My Favorite Parental Controls For Kids’ Screens and Devices

Safe Online

Keeping your kids safe on screens can become a full-time job. The best efforts are rarely enough. I finally found something that has worked so well for our family that I wanted to share it with you all.

Screens in stages

We have introduced screens in stages with our kids. When our oldest bought a smartphone, we dumbed it down. Over time, we allowed more options for him. Our kids can join social media when they are 17, as they are more mature to handle the drama it invites as well as controlled enough hopefully to fight the urge to live on social media.

Through the years we’ve tried several services for filtering, blocking, and adding another level of parental controls. We’ve struggled to find something that worked really well. Many services require you to use a particular browser in order to be protected. That never offered much comfort to me as often my kids would forget to use the alternate browser, so they weren’t really protected. Other services interfered with our normal computer internet usage for homeschool. The sensitivity levels ended up blocking even sites required for school. Needless to say, I’ve been on the search for something that filters, blocks, and truly protects.

Filter, Block, Protect

After seeing ads for weeks in my Facebook feed, I decided to try Bark for a free trial period. Before the trial was over, I was sold. I absolutely loved how well it performed.

Here’s how it works:

  • We set up services for our 13 and 16 year olds. The 16 year old has an iPhone and a computer. The 13 year old has an iPad. You set up profiles for each child and then connect to their devices and accounts.
  • It monitors, scans, reviews, filters through their texts, emails, you tube accounts, social media accounts (if they have them), Spotify or other music streaming services, entertainment services, any games they have downloaded. It’s very comprehensive.
  • Bark sends reviews for me to see throughout the day. It only sends items to review that I may find issue with. And I set the sensitivity levels that I want for each child.
    • For instance, if Zachary listens to music on Spotify where he has an account, it sends me the song, lyrics, and time listened if it is flagged based on the criteria I choose. I also love the fact that when I review something, if I decide I’m ok with it, I can click the button to not alert me again to this song or this issue.
    • If I set up the sensitivity to flag for bullying, sexual content, and profanity and he receives a text with any of these, it sends me the actual text. The only issue I’ve found with this is that context is missing. I’ve received reviews that bothered me, but when I pulled up the full text strand, the Bark review was missing context that cleared up the issue for me.
  • When I receive an alert from Bark, I can review in my own time. If it is something they deem important, it comes with a time sensitivity warning.
    • When we recently took a vacation, Zachary wasn’t on his computer for a week. I received an alert that his internet usage was drastically reduced, which could indicate a child has opened up another method. In our case, that wasn’t the case, but I like that it alerts to things I may never consider.
    • We allowed Zachary to join Snapchat ahead of our normal age 17 rule. Bark sent me a message to let me know he had a Snapchat account.

We have explained to our kids that Bark is a tool we use to keep them safe. It’s not because we don’t trust them or think they are doing anything we aren’t ok with. But the internet is a dangerous place, and it’s our jobs as parents to protect them.

Zachary bought his smartphone a few months shy of his 16th birthday. Initially, he had little access on it. Once we found Bark, we were able to loosen his iPhone restrictions, which he appreciated.

Bark has allowed us to help Zachary as he has entered the smartphone world over the last year.

A few other things I love about Bark:

  • It’s easy to set up. I had ours set up in no time.
  • Live people are ready and willing to help if you need it.
    • We had a review come through I wanted to understand better. I sent an email and received a response back that helped me so much.
  • Excellent customer service
  • Easy to use. Not only is it easy to set up, it’s easy to use.
  • There’s options to pause your internet.
  • The customization is fabulous. I can set screen schedules and rules. For instance, if I want no You Tube access during the school hours, I can set up that rule in our profile and they can’t access it during those hours.
  • It protects even in You Tube. This is the first service I have found that does that.

As always, I only share the things I truly love with you. While many things I share offer referral fees and affiliate payments, I never ever recommend anything I don’t use and love in our family.

