Let’s talk about smartphone, families, teenagers and school

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I often make dynamics with the students to deal with issues of digital competence, especially issues of security, responsibility, image, etc. Last week we played 3rd of ESO and talked about the excessive use of screens. They themselves were aware and, specifically, 75% believed that it would be advisable to reduce the use.

What surprised me most was the answer to the question, “Do you have or have you had any parental control applications installed?”

I explained to them what it was, that most of them didn’t understand the question. Result? Only 7% had or had had a parental control application. Today I don’t know if I’m writing this article as a parent or an educator, probably a little of each. Do we really believe that students, no matter how much we tell them to use it responsibly, will control themselves?

I’m not a psychologist, although, as he said, I’ve read a lot on the subject. I wouldn’t dare to make general recommendations, but I can tell you about my experience. One of the advantages of having several children, let me keep the exact number private, is that you learn something over time.

Controversy often resurfaces over whether or not to ban mobile phones from schools. That it is an interesting tool, that it distracts from study, that it allows new possibilities, that there are dangers… The easy solution is always a ban. But why don’t we families assume our responsibility? If we give this device to our child, why don’t we control its use? Why does the family neglect it to a certain extent?

It is difficult to set an age when a child/adolescent can already have a mobile phone. I decided to give it to them, in a consensual manner, when they started 2nd grade of ESO (13 years old). I’m not sure if I did it too early. I’m sure it wasn’t too late! However, the first thing I installed was a parental control application. Yes, there are many, and later I will explain the two that I have used and continue to use.

There are a lot of articles that show how the screens call us. Applications that are designed to enter often waiting for the reward of a like or a comment. Addictive games so that we don’t stop playing… We know. Everything is designed to hook us. How many adults are not too attached? And we will do nothing to know what our children use?

We have to accompany them. And I think the best way is with a parental control application that maintains their privacy, but provides us with information about the time they spend and the applications they have. We will always have to agree and talk: why do we install the control? what will we be able to see? If we detect an unrecommended use, we will have to talk to them. Explain well what we think they do not do correctly. The application will give us a lot of information that will allow us to establish a conversation about the most suitable use.

What applications do I recommend for Android?

As I was saying, I have thoroughly tested two applications: Screen Time and Family Link. I have tried the Android versions, which are the phones that run around the house. Both have very similar features that I like very much. Screen Time was the first one I used, but in the last year I’ve changed. Basically because one of my kids changed phones. With the new phone, the application didn’t work well and we couldn’t solve it even with the help of the technical service. So I stopped paying, since the full version has an approximate cost of 30 euros per family and year (you can have as many children as you want) and I switched to Family link which is free (although I do not rule out that Google takes advantage of the data of use of the device to see what).

In any case, in both you can define a maximum time that you can use the phone. Once the daily time is over, it can no longer be used. In the case of Screen Time, you can define applications that can be used once the time is up. In the case of Family link, once the time is up, only calls can be made. Basically this is the imported function: to control the time spent. Logically, parents can see in which applications they have invested the time, but without seeing exactly what they have done. We can’t read whatsapp conversations, nor the messages they have put in the instagram, but we can read how long they have been in each one. In addition, specific applications can be blocked. And, in the case of the Family link, specify a maximum time for each specific application (apart from the total time limit). I think maintaining your privacy is important and a sign of trust.

As with everything, you have to provoke the conversation. What do you do with this application? What is it for? Can you show me an example? But it’s always better if they show us.

In both you can control the location if it is activated. In my case I have not considered it necessary. The trust is great enough that we don’t need it. But, if it never breaks, it’s okay for the temporary possibility to be. But, if they are a bit skillful, it’s very easy to avoid this tracking (don’t tell them, but just activate the battery saving system).

Some technical issues

Although I paint it well, with dialogue and agreement, these applications have also caused tense situations. When they run out of time and want to continue, they create difficult situations. But that’s what it’s all about. It’s about managing them and learning from them.

They are not so clear about it, so they have looked for ways to bypass these controls. I’ll share with you a couple of the techniques and their solutions.

  1. Main user. The first user to be installed on the android phone must be a parent user. The first one is always an administrator. If he is your user, you could create another user and you would no longer have parental control. It is much better that, once the parent user is installed, another one is created for the child. This new user does not have permission to create new ones. This new user is not allowed to create new ones.
  2. Initial PIN. This can be tedious, but it is best not to know the SIM PIN, which is asked when the phone is started. Most phones have an option to restart in safe mode. This allows the phone to restart and boot only with the applications that came as standard, to detect and correct errors. And of course, the parental control applications did not come and do not start. So you could reboot in safe mode and enter youtube or browse the entire internet (although you would have neither whatsapp, nor instagram, nor tik tok, etc.). If you don’t know the PIN, when you restart it will ask you to enter the PIN and you can control if it is in safe mode or not.


From there on, not too much should be forbidden from the school. The family can see if the mobile is used when it is not touching and blocking times can be defined. If we want to give the mobile phone to the child so that when they leave school they have to go somewhere and we are more relaxed if they have a mobile, we block the rest of the hours. If the school allows it in the playground and not in class and we do not agree, we can set the playground blocking time and we are ready. In this way, the families take responsibility and we unload the school, which has a lot of work to do more than chasing students who use their mobile phones when they are not touching them.

Personally, I think that the mobile phone is a great tool and that we can get a lot out of it at school. But I also believe that a teenager cannot have a device of this potential without any kind of control. Therefore, families, give the mobile phone to your children when you consider it appropriate, but control what they do with it and accompany them in learning to use it responsibly.

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