*This article is a 4 minute read
Last week I shared a story about my child's seven month Digital Detox. This week we tested a new cell phone with built in parental controls.
I was skeptical. In 2017 we bought an Amazon Fire Tablet with built in parental controls, but it wasn't iron proof. On that device, inappropriate language slipped in on YouTube Kids. Thankfully, technology has improved since then!
I have been a firm believer that the safest way to protect kids from online peril is to raise them screen free until now...
It isn't easy to get a twelve year old boy to hand over his devices, let alone after a seven month digital detox, but the allure of a new Samsung A13 phone that doesn't look like a kid's phone made it easy. My son surrendered his Matrix style pass codes and usernames. My husband a former computer technician, set up our son's new Bark phone with built in parental controls.
My husband was doubtful that this phone would really safeguard our child against online landmines like Andrew Tate and Plain Rock. He reminded me that our son liked to Jailbreak phones. If you don't know what jailbreaking is, well it's exactly what it sounds like. It's installing software other than what the manufacturer has made available for that device.
Could my child jailbreak this phone? We would soon find out...
I will admit that if the Bark phone was my child's first phone, the set up would have been a cake walk! That being said, both my husband and myself received requests from Bark asking if it was okay for our child to install Tiktok, YouTube, and various other social media handles and apps. Alerts on our phones were chiming like church bells at Notre Dame.
Aha moment, for once I was no longer petrified by what my child might be watching online. I was in control!
You mean I can block Tiktok? Marvelous! Knowing what he's viewing and saying online in real time suddenly made parenting in the digital world easier. It also reduced my anxiety as a parent.
One alert stated that the content he was viewing contained profanity. I was able to see it immediately. It turned out to be a rap video. I was so relieved. It seemed like an ancient problem from the 1980's!
I used to pop in and out of my child's room like a Jack in the Box asking what he was watching, and assuming the worst, but now I'm warned if there's a problem. It's almost like having a second pair of eyes looking out for my kid. I'm sure he feels less anxious too!
I am so grateful. For awhile now, I dreamed of a cell phone with built in controls. Doesn't it make sense? For us it's the difference between cold turkey, or paying for software that isn't full proof.
I asked my son if he was happy with his new phone.
"Yes, I love that it's the latest Samsung A13, and it takes great photos!"
He didn't care if Big Brother was watching him. In a strange way I think he was relieved. He's aware of online dangers, and he knows he has to be cautious. Bark is like an updated version of an eighties home phone, but instead of parents as call screeners,you can safely monitor their activity from anywhere, lock their phone, block unwanted sites etc..
I think it's crazy not to have built in parental controls in this new digital frontier. We can no longer wonder if online material has a negative impact on our kids. Countless studies have proven that it does. Silicon Valley tech giants raise their kids tech-free doesn't that tell you something?
On the other hand, the internet can be a wonderful teaching tool, but we now know that the vast majority of kids are watching videos that contain bullying, suicidal ideation, toxic masculinity, content that promotes poor body image and eating disorders, pornography, and just plain stupidity!
My child is in a new school this year, and kids stay connected on cell phones. Having a phone again as he put it, "Is a good ice breaker." He can talk to other kids about online games, and communicate with his classmates. When he uses the internet in a positive way I encourage and praise him for good judgement.
Having a phone with built in controls is one way we can protect our child from inappropriate content. Children can still be exposed to online dangers on another child's phone or computer that doesn't have these safeguards. Believe it or not my kid encountered x-rated language on a school computer back in the second grade, and that computer had protective software. So it's still important to constantly discuss with your child why the internet can be dangerous. We talk about values, respecting each other, and not engaging in negativity. It's exhausting, but necessary, and thankfully tools like the Bark cell phone make it a lot easier.
Stay Informed Join Central San Diego Macaroni Kid It's Free!
* I was not paid to endorse this product, but I highly recommend it!