child ipad
There are too many scary things out there on the unfiltered web - parents must be vigilant gatekeepers Image Credit: Unsplash

The internet is a frightening web. Firstly, there’s too much information – and misinformation – that’s out there, befuddling even the keenest gatekeepers. Then, there are groomers – paedophiles – out there that slip past security measures and manage to contact kids. There are the dangerous games that promote and encourage violence towards others or even oneself. And there are the trolls, waiting around in chat groups ready to bully the vulnerable. Unfortunately, by the time one has learnt of these impingements of privacy, it’s often too late and the only thing one can do is deal with the - usually devastating - fallout.

Now, as children return to school it is more important than ever to arm them with digital tools such as tablets and phones but also to speak to them of safety and security. It is imperative to screen the data flitting through their devices and to keep the troubling messages at bay.

Barry Lee Cummings, Chief Awareness Officer at UAE-based site Beat the Cyber Bully, told Gulf News in an interview about why and how much one can monitor their child’s phone or iPad. Here are excerpts:

To what extent is it possible to monitor a child’s phone or iPad and in what ways?

You can pretty much monitor any smartphone or tablet with external software or physical devices for home networks. The extent of the monitoring is down to the functionality of the software but also which operating system the device has. Monitoring can allow a parent to see how long a child is spending on specific apps/websites, alert when a child is trying to download an app that they aren’t supposed to have, monitor SMS, phone calls, emails, searches on Google and YouTube and more. It can also allow a parent to limit internet time, turn it off completely, hide specific apps, hide specific websites, and monitor location as well as turning the whole thing off.

Most smart devices have the ability for parental controls to be loaded on. It’s also worth noting at this stage that some specific apps have their own parental/privacy controls that should also be turned on and configured.

- Barry Lee Cummings

Do all gadgets have the ability for parental controls? Are some better than others for the ability to monitor and can you share any specifics?

Most smart devices have the ability for parental controls to be loaded on. It’s also worth noting at this stage that some specific apps have their own parental/privacy controls that should also be turned on and configured. Most recently it has become apparent that some of the access parental control software need to be effective are not granted on iOS devices. Apple uses protecting privacy as the reason for not providing access to these third party software providers. What this means is that a lot of functionality that would be of use to a parent is not permitted on iOS devices, but is permitted on Android devices. Because of this, we have recently been recommending parents purchase Android devices for their children wherever possible. This is due to the open source nature of Android versus the proprietary approach from Apple.

What are the best monitoring apps or downloads and are you able to share any specifics on them? 

The best monitoring software for parents we have found is called Bark - the downside is that it’s not supported outside of the US. But it’s worth checking out the site to see what the gold standard looks like. On the ground, here in the UAE, there is a great piece of software called Nischint - which has a lot of the functionality of Bark but is supported on the ground here in the UAE. Another service worth investigating is called ikydz. This is both a physical box for the home network as well as an app for mobile devices. Another highly recommended solution is Circle - the reason for multiple options is that every family unit is unique, there is no one size fits all blue print, so it’s worth investigating which one fits your specific family unit best.

I’ve heard that some monitoring technology can take up so much space on a child’s gadget that it is then difficult for them to use it. Is there any way to avoid this?

I’m not aware of this issue, based on the storage capacity of most phones these days. But as children do tend to fill up their phones, cloud storage is always an option so that photos, etc. are automatically uploaded to a cloud drive, Google, OneDrive, Dropbox or an equivalent. Then we also have to talk to them about priorities. There is a field amount of memory and they have to manage that. Which means some apps will have to go and so on.

What are the most risky apps or websites that parents should restrict? Is it better to restrict or monitor from afar?

There are a myriad of apps and sites that could cause issues for children. At the moment, the ones we perceive to be the highest risk are those that support video chat with strangers. Knowing about them and understanding whether they are already on your child’s device are being requested to download or are appearing in their searches is a red flag that we would want to sit down and have a chat about. Some destinations that fall into this category are Holla, Omegle, Hippo, BitLife, Chatous, MeetMe, Telegram and Sweet Chat.