If you are ready to try it out, click the link below!! I’d love to hear how you like it!!

Try Bark

A Safe Smart Watch For Kids

We’ve been a happy Gabb Wireless family for a couple of years now. Two of our three sons had/has a Gabb phone. When our middle son was nearly 16, we allowed him to transition to an iPhone. Honestly, I miss the Gabb for him as much as I knew I would.

Andrew lost his phone a few months ago. He has to use his own money for a phone and decided he could live without one. What we found is that we missed knowing where he was, that he arrived somewhere safely, or simply being able to send him quick messages.

So we bought him a Gabb watch. And I am in love with this watch. I’ve never liked smart watches because they were too connected. The Gabb watch is only what they need and nothing more.

The ease of use is perfect for a kid on the move. He can voice record his text to us. The sound and clarity of the voice calls is exceptional. And the best part, it stays on his wrist.

Through the month of October, you can buy any Gabb devices for 30% off. Use promo code RENEEROBINSON.

It would be a great Christmas gift and you can go ahead and beat the rush and check that baby off the list!

How to Silence the Feed to Heal the Soul

 

Irritation, quick-temper, distracted mind, forgetfulness. These are a few signs I needed more than a social media detox. I was in need of soul healing.

I’ve been writing for years about the importance of removing ourselves from the grips of screens in order to reset our minds and souls. I’m six weeks into my current social media fast and continue to experience healing.

I wrote an article over at Bubbling Brook titled

MORE THAN A SOCIAL MEDIA DETOX: HOW SILENCING YOUR NEWS FEED CAN HEAL YOUR SOUL

In the article I share how I realized I desperately needed to silence the feed and the signs that my soul was healing when I followed God’s prompting for a break.

I hope you will find practical steps as well as encouragement to step into a time of healing with Jesus.

A truly safe phone for kids – 24 hour deal

Once you open the door to smartphones, it’s hard to close it. Once the door is opened, you begin the process of continually learning no amount of restrictions and monitoring are effective in truly keeping our kids safe.

As I’ve shared before, we’ve tried dumbed down smartphones, flip phones, iPods, and have found none to be truly safe. When I found the Gabb phone, I knew I’d found a parent’s dream to a phone they can put into their kid’s hands with no worries.

For 24 hours only, you can get this phone for $49 using my promo code RENEEROBINSON49

Purchase Gabb phone here

(This link will begin working Monday November 23rd at midnight MT)

These phones are expected to sell out fast. Monday November 23 12:00 am-11:59pm MT.

My 15 year old told us a story recently about someone asking what kind of phone he had. His response made us laugh. “I have a ‘my mom loves me phone’.”

The Gabb phone utilizes phone, text, calculator, calendar, music, gps, and camera. No internet, no apps, no games, no social media. No danger. No worries. Truly a peace of mind phone at a perfect price point. I’m not big on putting a $1,000 phone in my kids’ hands anyway.

There’s a new movement of parents waking up to the effects and harms of smartphones and screens on our children. In an effort to do our part in keeping kids safe and saving their innocence and childhood, the Gabb phone is a step in the right direction.

 

 

 

A safer alternative to a smartphone but with the same look

For years I’ve been writing about screen addiction, digital detoxes, and electronic boundaries to protect our families and our children. The first post was a letter to my boys about why I limited their electronic usage. After watching that post go viral multiple times, I realized this was a topic important to millions of families just like us. I began exploring the topic more and sharing my findings and insights here with you all. You can find many of those posts here.

I’ve never been a fan of a smartphone in the hand of a kid or even a young teen.

When Zachary turned 13 we bought him his first phone. It was a flip phone. I thought that would be the safest option. As it turns out, it’s not much better than a smart phone. On the flip phone you are unable to disable internet access. Yes, the flip phone has internet access. But with little to no parental controls.

We have bought 2 flip phones. Each time we’ve gone to the store we’ve been told there was only 1 option, 1 flip phone. No choices. We have also been told there is no demand and soon we will have no flip phone options.

