t care how much you make, is it really wise to give a small child a $600 fully-connected iPhone/Galaxy right off the bat? This sends the wrong message: They can have the best without deserving/earning it.  In providing a flip phone you then create something for them to attain:  A better phone when they show maturity and need.  They learn that as they get older and more responsible they get “better stuff”.  Consider that you probably won’t get your child a new, top-of-the-line car when they turn 16, either (if you are wise).

– Flip-phones don’t have the web, and so they are less likely to be used to expose children to pornography and other inappropriate material.  Keep in mind, though, that flip-phones can receive images and “sexts”.

– Giving them a flip-phone prevents you from turning into a high-tech helicopter parent! Unless events and behavior warrant, you do NOT need to know your child’s GPS point location at all times! Parents raised kids for thousands of years without satellite-aided tracking, and civilization prospered!

Tablets should be made available in the home (or car) but I strongly caution against letting children have personal tablets at this age.

shutterstock_157691258‘Tweens/Younger Teens (11-15):

These kids might actually need a smart phone or a tablet,…but with controls.  This is because smart phones provide tools that can be used in school, etc., and it is almost a required tool by the end of high school. But, I recommend that parents only consider iPhones for children in this age group, and not Android or Windows phones/tablets. Here’s why:

– Apple iPhones have superb parental control capabilities and web content filtering BUILT IN.  To attain similar levels of control on Android phones often requires “rooting” the phone, which disables much of it’s security against viruses and malware.  Windows Phones have such a small share of the market (<4%) and so there are far fewer options for filtering and parental controls.

– Apple’s iTunes Store and App Store are tightly controlled by Apple. This greatly limits the threat of malware and viruses.  Yes, there is adult-level material available, but Apple’s on-the-phone parental controls give parents control over the music, movies, books, and TV shows that their children get from the Apple stores.

– Android phones are more difficult to lock down, and the Android OS is less secure, as is the Google Play store. Plus, Android is “customized” for each provider and, often, for each model phone. This exposes children to more security risks. In addition, this exposes the device, itself, to more risks as apps and such are not as tightly controlled for security flaws and malware. Kids at this age are not that security conscious, lacking a basic paranoia about “evil doers”.

– The Apple iOS is pretty uniform across all recent devices.  Older iPhones, iPods, and iPads may not be able to upgrade to the latest iOS, but they are usually very old.  Because of this uniformity, you only have to stay current, and not expert on old iOS versions.  This is in contrast to Android devices which us versions of Android ranging from 4.4 to 6.0….all in new items.  And the capabilities and features of Android can vary by manufacturer and model.

– You can set up an account for your kids on the Apple Store/iTunes Store without having to use a credit/debit card. This protects you, and enables kids to learn budgeting by using gift cards that they, hopefully, buy themselves!

WARNING: When you set up their phones, make sure you set them up using a child’s own personal account. The iTunes store (as well as the Google Play store) will not split or merge accounts. Also, make sure that the e-mail address is one that you have access to so you can see all the receipts!  You can also turn on Family Sharing so that the family can access each other’s movies and other media, but that also means they can access YOURS.

Check out Part I of my 2-part video on how to lock down iPhones HERE.

shutterstock_199317515Older Teens (16+):

This is where changes take place. Basically, any phone is OK because instead of trying to completely protect your child, you are switching to teaching them to set and manage their own boundaries and safety. This is essential before they leave for college, the military, or the workforce.

With older teens you need to consider the following:

– What parental controls does your service provider have, and how can they be used in teaching your child?

– Having more capable (and vulnerable systems) allows you to begin teaching teens to set their own boundaries, and making themselves responsible for the security of their devices and identities.  Remember that identity theft is a real threat they will face..

– You can work with them to select and set up safeguards, helping them learn to acknowledge their own vulnerabilities and the need to protect themselves.

– Make sure your child does not have the capability to turn their phone into a WiFi hotspot, otherwise they can go around your OpenDNS protections by connecting other devices via the hotspot.

– At this age, you should make them pay for their own phones, both the price of the phone and the monthly charge! This teaches them responsibility and to value their possessions more.

– During these last 18-24 months that they have before heading out on their own you should begin to  “phase in” more adult responsibilities and self-awareness, working with them to learn to set their own boundaries and standards.  If you do not do this while they are at home then there is a good chance they could “go wild” when they leave home.   You could start their Junior year by giving them a little more control/privacy and, as they show their maturity, you can gradually lift restrictions and increase access by the middle of their Senior year. That way they have the next 3-5 months to manage their own tech while having Mom/Dad close by to advise.

– Regardless of which route you choose, you should always be aware of what parental controls are available at the provider level, too. These controls change from time-to-time, so just Google “ phone parental controls” + the name of your cell phone provider.  Note that many of the no-contract services have fewer, or no, controls..

I recognize that some of these choices will be difficult and, most likely, quite unpopular. You might even have a child throw a conniption fit! That just goes with the territory. I was known as “Daddy Evil” for quite a while!

That’s it for Part I!  Make sure to subscribe to the Blog, and visit often!

Click for Part II, which deals with video games and console systems!

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