Many parents chimed in with their comments when the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District announced it would be restricting student access to social media, including one dad who can add a lot to the conversation.
School District No. 42 has configured Internet connections at its six high schools to block access to Netflix, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook on devices connected to school Wi-Fi.
The school board said the decision was made with support from each principal, due to concerns students were too attached to their social media accounts and not paying attention in the classroom.
But Justin Payeur said there is an obvious flaw in the district’s approach – students can still access these distracting apps using their own data plans, albeit at an additional cost.
They can also download a virtual private network app, which will get past all school filters.
He heard about students doing this on the first day of school.
“Kids are smart.”
Payeur feels uniquely qualified to discuss this issue because he is the co-founder of a parental control app, has sold software to school districts across North America for 13 years, and is also the father of two kids who attend Maple Ridge secondary.
“I’m living this,” he said.
Parents get their kids a phone at the age of 10, on average, in North America.
“It’s getting younger and younger.”
And with that comes fears that children will not be able to handle the responsibility.
Will they spend too much time on their device?
Will they use it when they shouldn’t – such as during class?
Will they access pornography or other sites they shouldn’t?
Will parents even know what they are doing on their phones?
One big problem is the latter – a lack of information, Payeur said.
“Phones are like black holes for parents.”
His new startup company deals with both parent education, an app known as Boomerang Parental Control, and an accompanying Spinsafe browser.
With it, parents can block apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Netflix during the school day.
“They can still text you, or they can still call home,” he said. “But the distractive apps can be blocked.”
Parents can also set an hourly limit of how much “free time” their children can have on their phone. They can set “always allowed” apps, such as educational apps, or those for reading or music. The browser can block sites such as all well-known porn sites, and those that are labelled “prone to porn” such as Twitter and Tumblr.
The app works on a “set it and forget it” approach, where parents can set it once.
Parents can receive a breakdown on what their children are spending time on, and what their children are searching on Google and Youtube.
“You get to see some baseline behaviours,” he said.
His app can notify parents when their child downloads a new app. It will also notify them if the child protection app is taken off their child’s phone.
“We’re able to detect when we’re removed.”
He said with the right approach, there are advantages to getting a child a phone. For one thing, you can track where your child is going.
And, they can teach their child responsibility, with the phone as a tool and a reward. Parents can be in control of how much freedom and privacy they give their children.
“As a parent, you’re in a proactive position, where you can build some good time management practices with technology.”
One problem with his app is that it works best with Android phones, and has limitations with IOS.
He doesn’t see schools restricting Wi-Fi as a lasting solution to the many issues experienced by parents.
“Kids are getting raised with Wi-Fi being available everywhere – like turning on a light switch.”