Image | Juhan Sonin
Sometimes, when my three-year-old son wakes up in the early hours of the morning, he asks me to see his favourite drawings and cartoons on the tablet. I always tell him that it’s very early to switch it on, and try to distract him with other activities. I’m almost always successful. But he keeps asking for the tablet (or the smartphone, when we’re going for a walk) whenever he remembers. When he’s 8 or 10 years old, I wouldn’t be surprised if he asks for his own smartphone.
Furthermore, the more he uses both devices, the more his ability to use them increases: he discovers how to use their different functions and will soon be able to use them independently. This is the point at which his exposure to risk will be greatest, and his behaviour will be changed forever. That’s when at home we’ll have to come to terms with how to navigate this new situation, and the time to install a parental control app will have come.
Parental control: the options are numerous
There’s a good quantity of apps that regulate children’s use of tablets and smartphones. These range from those that help you to exercise very strict control to others which limit certain basic functions. In the majority of cases, installation must take place not only in the device your children use but also in another in which this use is monitored, such as a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. I’ll speak about three such apps.
Qustodio allows you to block web pages with dangerous content, monitor children’s activity on social networks (Twitter, Facebook) and even administer the device’s usage time. Messages such as “it’s time to switch off and have dinner” appear on the screen. You can also monitor the calls and SMS messages that your infant is making and sending and the location of the device (and, as such, also the child).
If the device being monitored is a PC, Qustodio is installed in a way invisible to children. An advantage of Qustodio is the extensive analysis of the child’s device usage offered, and it presents very easy-to-read reports. Qustodio has a basic version, which is free, and a Premium version, which costs $49.95 per year. It works on Windows PCs, Mac, iOS and Android, and is available in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.
Photo: Intel Free Press
Mobile Minder is another relevant app, although it only functions with Android tablets and smartphones. The device’s monitoring also takes place via the company’s webpage, which may negatively affect visualisation.
Mobile Minder offers many functions similar to Qustodio, but also send alerts to parental devices when their child receives a text message containing certain words. You can also monitor the photo and video gallery and remotely erase any images deemed inappropriate. It sends notifications to parents if the child leaves certain zones or enters prohibited areas. It also includes the “Help” button, which is located on the device’s notification bar. The annual cost of Mobile Minder is $19.99.
The third app is DinnerTime. Its basic functions are similar to those of Qustodio and Mobile Minder (usage control, real-time monitoring, usage history, app blockage, etc.). The major difference resides in the app’s interface, as much in the device being monitored as that doing the monitoring. In other words, with DinnerTime monitoring can take place from a smartphone or tablet, but not a PC.
The app is currently only available for Android devices, although an iPhone can also be used as the monitoring device. The app can be installed on three devices – two for the parents and one for the child – meaning both parents can monitor. If DinnerTime doesn’t offer the detailed level of information analysis and one-off add-ons that Qustodio does, its ease of use makes it a great beginner’s option when it comes to parental control. This app features two versions: DinnerTime Plus and DinnerTime. The first offers greater device control. That said, both are free.
A controversial topic: does security come first?
The topic of parental control in tablets and smartphones is controversial, as the line between privacy and security is very fine. Some people argue that children also have the right to a privacy that we often consider to be exclusive to adults. On the other hand, some warn that in the current world of hyperactive, diverse and often negative communication, this privacy should be subject to minimum expression limits. On a tangent, at what point in time or what age should parental control apps be eliminated from our children’s devices?
If you bear in mind that these devices have only been around for a maximum of seven years (and even less in terms of mainstream adoption), it’s no great leap of imagination to say the debate revolving around this topic has barely started. What’s for sure is that, as specialists recommend, direct parent-child communication is irreplaceable, and will always be the best tool in terms of deep-seated prevention.
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