Technology Is Harming Your Child’s Development…Or Is It?

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Research results are extremely varied on this topic, and complete condemnation is unfounded.  There are a wide variety of factors and silver linings accompanying this issue; thus, we have compiled the pros and cons of the top online activities of various age groups in the table below:

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Taken from Securly’s Managing Screen Time: The Student’s Perspective white paper

By age 4, many children already own their own mobile device.  Technology is so heavily integrated into the development of today’s youth that scientists find it necessary to examine its impact on child behavior.  This interest took hold in the 1980s as more children started spending their time indoors watching television, rather than playing outside.  Now, with increasing accessibility to handheld portable devices (in a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study, 96.6% of young children had access to a mobile device in an urban, low-income minority community), children are spending 5-10 hours per day  in front of a screen– a fact that many adults believe is detrimental, and the cause of increasing rates in physical, psychological, and behavior disorders.

Research (especially from 2010-2013) has linked rising numbers of childhood obesity, disrupted sleep patterns, and under-developed motor/cognitive function to device usage.  However, cases have been made for both sides of this debate in more recent years.  For example, a study in Computers in Human Behavior reported that children who went five days without screen exposure exhibited increased sensitivity to and comprehension of nonverbal emotional cues.  In contrast, other researchers propose recreational technology as an avenue for developing emotional literacy skills earlier in life, and more acutely.  Children take the fictional beings (protagonists, villains, heroes, friends, etc.) from their shows/video games and are able to synthesize complex characters in their own storytelling from the various models of human interaction they are exposed to.  In addition, learning through watching TV shows like Sesame Street and playing educational computer games are believed to improve a child’s listening comprehension and vocabulary.

Essentially, moderation is the crux of the matter!  Scientists warn against excessive screen time exposure, which a little something called balance can easily solve.  Be sure your child’s time spent in front of their Chromebook, iPad, or TV is distributed with educational shows/games – and equally matched with time spent playing outside, interacting with peers, etc.  Surveys show that parental controls and web filtering are commonly underutilized;  these features can help keep your child safe online, as well as monitor and limit device usage.

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Parental Control Quick Guide: Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

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The web holds a wealth of information – including content that may be inappropriate or dangerous for young audiences.  A request for personal details, cheap ticket offers to a sporting event, or suggestion to meet “in person” ? STOP!  These are all red flags of online culture to watch out for.  Kids are likely to run into online harassment, even from people they know, without proper cyber safety practices.  Thankfully, many websites have parental control features.In honor of Safer Internet Day (February 9, 2016), here are some quick internet safety tips to keep children from harm’s way:

Google SafeSearch

Google is perhaps the most widely used resource for finding information.  Within “Settings”, you can enable restrictions that act as a safe search option for kids.  SafeSearch is available for computers, phone browsers, tablets, and Android apps.  It blocks sexually explicit video and images.  You can also lock SafeSearch to prevent others from changing the setting.

Google states that “The SafeSearch filter isn’t 100% accurate, but it helps you avoid most violent and adult content”.  For safer image results, try enabling both SafeSearch and the Creative Commons feature.  If you’re looking for safe browsing sites, especially for younger children, check out these safe, kid-friendly alternative sites to Google, YouTube, and beyond.

Google SafeSearch, safe search

child internet safety, safesearch

YouTube Safety Mode

YouTube Safety Mode works much like Google SafeSearch, through community flagging and age-restrictions.  It is also compatible with multiple platforms, but must be setup on each specific browsing profile. For a small monthly fee, some web filters and parental controls may offer the ability to enforce safe YouTube across all devices in the household.

To ensure a safe Youtube environment, you can supplement safety mode by adjusting privacy settings and ‘flagging’ videos.

Social Media Safety

While Facebook and big name social media sites do not specifically include parental controls, adjust your child’s privacy settings to protect from predators, scams, and cyberbullying.

  1. Make sure that only Friends can see any and all information
  2. Do not allow search engines outside of Facebook to link to profile
  3. Only allow Friends of Friends to send friend requests
  4. **For optimal security, limit people from seeing your Friends list
  5. Be “friends” with your child online to monitor their activity

**People can easily narrow down age, hometown, school, interests & hobbies from analyzing trends in associated profiles.  You can limit who can see posts and personal information within your social media circle, but it is best to forgo listing any personal information whatsoever.

