Why you need to monitor your kids online

“What about their privacy?”

 

The never-ending struggle of parenting is finding the right balance between giving your kids enough autonomy to learn and grow and enough supervision to keep them safe. When kids start spending time online, many parents wonder if checking their browser history, demanding their kids’ passwords, and otherwise keeping tabs on what their kids do online violates their kids’ privacy. Checking your kid’s phone or tablet can seem a little too invasive– like reading their journal or taking the door off the bathroom.

 

It’s interesting that electronic use seems so private. On the one hand, adults often send and receive confidential information online. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers are all clearly designed for one user at a time, and peeking over at someone else’s screen runs counter to modern social etiquette. On the other hand, the very nature of the internet is intensely public. With a keyboard and an internet connection, everyone and anyone can publish thoughts and ideas for the world to see. Each link clicked and website visited is stored in your internet browser and available to anyone with any computer savvy.  While online journals exist, nothing online is really a secret.

 

The lines between the online and off-line world are blurring out of existence. This means everything in the physical world– the beautiful, the horrific, the virtuous, and the evil– is reflected on the internet. When your child opens a browser, he or she is walking into the world. THE world, mind you, not his or her own world. We tend to think of social media as a digital tree house or school yard– something intimate, juvenile, innocent– when, in fact, the ocean or New York City would a better comparison. The internet is beautiful, loud, unforgiving, stormy, and yes, dangerous. If you wouldn’t let your child dive into the ocean alone or wander a metropolis, you should not let your child use the internet unsupervised.

 

An internet connection is access to every corner of the earth, and almost every person alive. And yet, we hand this power to children too young to walk out the door alone. Leaving our children to explore the internet alone is not respect for their privacy. It is tempting fate.

 

Use the internet to show children the ocean of humanity. Teach them to respect the roaring waves of politics, art, music, and ideas. Demonstrate to them how to stand on the stage of the internet and fight for what they believe in. But please, don’t let them swim alone.

 

Keep your family safe online!

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Three reasons to turn off your smartphone today

Did you know the average person spends almost 3 hours a day on their smartphone? That’s about 20 hours a week– the equivalent of a part time job! Here are three reasons to take a well-deserved vacation from your smartphone.

 

1.Your brain needs quiet

A growing body of research shows that downtime is essential for optimal brain function. Scientists believe a certain kind of brain activity, sharp-wave ripples, help us store and consolidate memories. These ripples can only occur when our brain is resting but awake. Unfortunately, we’re prone to pull out our phones at just that kind of time– when we wake up in the morning, on public transportation, waiting in line, before we go to sleep at night. If you’ve been feeling forgetful lately, keep your phone in your pocket next time you have a quiet moment and just be still.

 

 

2. A better night’s sleep

The blue light emitted by tablets, televisions, computers, and yes, smartphones, hinders our brain’s production of melatonin, the chemical that helps us fall asleep. Even if you fall asleep without difficulty, you may still want to read a book before bed. This study found that people who were on their phones at bedtime needed more time to fall asleep, spent a lower percentage of their time in bed actually asleep, and slept worse overall.

 

 

3. Improved relationships

Relationships obviously improve when people are calmer, better rested, and have better memories, but research shows relationships are helped in other ways as well when the phones are turned off. There’s a whole new line of research on “technoference” and its impact on relationships. Parents say their co-parenting improves when their phones are put away– they notice each other’s signals and work together more seamlessly.  Researchers have noticed that toddlers disintegrate when mom and dad check their phones and perk back up when devices are turned off. Women report more feelings of depression, lower life satisfaction, and lower relationship satisfaction when technology is allowed to interrupt couple time. Overall, pretty much every relationship in your family and social circle gets a boost when your phone takes a back seat.

 

Clean Router knows every smartphone (and family) needs some downtime.

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Unplugging may improve social skills, study suggests

A recent study suggests taking some tech-free time may improve tweens’ ability to recognize emotional cues from others.

 

The study, published in the academic journal “Computers in Human Behavior,” tested two classes of sixth graders (aged 11, 12, and 13 years old) on their ability to recognize nonverbal emotional cues. This was done by asking the participants to infer the emotional states of people in photographs and scenes from silent videos. One class of sixth graders then attended a five day nature camp, where the use of televisions, computers, and mobile devices was not permitted. The less fortunate sixth grade class stayed home, attended school, and maintained their current media habits which was, according to the surveyed sixth graders, about four and a half hours per day of media use. Both classes were tested again after the lucky sixth grade class returned home from camp.

 

After only five days, the sixth graders who spent five days away from technology significantly improved in their ability to read facial emotion– improvement the other sixth grade class did not match. You can read the original study here.