I disagree with the lack of demand. I talk to too many parents and listen to you all share your heart for wanting a safer option.

Now that Zachary is almost 15, a flip phone isn’t the coolest thing in the world. To text on a flip phone is not super easy. So he’s reached a point where he began asking for a smartphone, but we aren’t ready to open that world to him at this point. He has more than enough internet access via computers and iPads in our home, we really don’t want him carrying access to the world in his pocket. And let’s be honest, we adults struggle to manage the distractions, so expecting our kids and teens to filter through the mess online is a setup for frustration.

I’ve scoured the internet for safe phones for teens. I end up finding nothing. Then one day as I scrolled Facebook an ad popped up. This one instantly spoke to me because it advertised a phone with no internet access, the look of a smartphone, with all the major functions important to us.

The price was perfect, the monthly service was the exact amount I already paid, so I bought it right off the ad. I don’t think I’ve ever bought from a FB ad before!

Ya’ll! I’m in love with this phone.

Company mission:

Put really simply, our mission is to protect children, connect families and encourage life outside the screen.

This video explains the heart behind this company and their mission. Created by a dad who found himself in the same place I did, standing in a phone store realizing the market held nothing to give our kids what they wanted while protecting them the way we want to protect them.

Key features of this phone:

 

Phone, Text, Camera, Calendar, Calculator. Unlimited talk and text for $19.99 and month. And the coverage is excellent!!

No internet, no app store, no social media, no games, no ability to send and receive pictures (which is becoming a major problem with inappropriate images sent and received by kids).

I bought our phone when it was on sale for $69. Currently the Gabb phone is being offered for $49, plus I have a promo code for an additional $5 off. Just use promo code RENEEROBINSON when you check out.

 

*****This post contains affiliate links.*****

*****See About page for full affiliate disclosures. I only share what I absolutely love and believe in. I’d share this with no affiliate link. Affiliate links cover a small portion of the cost of maintaining my website, so I’m always grateful for your support when purchasing and sharing through the links I provide. I turn down nearly every company who asks me to partner with them. If I share it, I use it personally and want you to love it as well!*****

A generation screened to death

(9 minute listen)

When life loses its wonder

When one of my boys was young elementary, I chaperoned a field trip to an aquarium. Everything we encountered was magical and enchanting, yet a little boy in my group continued to complain, “This is soooooo boring.”

Initially, I ignored him. But he wouldn’t stop.

“When are we leaving?”

“This isn’t fun.”

Each comment he made sucked the joy right away from all the other kids. The rest of the group quieted down their own excitement. I saw these other kids question what they thought was cool and exciting.

Negativity is like that. Spreading like the vicious cancer it is.

I asked the little boy, “What do you think is fun?”

“Video games.”

A rock wrapped my heart and pulled it straight to the depths of my stomach.

Of course this kid was unimpressed with life. His brain was being rewired. He was being screened to death.

Video games seem innocent. They are not.

The goal is to addict

Dig in, do some research on how these games are created. The goal of the developers is to addict our kids. This should be common sense to us. It’s a business. If they can’t hook you, they lose money.

Many tech developers send their kids to tech free schools and their kids aren’t living on screens. They only put them into the world for our kids. Not their own. What does that tell us?

It’s only getting worse. Each new fad game released has to up the bar. It has to beat the game losing its grip.

These games do NOT have your child’s best interest in mind. They have a mission to entertain all the way to addiction.

We are screening our kids to death.

We are killing what could be in them and our families. You may think I’m being overly dramatic.

Listen, satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. And he comes as an angel of light. And he’s a master deceiver. In other words, we will see and encounter life threatening choices and see them as no big deal.

Parents, we are modeling peer pressure to our kids.

I can’t tell you how many parents have said to me the reason they give in is because all the other parents give in. Lord, have mercy on us.

We are stronger than this, parents. How often do we tell our kids, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to.”?

