My kids don’t have phones
Lol, who are they calling?
There was a thread on Hacker News the other day asking readers how they deal with their kids going online. We, being upper tier techlords who make their living typing letters on keyboards have been asked this several times in real life. “Do you guys let your kids have phones?”
The question gets asked because of the infamous bit about some FAANG leaders not letting their kids use the software/services they create. And while we do in fact limit our kids more than most, we aren’t the “30 minutes a day screen time” folks. We do our best to allow tech that’s age appropriate for each kid and not just toss them a tablet or cell phone with the raw internet on it.
A key helper in all this are the parental controls on google accounts which gives us a list of what sites they frequent and for how long. Remember, this is for 8-14 year old kids who are old enough to read well enough to get themselves in trouble. When they hit 18 they can make their own email accounts and go nuts.
The Apple family sharing also allows us to keep track of devices and regulate purchases. Our older ones don’t hound us for in game purchases these days but when they did we would often get notifications for approvals.
Y’all also have to realize how much kids will be using computers in school moving forward. All of our kids have been issued a Chromebook at some point in the past two years, and the high school almost exclusively uses them for students to turn in work and go through modules. Limiting “screen time”, I’m afraid, might make learning harder in the long run. If they have to spend half their time learning the computer itself they won’t be able to keep up with their studies.
But only until a few months ago (when the oldest reached soon-to-be-driving age) none of the kids had a cell phone.
So what do they have access to?
Oldest: PC logged in with parent managed email acct. School chromebook, iPhone, Consoles.
Middle Grader: Old MacBook Air, Consoles (He dropped his iPad again and is currently saving up to get it repaired.)
Primary: In awe it still works iPad mini, consoles.
That doesn’t sound too restrictive to most parents until you realize that we set limits on content rather than hardware. It really is the kicker in all this, the computers we grew up with in the 90’s were made of all the same stuff the current ones are. The big deal is that the content and connectivity has changed. I’d let my kids in an AOL chat room way before I let them fart around on Reddit or Discord.
I’ve been asked by other parents who aren’t as tech savvy as we are things like “what do you know about this Discord thing?” after discovering their kid was in a chat room with adults. It’s because we use things like Reddit, Discord, Twitter, Instagram, and such that we know what level of glue-eaters are out there and what we don’t want the kids getting into.
We restrict things that we know need to be restricted from either experience or knowledge of the medium.
Here is what they can’t do:
No uploading videos to YouTube (outside of game content)
No unsupervised YouTube (we had to axe YT kids and any show that was just influencers shilling garbage toys or families exploiting their kids to sell toys.)
IOS: Safari is restricted and the App Store requires one of us to approve any app downloads/installs.
Consoles: No MMO’s or game modes with live chat. Each kid has an account using an email we set up, friends from school are on the friends lists etc. Age restrictions on some titles require them to play using my account when allowed. Most of this is all in the Xbox environment, we don’t have to do much to moderate the use of the Switch.
What they CAN do:
Minecraft: with friends from school!
Fortnite: This was taken away for a few years due to behavior issues, always give the kids a second chance on some stuff once they’ve matured.
Scratch: They use this WYSIWIG code editor at school and at home and are allowed to make whatever they want. Bonus, they WANT to show us what they made and are proud of what they can build in it.
Youtube: We do let them watch it, we aren’t heartless goons. Mostly it’s stuff like tornado chasing, gaming tutorials, literally any tutorial, cooking shows, and the occasional peppa pig. You do have to check on them or else the YT algo spirals into chaos.
Netflix/Hulu/HBO/PrimeVideo: They have their own kid/teen accounts. It’s mostly just Regular Show, Adventure Time, Frozen/Moana on loop. We do let the older ones watch stuff like Stranger Things and such at night when the younger ones are asleep. You can’t restrict the oldest based on the youngest.
The age and maturity level of the kids dictates the content we allow, which is honestly common sense in my mind but it’s so easy to forget how the majority of people out there just don’t know about what’s actually on the internet. It always blindsides me to find out people my own age who use computers every day for work don’t know about what’s out there.
I get it though. When we were in middle school the internet was not easy to get onto or traverse easily. In high school you could google a cartoon character and not easily bring up adult content. When we were in college there was still a separation of personal life and internet life when the biggest issue of the day was who was in your top 8 MySpace friends and if your KaZaa downloads were viruses or not. (They were.) Getting an actual image of yourself on your profile meant you had access to a digital camera or a scanner so you could upload an image of a physical photo of yourself. Your computer wasn’t scanning your face and peeking out the camera at you at all hours of the day.
“Oh, but my kid doesn’t do anything bad on the internet.”
I know there are ways for my kids to bypass the garden wall, or view content on a friends phone at school, or whatever. If they want to do something they will find a way, but in finding that way they have to learn some pretty good tricks in the process.
What’s fun is the past few weeks I’ve let the boys listen to the DarkNet Dairies podcast to show them what happens when you try and do bad things on the internet. (You get caught!) And unsurprisingly most of the folks being interviewed were left with unsupervised internet access all day as very young teenagers. Great for education, but not so great for having to spend your twenties in jail or prison because you weren’t mature enough to be responsible with that knowledge.
The other issue with maturity and the internet is the new dark patterns in apps and games that constantly pop up asking you to buy in game content or subscribe to something. This is where we ran into the biggest problems because they would beg us for Vbucks and Minecraft coins, and when you asked what they wanted for a birthday or Christmas it was just in game currency for some bullshit that would be out of style in a week. The concept of a no skin player was something to be ashamed of because you didn’t have the funds or points for all the bells and whistles.
But while these are decent reasons for limiting games and such, and we do allow for computer and tablet use, why no phone?
Well that’s even simpler. A phone isn’t just a game console or handheld computer, it’s a personal radio pinging it’s location into the air all day long forever. There are way more things that suddenly fly out of your control when a phone is involved. So much stuff that jumps way beyond the scope of what a pre-teen needs to be able to do. Before the smartphone my oldest was using a flip phone and that was basically only so he could call 911 if the house burned down while we were at work. Being able to use location services when learning to drive and being able to drive was the key aspect of changing that and as long as behavior with it stays appropriate, he gets to keep using it.
If they want to yell and say mean stuff to people while playing online? Games go away. If they want to try and earn free game credits by installing cheats or malware? Computer goes away. They want to take video of their daily routine and put it up on YouTube for everyone to see? Tablet goes away.
We don't want to stop them from having fun with their friends or anything but we aren’t going to let them just walk into oncoming traffic to learn about road safety.
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