 

This study should be encouraging to parents (and teachers, therapists, grandmas, grandpas, and anyone who works with kids). In less than a week, these kids exhibited significant, measurable improvement. That means you don’t have to permanently ban all electronic devices from your home to promote your kids’ social development. Just a week or so at a time, perhaps during a family vacation or a portion of a school break, will help your kids to see and understand the people around them.

 

There’s no need to go overboard, though, because thanks to this study, we also can see that, given a little space, our kids will grow up and figure things out. The five day camp in this study was NOT emotional IQ boot camp or intensive social skills training– it was just a nature camp. The tweens didn’t need an intervention; they only needed a reason to log off and be present. As adults, we can give the kids in our care the incentive to unplug by modelling and insisting on tech-free times and spaces. If we make screen-free time normal, these kids will grow into adults who understand how and why to maintain healthy media habits.

 

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Toddler Tantrums? “Technoference” may be the culprit

When the kids are driving you crazy, think twice before you reach for your phone. New research suggests that kids, particularly toddlers and preschoolers, act out more when parents are too plugged in.

 

The study, conducted at Illinois State University, surveyed 170 American families about parental tech habits and the kids’ behavior. Brandon T. McDaniel, the lead researcher, focused primarily on “technoference,” a social science label for technology use interrupting real life interactions. Parents who had poor tech/life balance– checking the phone often, feeling lost without one’s phone, and/or turning to the phone when lonely– were more likely to have technoference in their relationships, which in turn correlated with more negative behavior from their children. The children in the study were around three years old.

 

Modern parents are becoming more attuned to children’s screen time, and rightfully so. However, like secondhand smoke, technology dependency affects even screen-free kids. This is not the first study to link heavy tech use to sub-optimal relationships, but this is the first to confirm the intuitive link between excessive smart phone attachment by a parent and toddler meltdowns.

 

The study also noted that not all of the children externalized the disappointment of losing their parents’ attention to a phone; many children withdrew and exhibited internalizing behaviors as well. While this may be more convenient immediately, children who internalize negative feelings suffer later as they struggle to develop healthy coping mechanisms. It’s not hard to envision a multi-generational cycle: a lonely or bored parent self-medicates with a screen, the child internalizes the hurt of being passed over for a screen, the child learns to cope with negative feelings through screens, the child becomes a parent and models the same heavy tech use, the children again take after the parents.

 

Parents, if you don’t model healthy screen habits, who will? Demonstrate unplugged time, prioritize face to face interaction over digital messages, and put your own devices to bed at a healthy hour. Children may follow rules temporarily, but their long-term habits as adults are more likely to resemble yours. Put the phone away, turn it off, shut it down, leave it alone. Teach your children to value reality over artificiality, and you’ll instill a lesson that will protect them for a lifetime.

 

You can find the original study here or read about it in the Chicago Tribune by clicking here.

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Limiting Screen Time Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Study Suggests

A recent study suggests elementary school aged children’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes may be affected by large amounts of screen time.

 

The paper, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, surveyed about 4500 children between nine and ten years of age and measured various health markers like height to weight ratio, fat index, skinfold thickness, and insulin resistance– all of which are markers for type 2 diabetes. The children were also asked about how much time they spent on electronic devices. Those who averaged three hours of screen time per day (or more) scored significantly higher on type 2 diabetes than those who spent an hour per day or less in front of a screen.

 

You can read the original study by clicking here!

 

For the digital generation– our children and grandchildren– developing moderate internet habits is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. For children genetically predisposed to certain health conditions, balancing screens and off-line fun could minimize their health risks. Understanding the relationship between lifestyle and health will help parents prepare children to be successful adults in every way.

 

Struggling to balance screen time and family time? Clean Router can put your family’s internet on a schedule!

 

 

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(Cutting) A Little Screen Time Goes a Long Way, Study Says

The secret to a long life might be cutting back just a few minutes a day on screen time.

 

A recent study published in the research journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise suggests replacing even thirty minutes of screen time per day with another activity lowers one’s mortality risk significantly. And, no, the activity does not have to be Crossfit! While activities classified as “structured exercise” (including strenuous sports) did have a greater impact on adults’ life span, swapping thirty minutes of television watching for activities like walking for pleasure and light household projects also improved the participants’ health.

 

While the study’s results may be intuitive, they are a testament to the power of moderation. Bloggers and television lovers are not required to cut the cord and give up their hobbies completely. Instead, developing an additional interest can be enough to improve one’s physical well-being.

 

Parents, while this study’s participants are adults, the same principles can help the younger crowd as well. Kids and teens often go to extremes in their interests, and it can be almost impossible to completely separate them from the beloved smart phones and tablets. However, enforcing such a separation for even a short period of time in favor of a slightly less sedentary activity can have a significant impact on their health. As your kids invest more time in other interests, it will become easier and easier to encourage them to develop healthy media habits and a more balanced life. Start small, be patient, and results will come!