Yet, what do we do when we see all the other parents letting their kids feast on these games? We follow the masses. We let peer pressure decide.

We need to be stronger than we are.

Do you know what I’ve never heard a parent say to me? “I wish smart phones and video games were this popular when I raised my kids.” Never, not once have I heard this.

I am constantly overhearing conversations on this topic. I have to literally bite the sides of my mouth to keep from piping into a side conversation. I listened to a mom and a dad (not married to one another) discussing the problems they were facing with their kids’ attitudes and behaviors they believed linked to video games.

The mom ended by saying, “But the games are really good for them. It teaches social skills because when they go to school they have something to connect over and talk about with each other.”

We’ve bought justifications.

In the history of the world has social skills ever been a mainstream issue? Nope.

You know why? Because we were created in the image of God for community and relationship. This is what we were made for!!!! We don’t need to be taught how to connect with each other. Especially kids. Kids are so natural and innocent as they enter friendships and relationships. They talk about everything and nothing.

Screens are killing our ability to connect socially.

Screens are creating death in so many forms in the life of our kids, and we must wake up before an entire generation is lost.

Kids need to be bored.

Boredom is a friend of childhood. It is not our role to remove boredom and keep our kids entertained, occupied, and busy. Yes, they drive us crazy when they are bored, but so what? If they see we don’t budge, they will figure out their own boredom issues.

Kids can’t solve problems because we are too good at solving the problems for them. Oh, you are bored, here watch You Tube, play the XBox, watch movies.

In this state of constant screening:

  • imagination dies
  • invention never gives birth
  • insight lies in a dark cave never discovered.

A mind screened to death.

[Tweet “In a mind screened to death, imagination, invention and, insight die.”]

Something powerful happens in boredom. We become still and quiet. Inventive and creative. Deep thinking begins.

A mind never bored never has the opportunity to discover deeper insights. And we all suffer for it.

We are exchanging long term joy for short term convenience as parents when we put a screen in the hands of our kids.

It’s not easy to grocery shop with babies and toddlers. But how else do they begin to learn the world doesn’t revolve around them and their needs and their entertainment. So much life to see at the store, but more often than not all I see are glowing faces of kids head down in a cart.

They don’t encounter the smiles of strangers or small talk with the bagger. They don’t have to worry about developing patience in a long line. They can simply bury their head in a screen, entertained as the subconscious thought develops that their needs, their entertainment is of utmost importance.

As these kids are screened to death, they are numbed to real life. We all lose in the long run.

We are setting up patterns of addiction.

Kids are living on dopamine hits they are saying are as powerful as any drug on the market. We can’t live with our head in the sand over this issue any longer. The research is available. The resources to understand what is happening to their brains is astounding. The question is – do we want to know?

We are partly living not wanting to know. When we know, we suddenly are faced with making choices and decisions we’d rather not deal with.

When we know, we can’t un-know.

Say cocaine was legal, yet I know the ramifications it would have, would I allow my child to enjoy it simply because all their friends were? That’s ridiculous. Of course, I wouldn’t.

Screens are legal, but lethal in many ways. Over time, they kill so much of what could have been. They kill moments. They kill memories. They kill relationships. They kill creativity and imagination. They kill passions and desires.

They are killing families. Suicides and teen depression at record highs. When will we pay attention? When it’s our own kid? Then will we care more?

We have a choice.

  • We can choose to create a culture of connection in our home.
  • We can share with our kids the whys behind our choices. When kids understand the why, everything changes. They understand.

It’s never too late to make a change.

It’s easier to set healthy boundaries and patterns when our kids are young, but it’s never too late either.

The last thing I’ll say in this post. I get many letters privately on this topic. I’ve cried over some of them. It’s why I just can’t stop talking about it. One theme I hear repeatedly is that mom and dad aren’t on the same page. I don’t have an answer to this. All I can say is pray. God desires unity.