It’s always better wherever possible and depending on the age of your children to speak with them about why you want to put certain restrictions in place. And if feasible, give them the chance to prove they can abide by the rules and be trusted, but also be prepared to follow through on consequences if guidelines are broken. Monitor from afar to begin with and get more granular as required.

What if a parent can’t find any way of monitoring or restricting their child’s device, should this device not be used?

This is a subjective question and depends on how you are choosing to bring up your children and what your family unit is all about. Pretty much all smart devices have the ability to be monitored in one way or another. To what extent is determined by each family and is why researching the options mentioned in this article is highly recommended. The age of your child also comes into play here in terms of trust and allowing them privacy. Having said that, I believe a parent’s role is to protect and empower their child wherever possible and the younger we can do this, the better. The alternative is to provide your child with a feature phone, not a smartphone, depending on what kind of monitoring you are worried about. A feature phone will allow them to remain in contact with you if that is a primary concern and allow you to control to a certain extent their access to things like social media by not allowing it on their device, but on a shared desktop in the home for example.

What else should a person know about monitoring software?

Something we always say in our awareness sessions - monitoring software is a key part of the solution to keeping our children safer in the online environment. But parental software cannot take on the role of parenting. Installing parental controls is a very good idea, but speaking with your children about why it’s being used and the benefits for everyone is also key. Open communication channels is what we should strive towards, so that when things go wrong online, which they will, the software can alert us to the potential issue, if our children don’t. And we can then have an open discussion about the situation and work together to resolve it, if that’s what is required. Alternatively as parents, sometimes all our children want, is for us to listen. No judgement, punishment or fixing. Just listen.


ipad kid
Open communication channels is what we should strive towards, so that when things go wrong online, which they will, the software can alert us to the potential issue, if our children don’t.

Key information about some monitoring apps

iKydz

This solution allows you to monitor social media apps, online games and video streaming. In addition, the website explains, it allows you to:

  • Block or give access time to the most popular apps and websites
  • Remove unwanted apps on your child’s Android device
  • Block inappropriate content with web category filters
  • Block any website with custom web blocks
  • Set specific internet access times for each child
  • Make the web a safe place to search with SafeSearch
  • View your family’s internet usage reports
  • Apply different rules to each child and all of their devices
  • Apply the same Wi-Fi rules to visiting children’s devices

Things you need use this system:

An internet router with an available LAN port.

To use the associated iKydz Parent app, you will need an Android or iOS mobile device. The iKydz Parent app is supported for Android version 5.0 and higher, and iOS version 11 and higher.

iKydz Mobile is supported for your children’s Android (version 7.0 and above) and Apple (version 12.0 and above) mobile devices.

How it works

  • Select an iKydz Wifi Box for your home. Select from three different iKydz Wi-Fi boxes. You can connect an unlimited amount of devices to the box. These boxes come in three formats: one allows you to manage all the kids’ devices that are connected your Wi-Fi, another allows you to keep an eye ‘on the go’ and a third allows both alternatives.
  • Select amount of on the go devices. Choose from up to three, six, or nine iOS or Android devices that you want additional control outside of the home.
  • Download the iKydz Parent App. Download the all-new iKydz Parent App from the Apple AppStore or Google PlayStore. Control all connected devices on home Wi-Fi or on the go from within one app!

Nischint

Featured in the Unicef Child Online Protection in India report in 2016. Features include blocking of inappropriate websites and apps, custom profiles for kids, and SOS button, setting screen time. Cost: $0.99/month/device (minimum). The $3.99/device/month plan allows all these features plus the ability to monitor images, calls, SMS, Geo Safe Zone mapping and tracking. FREE VERSION: There is a free version that gives a user a dashboard, which gives data up to only 7 days.

Things you need use this system:

  • iOS, V7.0 and above
  • Android V3.0 and above

The application can be installed on any tablet, smartphone that’s on iOS and Android. The web application can be accessed through any browser. It does not support Windows.

How it works

  • Register yourself as a Parent interested in Nischint either via www.nischint.in/login or by downloading an application from Android Market Place or Apple App Store.
  • Access your child’s device and download the app. Go to the tab named ‘Activate your child’s device’. Fill in your email id and password. You will be sent a unique passcode on this email. Use it to complete registration.

