ESRB_app_1a Tornado

GooglePlay makes it easier to evaluate apps

ESRB_app_1a TornadoThese hot and hazy days seem to bring out the devices. In the afternoon, my worn out child plops himself in front of the fan, grabs his tablet and starts trolling for new games. Before downloading a new app, he has to ask me to enter a pincode. Most of the time, I have heard of the app and I can make a quick decision but sometimes he comes up with some stumpers. Before downloading the mystery app, we look up the rating and reviews.

I have to admit I have always found GooglePlay ratings confusing. What is “medium maturity”? The term itself is vague and after reading the description, it still is not easy to determine exactly what age group this geared toward. With GooglePlay, Apple and video games all having different ratings systems, it is not easy to figure out if “Medium Maturity” is like 17+ or “T”?

I was glad to hear that GooglePlay has adopted the ESRB rating system. This change is part of an effort to standardize ratings worldwide. Keeping up with a child’s digital world is enough of a challenge without having to decode different rating systems. So, the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) is working to streamline the process for assigning age and content ratings for video games and mobile. The goal is that all digital consumers, especially parents, will be able to see well established, credible and locally relevant ratings for these products, regardless of the device.

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Now on GooglePlay, parents can find the same ESRB ratings elements:

  • Rating categories for age appropriateness;
  • Content descriptors indicating content that may have triggered a particular rating and/or may be of interest or concern. ESRB currently uses close to 30 different content descriptors for depictions involving violence, suggestive themes, language, gambling and controlled substances, among others.
  • Interactive Elements provide information describing certain features that can be found in digitally delivered games and apps, which may include the sharing of personal information or the user’s location, if the game or app enables the purchase of digital goods, and/or if users can interact.

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Parents can also use these ratings to set the parental controls for each device. By changing the content restrictions, parents can block a child from downloading apps above a certain age rating. Once set, these controls only apply to that particular device.  This is true even if everyone shares a GooglePlay account. If a child has their own tablet or smartphone, parents need to change the GooglePlay settings on their device.

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When deciding whether to let a child download or not download an app, parents cannot beat the one two punch of the ESRB rating and the CommonSenseMedia review.  I check these two sites so often, that when my kids come to me to ask to download an app they already have the ESRB rating and CommonSenseMedia review in hand. In case you missed my post on choosing apps, here are few more tips for evaluating apps.

 

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New phone this summer? New Phone Contract Template for 2015

tipsOne of my top tips for parents on how to manage and guide their family’s technology use is building a family phone contract. I am not talking about a list of rules. Kids will mindlessly sign anything to have that phone in their hands. I am talking about sitting down together and building a contract. By taking the time to create one together, parents can see what their child already knows and where there are some gaps in knowledge. This is a chance for everyone to share their ideas, their expectations as well as outline consequences. These contracts do not need to include every possible thing they may encounter from now until they graduate. It is important to focus on the now and update the contract every years as they grow and their use changes and they show they are reasonable.

Recently, I updated my contract and included some ideas for getting the digital conversation rolling. Below is my updated template for a phone contract 2015  and check out these other great contracts as well.

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How to create a Family Phone Contract

We decided she was ready. We picked a phone and plan. Now, she has a phone!

My kid spent her first phone weekend searching for the perfect case and texting her friends. On Monday, she discovered her phone journey was not over. We sat down together to draft her phone contract.

Her phone contract included rules about both time and use. In fairness, she wished she were her older sister. Her big sister did not have a phone contract. We learned with her. Through trial and error, we worked out a phone understanding.

So far, these improvised guidelines have worked. Even so, I wish we had drafted a phone contract when our eldest first got her phone. Setting rules about time and use from the beginning is easier than trying to figure them out midstream.

With our second kid, we wrote a contract from the start. We did not just give her a list of rules. We went through each point and discussed it. While working on the contract, we found out what she already knew and we shared our specific concerns. We reworked a few items based on our discussion. Ultimately, her safety and privacy came first so some of our rules were not negotiable.

Family phone agreements can range from a few simple rules to multi-page documents. What you decide to cover in your agreement will depend a lot on your family. Try to focus on what is important for you and your kid now. Families should review and revise their contract at least once a year. As a kid grows older, you can add more expectations around issues such as sexting as well as allow for more freedom as they show they are responsible.

Below is an example of our contract. We started with the bullet points and the grey italics show what we discussed. There are many family digital agreements online. If this model doesn’t fit your family, I have included a few more at the bottom.

FAMILY PHONE CONTRACT

  • Phones must be parked by                   at                                          .

Originally, I wanted a hard stop but we settled on the phone goes to bed when she goes upstairs to bed. The phone is parked downstairs & the charger stays downstairs.

  •  Phones cannot be used during                                                                        .

Families should try to create some phone free times. Discuss with your kid when they can use their phone and when they should put it away.When we sit at the table for a family dinner all phones including mine are not allowed at the table. 

  • Your contacts can only include                                                           .

