The horrors of being a parent in today's technology world are far more scary than Jason Voorhess or Freddy Kruger were in their classic horror films.
The more I learn about how our children can be manipulated or tricked into becoming victims of a predator or scam to the softer side of having them constantly on their mobile device, the more I worry.
Parenting is far different than when my parents raised me. Our children have heard all the same stories from my generation-"We used to play outside all day from morning to night," "We only were able to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings" or "We didn't have cellphones so parents had to call a landline and hope to find us, and we were OK."
My 11-year-old, pretty tech savvy son, is always quick to tell me, "Well Mom, you guys had Atari." Oh yes, we did and it was fun, especially playing Asteroids, but basically we were hardly ever playing it.
Our parents didn't have to worry about us playing video games because it was not internet-based, so no harm could ever really come of it-aside from those poor asteroids and flying saucers being shot down. Most of the video games today have chat rooms that allow gamers to interact with each other while they play.
Well low and behold, I caught my son a year ago or so playing "Clash of Clans" and chatting with not one, but two people he didn't know. They were from New Jersey and Australia. We had the internet safety chat and my son was not happy. He did not believe the people he was playing against could have been adults, as they told him they were in middle school and were "nice." Well, that's great. Needless to say, I told him he cannot chat with anyone he does not know on any of the games or social websites. He was upset, but he did get over it.
I caught my son a year ago or so playing "Clash of Clans" and chatting with not one, but two people he didn't know. They were from New Jersey and Australia. We had the internet safety chat and my son was not happy. He did not believe the people he was playing against could have been adults, as they told him they were in middle school and were "nice." - Jennifer Stockinger
So this brings me to the question: How can we parents keep track of the technology our children interact with on a daily basis? Our lives are much busier these days, but luckily there are applications that can help with parental control.
Ty Goeman, head of business development and account management for Consolidated Telephone Company, not only works with information technology for CTC but also is a parent of four children, so internet security is important for him professionally as well as personally.
Goeman said children and internet security should be looked at the same way as businesses and school districts look at security. He said it starts with communication and setting ground rules on what is acceptable use. Goeman said parents can set up rules with their children on what they can and cannot access on the internet and if they accidentally come to an inappropriate website, they should tell the parent right away.
Goeman checks the browser history on his children's tablet to make sure what they are looking at is appropriate. He said if the history is cleared, the device is no longer theirs.
Goeman said parents should be aware of who their children's friends are and who they are socializing with on social media. He said staying in front of their friend list is helpful to make sure nothing gets out of hand. He also suggests checking the security settings on the child's social media sites.
Parents should be aware of who their children's friends are and who they are socializing with on social media. He said staying in front of their friend list is helpful to make sure nothing gets out of hand. - Ty Goeman, head of business development and account management for Consolidated Telephone Company
If families have a main computer in the household that everyone uses, Goeman suggests parents place it in a central location. He said this allows easier access for parents to see what the child is looking at on the computer.
"Encourage your kids to learn about Spyware, Malware and a new one called Ransomware," Goeman said so they don't accidentally click on something that may result in getting hacked. "Tell them not to click on any links that pop-up. Free giveaways are not free. ... And have a good anti-virus ware on the computer, even if it is a free one."
Applications Goeman suggests for parents are Kids Place, Screen Time, Norton Family with parental controls.
"Technology is not going away," Goeman said. "If anything they will need it more than they do now. It's about finding the blend of parental responsibilities, staying in front of things the best way you can and making sure they are fully aware of how to use it."
Screen Time is one app Jeff Dummer of Brainerd used to monitor his son when he was 12. Dummer said the main reason he began researching parental control apps was to limit his son's use on his device. He looked at several apps and thought Screen Time was the easiest one to use. Dummer said he also wanted to keep his son from going on inappropriate websites and didn't want him to chat with his friends all night long.
Dummer found apps he liked and some he didn't. There were apps Dummer purchased that worked, but his son was able to maneuver around them and got through the barriers to get where he wanted to go.
Dummer said his son is older now and his only device is his phone. Dummer said he will check his phone periodically, but said his son is old enough to know better.
"At some time you need to trust them," Dummer said.
One app Dummer said was "pretty strict" is "MamaBear." He said it captures every screenshot, every download and the parent would get a message about it.
"It was just too much," Dummer said. "If you use this one then maybe your kids shouldn't have a device."
Verizon stated they offer a few products to give parents insight over when and how their children communicate:
• Family Base gives parents insight over when and how their children communicate online.
• GizmoPal2 is a phone that looks like a watch and allows parents to restrict which phone numbers can call and text from the device. GizmoPal2 also has GPS. Parents can open the app to see where their child's location, which is great for children who walk home from school, or even if the family vacations at a major theme park this summer, a Verizon spokesperson stated in an email.
• HUM has push notifications and users can be notified if their car exceeds a certain speed or drives outside of a customized boundary area. This is a good device for parents with a first time driver.
A quick look at the apps mentioned in this column:
• MamaBear is your all-in-one parenting app that creates a private family communication hub providing parents with a way to communicate, locate, organize and protect children with peace of mind. The app offers a set of social media monitoring features, family mapping, alerts and management tools, and alerts to cyber threats toward children. It also offers a private place for families to communicate and stay abreast of family activities such as kids' team sports. Source: Mamabearapp.com
• Kids Place is an app launcher with parental controls and child lock that protects personal data and restricts children to apps the parents have approved for them. Kids Place prevents children from downloading new apps, making phone calls, texting or performing other actions that can cost money. It also includes features for parents such as, auto app restart and is useful for small children who accidentally exit launched apps. Source: Kiddoware.com
• Norton Family with parental controls helps parents protect their children from online threats while they're on the go. It protects children from inappropriate web content, unsafe texting and unsuitable mobile apps. The app allows users to track the websites children go to or attempt to visit, blocks access to inappropriate websites and sets up custom email alerts to notify parents when their children attempt to do something they shouldn't. Source: Onlinefamily.norton.com
• Screen Time is a parental control app that allows parents to monitor and manage the time spent on the family's tablets and phones. Screen Time is well suited for families with older children and teenagers, as well as younger children. The app's features include daily time limits on selected apps, bedtime curfew on selected apps, lights out curfew on all apps and school time curfew.
These are just a few parental apps a parent can try to see if one fits their family. There are many in today's technology world. I am still a little on the fence on which app I will try with my two children-wish me luck!