Privacy settings are also available on Twitter and Instagram,  though tweets and images are still viewable (if linked in an article or another post) even if the profile itself is private.

safe social media

For Everything Else.. There’s Web Filtering

Windows 7 includes Parental Controls that allow parents to set time limits on computer use, limit and filter games, and block specific programs.  However, if the computer is connected to a domain, these features are not available.  Even Microsoft help pages suggest supplementary parental controls.
Consider web filtering!  Traditionally, internet filtering programs have been most utilized by school systems – but the advent of new cloud technology allows for web filtering anywhere, and even in the home.  Web filtering offers complete online security – it allows for parental monitoring (see how kids are allocating their online time, what sites they visit, and who they interact with), restrictions on explicit content, and easy configuration on multiple devices.

For more tips on how to provide online safety for your children, subscribe to our newsletter below.

Safe, Kid-Friendly Alternatives to Google, YouTube, and Beyond

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Today’s youth is exposed to technology very early in life – according to 2015 American Academy of Pediatrics, ”30% of U.S. children first play with a mobile device when they are still in diapers”.  Relative to toddlers, children aged 8 are more capable and conscientious of their actions.  However, they are barely halfway through elementary school!  Yet in a recent study, parents started to allow unsupervised internet time when their child was 8 years old.

Big name sites such as Google and Facebook have created safe search options in order to protect young kids from inappropriate content on the web, e.g., Google SafeSearch and Youtube Safety Mode.  However, with high upload volumes every day, it’s almost impossible to filter out all the “bad stuff”.

Parents can’t constantly look over their child’s shoulder and watch for unsuitable results that may pop up.  Luckily, developers know that.  Here are some safe, kid-friendly alternatives for the top internet activities. These sites contain only pre-filtered content, so parents can rest easy while their child uses the web.

Search Engines

Search engines host a wealth of information, spanning from every topic imaginable.  A lot of this content is particularly unsavory for young children.  It’s easy to stumble upon adult content, especially with slang perpetuated by web-culture today – feel free to type in “jugs” (porcelain and ceramic, right?) into Google with SafeSearch enabled and see what comes up.

Instead, set websites like kidrex.org or googlejunior.com as your browser homepage.  You don’t need to “enable” anything on these sites, all the safety measures are ready to go.  Kidrex is aimed toward a younger elementary school audience while Google Junior is perfect for kids entering their tween years.  Google Junior even provides a word and quote of the day.  See what happens when the word “porn” is searched:  

 

Kidrex blocks everything even remotely related, while Google Junior provides relevant, non-explicit results surrounding porn in a different context –current events, news, even web filtering shows up!  

Video Streaming

Youtube Safety Mode blocks obviously explicit video content, but it’s by no means infallible.  They even say this themselves: “Restricted Mode hides videos that may contain inappropriate content flagged by users and other signals. No filter is 100% accurate, but it should help you avoid most inappropriate content”.  Many suggestive videos escape the filtering criteria, and the comments posted underneath each video can be extremely profane.  

Start your kids on Kideos, a site that contains a myriad of trendy, kid-friendly entertainment.  It includes a variety of popular TV shows from channels including, but not limited to Disney, Nickelodean, PBS Kids.  It does not allow comment posting.  They also offer an app compatible with most smartphone platforms.

It even allows parents to set limits on videos based on age group or choose how long their child can watch videos, after passing a “parent security question”.

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Social Media

45% of kids aged 8-11 use social media.  Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram offer a great way to connect with peers, stay in touch, find a community, and keep updated on current events.  However, these sites are also filled with online predators and scams that target young, uninformed users.  They also have the highest occurrence of cyberbullying, Facebook topping the chart as #1.

To avoid these risks and foster a safe, fun online community for younger children and pre-teens, various companies have created social network sites with “training wheels”.  These range from ad-less interfaces, features that connect a parent account to the child’s account, or manual review of uploaded photos by on-hand company staff.  Some sites are even centered around themes – Franktown Rocks is a site devoted to safe social networking surrounding sharing and making music.  BBC recently compiled a list with the top safe, social media sites for kids aged 7-13.

School Research

When tackling a research project, students tend to immediately turn to Google.  This is a great resource for gathering ideas, but the quality of results are varied.  Students may have to comb through a large amount of unaccredited sources and irrelevent search results before finding something they will be able to cite.