 

If you’re interested, you can read the original study here.

 

How can you separate your kids from the mesmerizing glow of electronics? Clean Router puts the internet on a schedule and sends your kids off to play! Click here to learn more about how Clean Router helps families keep electronics in their place!

 

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Screens in bedrooms (even turned off) hurt sleep quality, study says

Research has indicated screen time before bed can negatively impact sleep quality. However, many of us sleep with our phones or tablets plugged in next to the bed. Does the mere presence of a screen affect how we sleep? For kids at least, a new study says yes.

 

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, examined data from over four hundred studies, including 125, 000 children between the ages of six and nineteen years. Unsurprisingly, researchers found a “strong and consistent” relationship between screen time at bedtime and inadequate sleep, poor sleep, and daytime sleepiness.

 

More unexpected, however, was the finding that children who had access to electronic devices at night, even if they didn’t use them, also suffered in their sleep lives. In other words, just knowing a smart phone or tablet was plugged in nearby was enough to affect kids’ sleep.

 

While experts have long recommended removing electronic devices from kids’ rooms, most have focused on the safety implications. Kids are much more likely to wander into online trouble with privacy, and any parent would be hard-pressed to monitor their children’s online activity while sleeping or from the other side of a closed door. However, these findings give parents even greater incentive to enforce screen-free bedrooms. Poor sleep hurts kids physically, emotionally, academically, socially– pretty much in every area of life.

 

You can read the full study here. To learn more about screen time and sleep quality, check out another post from our blog by clicking here!

 

Need help putting the internet to bed? Clean Router can enforce the internet curfew on any, some, or all of your home’s electronic devices.

 

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“I call Gamma”: Is Video Chat Good For Tots?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has been pretty clear– screen time is not good for children under two (Edit on 10/26/2016: The AAP has revised its recommendations for screen time and toddlers). However, moms and dads are almost universally making an exception for the sake of long distance relatives. A recent study found that 85% of the participating children between the ages of 6 and 24 months had used video chat at least once, and 37% did so weekly (read the study here). Luckily for grandmas and grandpas everywhere, a recent study indicates that FaceTime and Skype may actually be beneficial for young toddlers.

 

The researchers wanted to know if toddlers could a) form relationships with and b) learn from a partner over video chat. The study’s participants, all of whom were between 12 and 25 months old, were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group watched a series of pre-recorded videos (one each day for a week) in which the same partner taught novel words, actions, and patterns. The second group, however, FaceTimed with the partner and received the same instruction in real time. When the week was over, only the children in the FaceTime group showed a preference for the partner over a stranger. Additionally, the younger children learned more novel patterns and the older children learned more novel words than the similarly aged children in the pre-recorded group. You can read the original study here.

 

The AAP’s ban on screen time for the under-two crowd is largely due to extensive research showing that toddlers just do not learn from technology. However, this study suggests that toddlers’ brains perceive video chat differently than other video content. The social interaction so necessary to babies’ and toddlers’ learning can happen over FaceTime or Skype. Furthermore, to the joy of long-distance relatives, toddlers seem to understand that the person “in the box” exists and will recognize frequent video chat partners upon meeting in real life.

 

The only question left is whether or not this study was funded by grandparents.

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Why spying isn’t the answer (but monitoring is)

Heart racing, you somersault past the open hallway, hop over the creaky floorboard, and slip into the room. A glance at the clock confirms you have approximately fifteen minutes before your situation will be compromised. You open the laptop, and cringe. A password? Your sources have not prepared you for this! Hopefully your knowledge of the target will help you guess the password. One, two, three attempts fail. One more try…. and in!

 

You scan the laptop’s files, pictures, browser history, and social media profiles. All looks in order. With only seconds to spare, you close the laptop and retreat to safety. Sufficient intelligence has been gathered– at least until next month.

 

If keeping tabs on your teenager’s internet activity has become akin to a spy mission, you may not be protecting your family online in the most effective way. While parents can and should monitor their kids’ digital lives, spying is a different strategy that excludes many opportunities for arming kids online.

 

So what’s the difference? Spying is gathering information without your child’s knowledge, while monitoring is observing your child’s online activity after informing him or her that you can and will be doing so. Spying has possible ethical implications, but the real cost of spying is a lost opportunity for opening a dialogue with your kids and removing an added incentive to stay out of trouble.

 

Do you struggle with talking to your kids about internet safety issues like online privacy, social media, FOMO, sexting and sextortion, pornography, and internet addictions? Here’s a great conversation starter: “Kids, we are going to be monitoring your online activity and social media accounts.” We can guarantee that will get their attention! You will have the floor to educate them about the common online pitfalls and how those mistakes can impact their lives. As the conversations become more natural, your family will feel more comfortable coming to you with their questions. Perhaps best of all, you will never feel reluctant to blow your cover by bringing up something problematic you may find in their digital lives. Educating your kids about internet safety prepares them to form healthy habits that will help them be internet savvy adults.