We talked a lot about who they can have in their contact list. Especially for a new phone user keep the contact list to their real world friends and family. If they have a question about who to add they should ask you.

  • To keep you safe, we will monitor your phone by                                                .

I monitor with surprise phone checks. Periodically, we ask for the phone and go through it. I do it with them sitting next to me so I can ask them questions. I am not looking to get them into trouble. I just want to know what they are doing with their phone. Most of the time, it is a quick, simple perusal. The only time, I really go through it is if there is a hesitation to handing over the phone or I think something is going on.

To keep them safe and protect their privacy, parents should set some hard and fast rules.

  • Never share your personal information online.

Kids should remember never to share their location or physical address. They should also never give out their personal information such as phone number, full birthdate, full name or other information that could be used by an identity thief.   

  • Never type or post anything you would not say in person or wish to appear on a billboard.

If they would not say it to someone’s face, they should not share it online. This includes not only what they post on social networks but private communications as well. Texts and instant messages can be saved with a screenshot and posted elsewhere or forwarded to someone else. Nothing is ever private in the digital world.

  • Your device must be kept secure at all times.

 Kids should set a strong password and not share their password with anyone except you. Viruses can also target smartphones. If your kid has a smartphone, they should  keep all software up to date.

  • For Smartphones – If you restrict it on the desktop, restrict it on the phone.

A smartphone is a computer in their pocket. Parents will want to extend the family computer rules to this device.

  • If you have a problem, please come to us first and we have a problem we will come to your first.
  • If you do not uphold this contract, we will                                                        .

Parents need to let kids know what will happen if they misuse their phone. For minor mistakes, parents may want to increase monitoring for a period of time. For bigger violations, parents may want to implement a digital time out or digital grounding. I know parents who take the phone completely away for a period of time while others restrict its use to certain hours of the day. Digital grounding is not as easy as it sounds. Kids will argue they need their phone for school and you may want them to have it during the day. Whatever you decide make sure you can enforce it. 


For more examples of family media agreements, check out:

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Finding the right plan and phone for your Family

This year, we have another child entering middle school. She vividly remembers that her older sibling started middle school with a phone and she is ready for her first phone. We had done this dance before so we thought it would be a simple trip to our wireless store to add another line and get a phone. We found out a lot had changed in two years.

We discovered all sorts of new plans and new options. We could choose a family plan. We could do a prepaid plan. We could all move to a new prepaid, no contract plan. It was not just our carrier. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the four major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon & T-Mobile) offer a total of nearly 700 combinations of smartphone plans—a family of five alone would have more than 250 options to choose from.”

With all these plans where does one start? We started with the Wall Street Journal’s Wireless Savings Calculator. We compared “multiple line” plans between the 4 major carriers. We also played around with different options, like the numbers of minutes or the amount data, to see which carrier offered the best savings.

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Is a phone on your back to school shopping list?

I will admit that when our eldest got a phone we did not think too deeply about it. She was babysitting and participating in more after school activities and we wanted her to be able to contact us. We knew she would use it to text her friends, but we didn’t think that was a big deal. Now a few years a later, we have another child entering middle school and this time around we are not as cavalier about getting her a phone.

There are days I love the phone and days I wonder why she has it. I love that she can call if she needs a ride or has a problem and I can reach her if there is a change.I am more comfortable letting her venture out knowing she has a phone. All of this connection can also lead to disconnection. She is on her phone a lot. Some days, I swear she never looks up and it is a constant battle to limit time. We also struggle with how much to monitor her use. It is hard to guide her if we don’t know what she is doing on her phone. We want to make sure she is using her phone responsibly but we don’t want to read every text. 

Before buying a phone, parents and kids should discuss time and use. Ultimately, whether a kid is ready for a phone depends a lot on them and you. Some questions to think about are:

  • How responsible are they with their current devices?
  • How well are they doing with time management?
  • Are they managing friendships well in the real world?
  • Are you ready as a parent to manage and guide their use?

If you decide it is time for a phone, remember a phone and internet can be separated and introduced at different ages. Your 6th grader may need a phone to get picked up at school. It doesn’t mean they need internet access. Contrary to what they may tell you, not everyone has a smartphone.

Once you have decided on a phone, parents and kids should sit down and talk expectations & consequences. Working together, you and your child can create a family phone contract. Creating a contract together is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like the idea of a contract vs. a list of rules. It gives you a chance to hear their thoughts and talk about responsible phone use. Ultimately, their safety and privacy must be protected so not everything is negotiable.

Parents should decide how they are going to monitor time and use. Keeping chargers downstairs is a great way to limit late night texting. Parents may also want to set a no phones at the dinner table rule. To keep track of use, we have surprise cell phone checks and I know other parents who use monitoring software. Whatever you decide for your child make sure that monitoring and education go hand in hand. The goal is for monitoring to lead to a dialogue.

We are all learning the rules of the road for this new technology. They will make mistakes. When they may make a mistake or see something that upsets them, you want them to come to you. Mistakes are an opportunity for everyone to learn.