The internet is everywhere.
It wasn’t always so, believe it or not. I remember the days when the centralized home computer was all you had available when logging your Solitaire and Minesweeper hours. Now all you have to do is reach into your pocket, pull out your mini-computer, and browse the world with your fingertips.
That access can be a wonderful thing, but it comes with its share of problems, too, especially when you’re a kid. And as parents, it’s our responsibility to help our children make wise decisions and help them navigate potential internet pitfalls.
But, given our already huge list of parenting “to-do’s,” along with the bewildering size and scope of the online world itself, this can be really difficult. So, what’s the solution for protecting your children in a technologically savvy age?
Many parents turn to technology for help. Several companies offer services to help parents monitor and guide their kids’ internet habits, and Focus on the Family has partnered with a company providing a service that, in Focus’ opinion, is one of the best. That service is called Forcefield.
Forcefield is an app that allows parents to easily manage and monitor their children’s social media and smartphone usage. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know about it.
What’s the Main Idea?
The folks behind Forcefield aim to provide a tool that will scaffold, so to speak, as children grow, helping them to incrementally develop a sense of media discernment and responsibility. In addition, Forcefield strives to create open and honest communication between parents and children; the goal is not to “catch children in the act” of doing something bad, but to offer an accountability tool that will teach them to self-govern.
Who Is This For?
When it comes to target audiences, Forcefield groups them into categories. Younger audiences range from ages 4-10, while older audiences generally range from ages 11-15, though it can be used for teens beyond that age group, as well. The app is designed to be installed on your kids’ devices and downloaded on your own, which allows you to help monitor and guide your children’s internet habits.
Is This Just for Our Phones?
No. Forcefield can be purchased and used on most of your family’s internet-capable devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets and Android and iPhone smartphones.
What Does It Do?
Quite a bit. Let’s break it down.
After the app is downloaded onto the parents’ phone, and installed onto the child’s device, parents have the ability to see what is going on in their child’s social media world and can then choose to customize settings as they see fit.
Forcefield has the ability to “sleep” the apps on your child’s device. From the parental device you’re able to put all apps to sleep at random, on a schedule or for an extended period of time. Let’s say that every day at 6 p.m. you and your family sit down to dinner, but each night Susie has a hard time pulling herself away from Instagram. Never fear! With the click of a button, you can schedule devices to shut off social media at 6 p.m. every night to ensure a unified screech (or perhaps a sense of relief).
Now, the catch is that, for Android devices, all apps shut off at the same time: You can’t pick and choose any to stay open. (In the near future they say you’ll be able to customize which apps you’d like to “sleep”). It’s a bit different for Apple products: When parents hit the “sleep” mode, iMessage and email are excluded from this process.
Also, apps can only go into “sleep” mode for 12 hours maximum before they wake up on their own. And, on the iPhone, when apps wake up after sleep mode they appear in alphabetical order, not in the previously arranged order.
Parents can also customize their child’s internet browsing options. Parents can enable blocking and filtering tools that children cannot disable. You may choose to block the entire internet, add certain sites or block certain sites or keep the internet open with Safe Search and YouTube Restricted Mode enabled. Whatever your parental preferences, Forcefield provides a customizable option available.
Parents can also monitor what websites their children use, and for how long, using the Activity Report. They can also see what apps their children have downloaded or deleted. You can also tap on an app button to learn more about it (and see what some of the experts are saying).
And if you’re concerned about what pictures your child is posting to social media, Photo Report allows parents to see what their child is posting on outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. (Alas, Forcefield doesn’t work with Snapchat for now).
Perhaps you’d like to know where your child is, especially if they’re travelling some distance or are in hard to-reach areas. Or maybe you’d just like to help them find their misplaced device. Well, with Family Finder (operational on the iPhone only), you can enable “location” so that you are able to track the location of your child’s device on a continually updated map.
Forcefield also provides something called the Forcefield Library. This feature is excellent for children of all ages, but especially younger children. If you’d like to give your children educational games and apps to access, the Forcefield Library has more than 400 choices, each personally vetted for content and age-appropriateness. It’s a neat feature because you’re able to turn off the internet browsing access while still giving your children entertaining alternatives.
How do I Install It?
First, parents will download this app onto their own phones; you may either download the app directly, or you can go to go to their site and click “Try It For Free.” If you go to the website first, you will be brought to a page that lists various included features, and you’ll be offered a 30-day free trial. If you decide to continue past 30 days, you’ll be charged $11.99 per month for the first child, adding $3 for each additional child.
You’ll then be instructed to input your email and to create a password. Afterward, you’ll be instructed to add the name of your child(ren), as well as their age(s). (The program asks for the age of the child so that the Forcefield library can be accessed and customized based upon age.) Once that is done, you’ll need to install the software on your child’s device(s).
Then, parents will gather whatever of their children’s devices they want Forcefield on and download the “Forcefield for Child Device” app. Then, log in with your parental email and password. Afterward, select the child who’s device you’re using, and tap continue. You will then follow the instructions to install this device. make sure you select “trust” when it asks for Remote Management. After this step’s completed, you can enable notifications so that, as a parent, you will be updated on your child’s activity.
Can My Child Uninstall Forcefield from their devices?
Yes, your child can. However, when this happens, parents are alerted immediately via email and through their phones.
What if I want to Delete It?
If you installed through the Forcefield website, you will also cancel through the website.
If you installed the App with Google Play or iTunes, you will need to delete through those avenues, as they’re the ones billing you on your account.
What If I’m Confused?
The Forcefield website offers lots of FAQ’s and video tutorials to help answer most questions parents may have.
Forcefield can help parents guard their children from negative content found on YouTube through the app’s YouTube Safe Search mode. But activating this service is a little tricky: Your child will have to delete the YouTube app on their device, then access the platform via the Forcefield browser or the internet browser.
Remember, you are not able to see the specific videos your children watch or the pictures they’re looking at, but you are able to see how long your child has been at a certain site. The point isn’t to spy on everything your kids do, but to create opportunities for open communication regarding media founded on trust.
No device or app is perfect, of course. But Forcefield’s tools can give parents greater peace of mind when it comes to what their children are up to online, and more importantly, it fosters the foundation to teach kids about true tech, media and entertainment discernment—encouraging parents and kids to talk through the issues at hand, rather than just erecting walls that fall apart when your kids grow up and leave home. Good, healthy discernment is always built on communication. And Forcefield helps parents engage with their children in just that.