The Dangers of Technology - Part 2
In Part 1 of The Dangers of Technology, I discussed the dangers of technology and the need to be aware of what our children engage with daily. We discussed student's needs for affirmation they receive from likes, comments, and wins in a video game. Today, I want to discuss why this is happening and tips and tricks children may take to ensure their connection with mobile devices is not lost.
Throughout the pandemic, society and culture have quickly shifted. Screen time usage by children ages 4 to 15 doubled between March 2020 and May 2020. In May 2020, children spent an average of 138 minutes per day on YouTube watching videos. The previous months of April (97 Minutes), March (71 Minutes), and February (57 Minutes) demonstrate a consistent increase. YouTube has taken to calling this "The Covid Effect." During this time, companies have realized that children turn to screens as they have no alternative activities or entertainment that help them meet up with friends, attend school, and relax.
Technology platforms have incentives seducing loyalty through avenues such as limited-edition rewards and perks for daily usage. In many ways, the pandemic has been a gift for these companies, as they have a captive audience. Most health researchers' main concern lies with the fact that devices serve as inferior replacements for activities that are important for health, social, psychological, and physical development, like physical activity. The National Library of Medicine published a research article that tied video game overuse to brain changes linked to addictive behaviors. Dr. Humphrey's a psychiatry professor from Stanford University, cited "bundling" as the reasoning behind these behaviors, as in the past, there were multiple avenues children could turn to find pleasure. Examples include playing outside with friends, school, art classes, sports practice, and a variety of others. Now children are associating their devices with multiple forms of pleasure, all bundled into one convenient unit. He likens encouraging children to disconnect or stick to safe internet usage during the pandemic to preaching abstinence with alcohol in a bar.
The struggle with screens brings us to the present dilemma facing many parents today. With addictive behaviors to screens on the rise, children and youth find numerous ways to circumvent parental controls that limit or filter screen time. Below is a list that Gen Z uses to work around any attempt to restrict or filter screen time usage and how you can prepare for it.
1.) Parental Controls: Say you install parental filtering and monitoring controls on mobile devices.
-They can/will: Dual boot their laptop and install a new operating system, so they are using their version without limits.
-What you can do to prevent this: Have a policy that mobile devices need to remain in public areas and enforce for the whole family (even yourself). Check your computer reporting regularly and maintain access to all their mobile devices regularly.
2.) Fancy Modems: You buy a fancy modem with parental controls to limit their internet usage.
-They can/will: Google the default password for that router. If you left the password on its default setting, teens quickly have admin access to it. Once they do, they will create a 2nd account on the modem, giving them admin access without restriction. Even if you realize you left the default password available, it now won't matter, as they have already built back door access. If you set your password initially, they will install a 2nd wifi router behind your modem and set their SSID (Service Set Identifier) or WifiWifi network. They can easily purchase a 2nd wifi router on craigslist or eBay for $10 and hide it in their closet where you will not see it.
- What you can do to prevent this: If using a router, make sure your passwords are strong. Get daily/weekly reporting on activity (some will email you if there are changes). Ensure you get rid of the old router, purchase a non-cable company version, and reset everything. Also, ensure nothing is using the ethernet port that you did not put there.
3.) OpenDNS: Domain Name System that allows for the website and content filtering software can be beneficial.
- They can/will: Use other domain name systems on their iPhones, laptops, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, and other mobile devices. Also, as stated in point two, they can install their router.
-What you can do to prevent this: Secure their devices by ensuring network changes cannot happen without your password or consent. Monitor your daily/weekly internet usage reports to ensure nothing is bypassing your settings.
4.) Bypassing wifi: Today, children and teens can turn their wifi off and use cell phone data.
-They can/will: Unlimited data for a cellphone gives your child free reign of their mobile device as there is no need for secure wifi to access the internet. They will do this in small increments, so parents cannot easily detect it on phone bills or reporting tools.
-What you can do to prevent this: The best course of action is to opt into a limited data plan and watch your usage plan throughout the month. You can also monitor data usage on your carrier's website. If your kids are using their data while they should be on wifi, you now know why.
5.) Texting, even when you don't have a texting plan: There are hundreds of free texting apps that will allow your child to interact with others online without monitoring or filtering. Apple uses iMessage and does not use standard data as it does not come from your carrier.
-They can/will: Download a free internet-based messaging app. Texting software will assign a new phone number to connect with friends, online users, and anyone they choose. iMessage is an excellent example of this, as anyone with an Apple device can send/receive a message as long as there is wifi available.
-What you can do to prevent this: If using a router, block as many of those domains as possible when setting up your system. Having access to your child's devices will allow you to check for texting alternatives. If they have an Apple device, have them use your iCloud account so you can mirror their messaging to your devices.
6.) Gaming Devices: Almost all game systems have access to the internet in some capacity.
-They can/will: Bypass your parental controls. If you have forgotten to lock their gaming system, they can and will pretend to be playing a game you are ok with when in reality, they are surfing the internet or are in a chat room.
-What you can do to prevent this: Ensure parental controls are enabled and that you restrict any changes to the console.
7.) Proxy Sites: These are sites that divert traffic via an innocent address unobstructed by filters. If your child is not allowed on TikTok, they can go to websites like Hide.me and tap the restricted address into the search bar, route the request to an external server and go around parental controls.
-They can/will: Find a proxy site to use as an external server to access what they want.
-What you can do to prevent this: Check your weekly/daily reports for sites visited. While it will not show the website they are not supposed to see, i.e., TikTok, a URL will have "proxy" in it and show up on the report.
8.) VPN: Virtual Private Networks mask IP addresses; the network makes it look like they are in another location. It also encrypts all incoming and outgoing data. Parental controls monitor the user's IP address, so your student or child can use a VPN to bypass your restrictions.
-They can/will: Find a free VPN online and download it to use their mobile devices to circumvent parental controls or filtering.
-What you can do to prevent this: Require permission for new apps to be downloaded on their mobile devices using a password. Check their mobile devices for VPN apps and use their phone's search tool and type in VPN; this should show you if anything downloaded was a VPN.
9.) Incognito Mode: Private or hidden browsing on the internet. Allows a person not to save the sites they've visited and does not keep search history.
-They can/will: Set an incognito mode on their search browser, which essentially hides their digital footprints, so you are not aware of what they are doing.
-What you can do to prevent this: With your parent control/monitoring system, turn off incognito mode options and private browsing. Check your weekly/daily internet report from your carrier and look for any incognito or secret browsing history.
Ok, that was a lot of info at once, and most of it sounded downright scary. Please understand that technology is not a bad thing; in fact, most of the things I see teens use technology for are pretty inspiring and incredible. Just know that as leaders, mentors, and parents, it's up to us to set the tone and create the right environment for your child and technology. One of the best ways we can do that is to start by assuming that our kids want to do the right thing and need guidance on what that is. Understand that kids' intentions are usually pretty basic; they want to connect with friends, find like-minded individuals who share the same interests, and share their identities and feelings. Technology adds a layer of complexity, which is where we have the opportunity to guide them, love them, and model for them what good technology habits are. Who knows, the influence you have may help them show their friends and make a difference far beyond what you hoped.