Parents are doing their best to limit screen time as much as possible, but between work, missed school for quarantining or colds, and other pressures families are facing, let’s face it—there’s only so much we can do. The fact is, many kids are likely to have more unsupervised time online these days. While it might not be ideal, there are things parents can do to help make sure the time kids spend on tablets and phones is as safe as it can be.
Many of the most popular apps for kids have some level of protection built into their parental controls—it’s just a matter of knowing how to access them. Here’s how to make your child’s screen time safer if they’ve been spending more time online lately.
You can view parental controls and other settings at any time by following these steps: Tap the Lock icon in the bottom corner of any page in the app. Complete the multiplication problem or read and enter the numbers that appear. Or, enter your custom passcode. Select Settings. You can even set up a supervised viewing experience for your kids by following the instructions in this video.
This kid-friendly version of Facebook’s Messenger app has a Parent Dashboard to help parents manage their kids contacts and other safety features. You can access your dashboard via your own Facebook account by clicking the Home button and navigating to Messenger Kids in the left-hand menu. In your dashboard, you can supervise who your kid is interacting with on Facebook, manage the images they post, and control when they can access the app.
This app in particular has been the center of a lot of controversy about online safety and kids. For some peace of mind, TikTok has a Family Pairing feature that allows parents to pair their own TikTok account with their child’s in order to control a variety of settings and monitor their activity and contacts. To activate Family Pairing in your TikTok app, tap on your profile and then on the three dots in the top-right corner, which takes you to the Settings and Privacy menu. If you scroll down, you should see the Family Pairing section. After tapping on it, you’re able to choose whether you are the parent or the teen and connect your accounts.
One important thing to keep in mind about Snapchat is that there are no straightforward parental controls that you can manage outside of your child’s account. However, there are some key settings you can update in your child’s app to help keep them safe. For example, to make sure strangers can’t contact your child in the app, open their profile, tap on the gear icon, then tap on “Contact me” and make sure that “My Friends” is selected from the other options. You can also uncheck “See Me in Quick Add” in order to keep your kid’s profile from popping up as a contact suggestion to other users. To make sure their location is hidden, go to “See My Location” in the settings tab and then make sure “Ghost Mode” Has been checked. For more information on Snapchat safety, check out their guide for parents.
This super popular multiplayer game is free to play, but offers plenty of enticing opportunities for kids to spend real-life money on in-app purchases. In order to protect your kids safety (and your bank account!), tap the three dots located at the lower-right corner of the page.
In the pop-up menu, select the Settings option, and then choose Security. In the Account Restrictions section, press the toggle button to turn on restrictions. This will allow you to select a PIN to prevent unchecked purchasing and manage other security measures.
This suite of popular games includes Township, Farmscapes, and Fishdom, among many others. All games by this maker use the same set of parental controls which are operated using Family Sharing. Before any purchase, your kid will see a window telling them to “Ask to Buy.” They won’t be able to make the purchase until they send a purchase request to your Family Sharing organizer (usually a parent). If the organizer confirms the purchase you want to make using the card associated with Family Sharing, it will be downloaded to your device automatically.
More tips for online safety
After adjusting the privacy settings, chat functions, and other safety features on your child’s most-used apps and games, there are other steps you can take to make their screen time even safer.
- Make the devices themselves safer, make monitoring kids’ activity easier, and get more control over screen usage with tools like Google SafeSearch, Apple Screen Time, Google’s Family Link, and more.
- Do you know which apps and games are the most dangerous for kids, from spreading extremist ideas to inviting them into toxic communities or shady chat rooms? Talk to your kids about apps they should avoid and why, and review the apps they’re already using to make sure they’re not problematic.
- Use these tips and simple scripts to have conversations with your child about avoiding things like child abuse/grooming, cyberbullying, online predators, and malware. Be sure they know exactly what to do if they encounter something inappropriate online.
- Know the signs that your child has been exposed to grooming from online predators, and teach them the red flags they should look out for—because not everyone who’s friendly online is really a friend.
- Enable parental controls on gaming platforms like PlayStation, Switch, and Xbox, as well as various email providers, smart home devices like Echo, and more.
- Set some household ground rules, like keeping phones out of the bedroom or even writing up a family online safety contract to make sure your kids understand the responsibilities associated with spending time online.
Once you’ve taken the time to set up these safety measures on your child’s apps and devices, you’ll have infinitely more peace of mind during their screen time.