Wednesday, December 26th, 2012
Chances are if your family unwrapped a new device over the holidays, you’ve already spent some time setting it up before relinquishing control but is that gadget really child-friendly? Chances are that just taking the new gaming system, tablet, e-Reader, smartphone, or laptop out of the box and charging it isn’t quite enough. Once the conversation about screen time and when it is and isn’t ok to be playing on these new devices has occurred with your kids, parents should run down this checklist to ensure that the new technology that has come into their homes over the holidays is ready.
New laptop? Your child probably knows to not share their passwords, click on suspicious content, or use the camera to chat with strangers but it never hurts to remind them while also installing antivirus protection and internet security tools. Antivirus and internet security software works to scan the computer to prevent harmful viruses that often work to harvest personal data. Both types of software can be downloaded online for free from companies such as AVG who provide protection for PCs. If you purchase software, please be aware that software licenses expire after their term and need to be renewed to continue your protection.
New Xbox, WiiU, PlayStation Vita, PS3, or other gaming system? It’s going to be hard to wrestle away the controllers to check parental controls while your kids are awake but it’s a necessary step. Often times the default settings of gaming systems are overly general. It’s worth logging in and creating a parent account. Xbox allows parents to set up different profiles for kids where games are restricted based on Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) game ratings. It’s also important to know who your child is playing games with. Since many gaming systems allow for players to connect across the internet, they could be playing their favorite game with their friends or complete strangers. Have some conversations about safe gaming and if you need tips, the Get Game Smart website provides useful information for families.
New iPad? The wealth of educational apps available for an iPad makes it a highly coveted and engaging device for kids of all ages but be sure to purchase a sturdy case that will protect it on all sides. The magnetic covers available through Apple are slim and convenient but parents should look for a case that fully wraps the edges from bumps, nicks, and scratches. Take some time to look at the iPad settings to determine what features you want disabled when your kids are playing apps. There has been a lot of chatter about the kinds of information app manufacturers may be collecting about kids as they use apps so be sure to go into each app and manually set restrictions if needed so you’re not providing too much information about your family unknowingly.
New smartphone? Talk to your kids about who is going to pay for text and data overages for their new cell phone. A new smartphone is exciting and chances are that one of the first things a new user will do is text or share the news of their device via social networks with friends. Unless you’ve gotten your child the pricey unlimited data plan, it’s important to have a conversation about exactly how many texts can be sent and how often they should be using the data plan to access online content with their phone. Understanding data plans is tricky especially since no one really thinks about how many megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) of data are being used to send or read email, stream music, view websites, post photos to social networks, or watch video content online. The Citizen’s Utility Board provides this handy Guide to Cell Phone Data Plans and breaks down what a megabyte and gigabyte are along with how much data is needed. My advice is to start conservatively when it comes to a data plan. It’s often easier to upgrade rather than downgrade your plan.
New Kindle Fire? These robust digital products are so much more than eReaders. Since Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are highly functional tablets that can also be used to read books, enable Kindle Free Time. Kindle Free Time grants unlimited reading but restricts daily screen time, prevents kids from accessing certain categories such as videos and games, disable web browsing, and the ability to purchase content. It’s also reassuring to look over at a child with their Kindle and know that the Free Time feature is working when the background of the screen is blue, rather than the usual black.
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