 

For more posts on this topic, browse through the Electronics category of my blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Scrolling through life – Are we living distracted by screens or focused on life?

Living distracted by screens?

I sat behind this family. A pre-teenish aged girl, head down except for brief moments coming up for air, or rather, back into real life. Head back down.

Scroll.

Scroll.

Scroll.

I struggled to disengage following her phone habits. Her distraction from life around us was totally distracting me. The thing is, this is the norm for many teens today. But let’s be fair. The struggle is real for us adults as well.

When she engaged in real life, she complained to her parents about being bored. When she was bored, she picked up her phone.

Scroll.

She bounced from one social media platform to the next.

This isn’t unique to this girl. It’s all of us. It’s me too.

How often do I reach for my phone out of boredom, looking for that next hit of entertainment or distraction?

How often do I reach for my phone for the high of escape?

When I don’t feel like listening to one more complaint or argument, I pick it up.

Scroll.

When I feel awkward waiting for a friend to meet me, I pick it up.

Scroll.

We watched an entire family sitting at a table at a restaurant never looking up until the food arrived. 2 parents, 4 kids – scrolling through life. Missing the life of each other right before their eyes.

What stories went untold? What laughs never broke free? What impact or influence never passed one to another?

Real life vs fake offering

So much life missed trying to stay up on the fake life a screen offers.

We are missing the best and accepting the counterfeit.

This is nothing new.

‘When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”’

Exodus 32:1

They were tired of waiting, so they reached for the counterfeit.

They chose fake over real. They chose immediate gratification over lifelong satisfaction.

The very next verse shocks me.

‘Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’

Exodus 32:2-5

Aaron so quickly went along with the people and not only joined the masses but led them in their rebellious desires.

We do too.

We know we are trading real life, real connection for the false idol. Yet, we follow. We accept what never satisfies.

As we scroll through life, we are indulging our flesh. We indulge our desire to be entertained. We’ve created our modern day golden calf. We worship at the altar of our screens.

We have a choice to make.

These screens we scroll through will never give us what we truly crave. It’s like eating a diet of candy. Over time we will become sick.

I believe at various times God brings us enlightenment and we have a choice in what to do. We can continue down a path or make corrections.

When we find our scroll is invading our life, maybe a break is what is needed.  A fast in order to refocus our attention and reclaim the moments we’ve been missing.

Focused on Life?

There have been moments that happened I’ve looked back on and thought, “If I’d been buried in a screen, I would’ve miss that completely.” At the same time, I know for a fact I’ve missed countless moments as I’ve lived distracted by the scroll of my phone. I’ll never know what I missed. But I have a choice in each moment to claim it or let it pass.

I want to live a life full of beautiful moments. I want to have relationships that can stand the test of time and life. I want to create memories we can talk about around the table in 20 years.

Living an intentional life means looking ahead at what we desire and choosing today the steps we need to take in order to arrive.

It’s looking ahead and deciding what we want our Thanksgiving table in 20 years to look like and realizing it takes action today to achieve that. Meaningful relationships and moments take nurturing.

Intentional living is living life on purpose rather than scrolling through life mindlessly.

What are we nurturing today?

If you’ve followed along here for some time you know I’m passionate about guarding our families from screen intrusions. When I started writing online my goal was to encourage others to live an intentional life. Ironically, this was before screens were at play. It didn’t take long for screens to begin to dominate in homes and I’m determined to keep preaching this message.

The first post I wrote on this subject circulated into millions of homes. I received messages from parents who felt alone in their desire to raise children who could live with heads up and eyes ahead focused on life. They realized they aren’t alone. If you’d like to read that post you can find it here A Letter to My Sons – The Real Reason I Say No To Electronics.

You can can find other posts I’ve written on this topic by clicking here.

And if you aren’t subscribed to receive posts via email, click here. I rarely post more than once a week and promise never to spam you. I count it a privilege to encourage and inspire you to live an intentional life.