Circle

When you get a Circle subscription, you get filters, history, usage, time-limit settings, a pause-that-internet setting and location finder. It works on all internet-connected devices on your home network once Circle Home Plus - a monitoring system - is connected to your router. No additional software installation is required. Price: $9.99/month or $89.99/year.

Using the Circle App: On its own, the app can manage Android and iOS smartphones and tablets (including Chromebooks and Kindle Fire) anywhere they go, on any data or network.

With the Circle Home Plus, you can manage devices on your home network such as smart TVs, gaming consoles, Kindle Fire devices, desktop computers and laptops, and other Internet-connected devices.

Warning: These sites are exempt from screening
Popular sites like YouTube, Google, Netflix, and Facebook are fully encrypted, which limits Circle from seeing what was searched for or the content on that site.

Things you need use the app:

  • iOS version 12 and newer
  • Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and newer

How it works

  • To find the app, search Circle Parental Controls in the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android)
  • Download app, then create your Circle Account
  • Create profiles for every family member, so their Circle settings are shared across all devices
  • Assign a filter level: kid, teen, adult or none
  • After you select a filter level, you can customise it by setting content to allowed, not allowed, or unmanaged by tapping the text-box across from the platform or category name.
Filter levels
Kid: Grants access to child-safe experiences such as educational tools, but filters out content not appropriate for children (most restrictive level)
Teen: Grants access to most general-use platforms and categories, without mature or adult-oriented content
Adult: Grants access to nearly all platforms, categories, and apps, though explicit content is filtered out by default
None: Means that Circle won’t filter content, track usage or history

How much screening is too much?

Ask a child to step away from a phone or tell him/her that you are going through private messages and the result is likely to be explosive. Where then is that line? The one that goes from concerned to concerning? Dr Ateeq Qureshi, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist from Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, says: “There are two aspects to monitoring screen use. One is general monitoring of appropriateness of duration of use and content consumed, and the other is monitoring of individual activity such as social media posts or messages.

“A general awareness of their child’s online activities is desirable but parents should avoid monitoring content that is private such as messages and social media posts.”

A general awareness of their child’s online activities is desirable but parents should avoid monitoring content that is private such as messages and social media posts.

- Dr Ateeq Qureshi

It all comes down to trust, he explains. As long as you’ve discussed and agreed on boundaries, they must be given free reign within that framework. “There should include proactive measures to support safety, appropriateness of content and time spent online. Parents should be aware of what apps the child has installed, what social media accounts they have and if those are age appropriate. They can use things like ‘screen-time settings’ to set limits and block inappropriate content. But beyond that they need to give the child freedom and privacy, unless of course they have concerns,” he says.

Dina Dimitriou, Coaching Psychologist and author of the book 'Are You Parenting The Adult Of The Future: A Practical Guide of 7 Life Skills Of The Future To Prepare Your Teenage And Child’, believes a parent must always be aware of what a child is up to on the web. “My recommendation always to parents is to control the passwords to everything on that phone, whether it’s the password to unlock the phone, or social media or even email accounts. The same advice is being given to parents by police around the world. Unfortunately, this isn’t often communicated to parents.”

My recommendation always to parents is to control the passwords to everything on that phone , whether it’s the password to unlock the phone, or social media or even email accounts.

- Dina Dimitriou

When children are not developmentally ready to deal with a situation, they might corner themselves into uncomfortable spots. She says, “It is our duty as their parents to safeguard them. The key is to communicate this with our children, explaining the reasons for our decision.”

As for what can be considered too controlling, it really depends on your dynamic as a family – and how much conversation you are having about the monitoring. “Generally, if you are snooping on their private content and continue to do so despite not finding anything of serious concern, or finding something but continuing to snoop instead of talking to them about it – this can be considered as too controlling,” explains Dr Qureshi.

Dimitriou concurs. “It isn’t ethical to pry on them without their knowledge and if you do that it would affect your relationship and lead to lack of trust, possibly creating irreversible damage,” she warns.


How do you monitor your child's screentime? Let us know at parenting@gulfnews.com