 

When your kids know they will be monitored, they have more motivation to stay out of trouble. They are less likely to search for content they would be embarrassed to view with their parents, because in a way, they now view EVERYTHING with their parents! While some kids will still try to sneak past Mom and Dad’s watchful eye, implementing the right parental control software can prevent this issue. Look for a software that, like Clean Router, records incognito browsing history, allows you to add websites (including proxy websites) to a Black List,  and filters every device in your home. Acclimating your kids to a monitored computer also prepares them for the workplace, where all computers will be filtered and all browsing history will be recorded.

 

When it comes to keeping your kids safe online, monitoring is the better way to go. An open dialogue in your home is the best internet safety tool and will prepare your kids to face the dangers of the internet as adults. When your kids know that they are being observed, they will have another reason to avoid questionable content and risky situations.

 

Online peace of mind isn’t just possible– it’s essential! Choose a good parental controls software, educate your kids about pornography and other internet dangers, let them know that you are watching their backs, and keep an open dialogue.

 

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“Annoying” Social Media Habits: Parental Crime or Parental Necessity?

A recent article on The Guardian detailed “The 10 worst parental crimes on social media.” Written by two 14 year old girls, the article lists 10 things parents on social media do that their teenagers find particularly annoying. However, as any parent knows, just because your child finds a certain rule (or practice) annoying does NOT mean that rule is worthless. Here are the ten social media “parental crimes,” as well as why parents might want to keep on re-offending.

1. “The ‘talk'”

According to the article, “the talk” covers adding strangers on social media and posting “things you may regret later in life.” Sorry teens, but this crime is a must for parents everywhere. We do recommend that parents be more specific about posting suggestive and/or unprofessional content and the short term and long term consequences of what teens post. As the authors pointed out, though, some parents leave out important topics like body shaming and pornography. The best strategy is to have the talk not just once, but continuously.

2. “Hypocrisy”

Teens complain that their parents have one set of rules for their kids and another set for themselves. While it is important for kids to recognize that screen freedom increases with age and maturity, parents should remember that their example will leave a lasting impression. So, if parents institute an unplugged hour, the whole family should probably participate.

3. “Boasting”

The teen authors of the article specifically call out parents who manufacture picture-perfect social media profiles and over share the details of their kids’ success. This is a common problem among social media users of all ages. Parents and teens should come to an understanding about what is and is not ok to post about family members.

4, 5, 6, 7. “Getting Facebook/Twitter/WhatsApp/Instagram wrong”

We understand that teens may be embarrassed by public messages from their parents (as discussed in the article), but it seems nit-picky to complain about parents using various social media platforms “wrong.” Everyone expresses themselves online differently, so we think this is one area in which teens need to cut their parents some slack.

8. “Using bad science”

The examples given were warning boys that keeping cell phones in their pockets would make them infertile and telling teens that keeping mobile devices in their room overnight will interfere with their sleep. While there is a fair amount of support for the latter, it sounds like the real issue here is teens not respecting their parents’ judgement and limits.

9. “Spying”

Of all the “parental crimes,” this one is a must! Now, spying has a secretive connotation, and we believe that parents should be upfront about their monitoring, but parents need to know what their kids are doing online. Many, many online dangers lose their pull if kids just know that their parents are keeping tabs on them. Explain to your kids that you do not monitor out of a lack of trust but because it is your job as a parent to keep them safe and help them grow into responsible, independent adults. The day will come soon enough when you can step back, but it is essential that parents of minors are aware of their children’s online activity.

10. “Asking, ‘What have you been doing all day?'”

It is true that this particular comment can come off as passive aggressive. However, read further in the article: “How can we begin to answer such a question? I am not addicted; I’m terrified. Fear is the oxygen that fuels the fire of all social media. To you it may seem as if I’ve wasted a day staring at a screen, but if I don’t stay in contact with my friends, I feel terrified by what might happen.” This is NOT a healthy relationship with social media. If a parent notices their children spending hours a day on social media or feel anxious at the thought of disconnecting, the responsible course of action is to encourage them to cut back.

 

Parents, your involvement in your teens’ online lives is essential. Teens, responsible parents are aware of ALL aspects of their children’s lives. This does not have to be awkward! If both parents and teens are open about their goals and desires, this can be an opportunity for growth and strengthening parent-child relationships. Be patient, keep your cool, and have a sense of humor. These moments will stay with you both for the rest of your lives, so stick with it and know that your efforts are making all the difference.

 

Here at Clean Router, we believe that every family deserves a fun, safe online experience.

 

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