Many schools actually purchase subscriptions to online databases for students to use; these are heavily underutilized.  Common names are Cengage Learning or EBSCOhost .  They serve as virtual, portable libraries.  After students indicate the subject area they are interested in, these databases supply relevant content from scholarly article, ebooks, and encyclopedia entries.  All students need is their school access code – which is usually posted on their school’s homepage or around the school libraries.
Say your child had a research project about guns.  See the contrast between Google SafeSearch and a database with the single keyword “guns”:

>> Google safe search first provides near by places to access guns.

safesearch, child internet safety, safe image search

>> Then supplies more information about buying guns with a mention there at the bottom concerning guns in current events.

safesearch, child internet safety, safe image search

>> However, the database lists books about the history and culture of guns, the controversy over gun rights, and even the theory behind electron guns.  Much more relevant to a research project.

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Gaming

Last, but not least, gaming!  Kids spend most of their time on the internet playing games.   Yet, these sites are often riddled with scams, predators, and violent-themed content.  This list provides a wide variety of alternative sites which are as fun as they are educational.  Trusted sites include PBS Kids and Brain Pop!. There are safe sites devoted to a range of interests from arts to sports!   

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4 Ways for Parents to Keep Kids Safe on YouTube


Keep kids and students safe on YouTube with YouTube Safety Mode and other protective parental controls.

YouTube celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year. According to comScore, it is the top online video content website, with over 152 million unique monthly viewers.

Offering diverse content (everything from Video Games to Health & Beauty and Japanese cats), YouTube appeals to many different audiences – especially kids. In both schools and homes, it can serve as a valuable educational resource and source of entertainment; however, many genres of videos are not quite kid-safe.

Fortunately, there are a few “quick n’ easy” precautions parents can take to ensure YouTube safety. Here are four ways to keep kids safe on YouTube:

1) Turn on YouTube Safety Mode

YouTube Safety Mode is a kid-friendly option for filtering inappropriate or questionable content on YouTube. Parents can follow these simple steps to enable the filter. YouTube Safety Mode serves as a direct line of defense. It hides explicit content through community flagging, age-restrictions, and porn image detection, ultimately minimizing the risk that kids will stumble upon any unsavory videos or user comments.

Bear in mind that the option is both browser- and device-specific: for example, enabling it on Google Chrome will not automatically enable it on Mozilla Firefox. For a small monthly fee, some web filters and parental controls may offer the ability to enforce safe YouTube across all devices in the household.

2) Privacy Settings

Kids are at risk for more than just exposure to explicit content.  Anyone who actively posts his/her own videos on YouTube is susceptible to mean-spirited internet trolls who post crude, harmful comments.

To prevent this form of YouTube cyberbullying, parents can implement YouTube Privacy Settings.  This optional feature can block users and moderate comments (by removing specific comments or blocking anyone from commenting altogether), and can specify who is able to see a particular video. More specifically, YouTube offers the following video settings: Public, Private, and Unlisted.

In addition, parents can block advertisements and interest based ads, further filtering the content accessible to kids online.

3) For younger children, approve content in advance

Parents can research what content is age-appropriate for their child by screening or “favoriting” videos in advance of those long car rides. This way, they know exactly what their child is watching and can avoid accidental linkage to inappropriate content when they are unable to supervise them.

For parents who simply don’t have the time or are running out of ideas on what is considered “appropriate” for their child’s age group – Have no fear!  Check out sites like Common Sense Media which provide reliable, detailed suggestions and examples for age appropriate media content. 

Alternatively, parents of children ages 5 and under, can make use of YouTube Kids, a free app that makes available only a subset of pre-approved, kid-safe content on YouTube.

4) Get involved!  Report inappropriate videos by ‘flagging’

All adults can play a part in making YouTube a more kid-friendly environment!  If you find a video with inappropriate content, report it by clicking “more” and then “report” under the video window.  This process is referred to as ‘flagging’ a video for moderator review.  Fortunately, review of flagged videos occurs 24/7; YouTube makes this service a priority and is highly responsive to your report requests.

To learn more about implementing a safer YouTube and other parental controls, sign up for our parent newsletter below. Have other ways of making YouTube safe for kids? Please share your suggestions in the comments.