Parental Controls for iPad and iPod Don’t Filter Mature Apps

May 16

In an earlier post I chastised myself for failing to set up the parental controls for our family’s new iPad. My 6-year-old son had inadvertently opened up a screen in the app store offering a myriad of sex apps.

Lest you’ve never searched for the carnal apps, there are a lot.  Too many to count – for me anyways. I gave up counting after my iPhone listed 75 of them. They don’t interest me, and frankly, I’d rather they not interest my three sons either.

After said incident, I set up the parental controls for our iPad, which asks the user to define which age-based ratings I wish to to be accessed in the app store. Imagine my surprise when my 11-year-old announced that he’d somehow come across a page filled with sex apps again. I’d selected “Don’t allow apps rated 9 years +”

“Mom, I thought you set it up so we wouldn’t see these?” he asked.  Thankfully, my boys are no more interested in seeing them than I am.

Perplexed, I double checked the controls that I’d set up. Yep, all exactly as I’d remembered. So why were these kinds of programs popping up? Not to mention all the apps that celebrate gut explosions and machete wielding head chops. Wonderful games for young developing minds, no?

Then… Eureka! I realized that the settings only prevent kids aged nine and under from installing the apps. It didn’t prevent them from seeing them and reviewing the summaries.  For example, my 11-year-old son can read all about these enlightening apps:

Girl Sex Mistakes

Learn the 50 most common mistakes girls make in the bedroom. Great for girls looking to mend their ways or [sic] for the boys who love them! Your map to more satisfying sex. Download now!

Aw, how nice that my sons can learn at such a young age that girls are actually supposed to work at getting guys off . Gosh, it’s never to young too start messing up boys’ minds (or young girls’ minds for that matter.)

Sex Secrets

How to turn a woman on, satisfy her in a big way and get her to do the things you’ve always wanted! (the exclamation point is my own addition)

The main features of the applications are:

  • Women get turned on by a few major categories of things:
  • Did you notice anything missing from the list?
  • Anticipation
  • Stimulating her senses
  • The transition into sex
  • Women LOVE to be blindfolded

Again, so wonderful that my kids can learn this. Shouldn’t every child know that women LOVE to be blindfolded. My only conclusion to that bit of advice is that the creator of this app is exceedingly ugly, yet more exceedlingly rich.

Clearly, the parental control feature for the app store is useless. My kids are unable to install any apps, free or not, without my password anyway.

So, Apple I must ask… Why even bother? If you’re going to be responsible enough to provide the means for parents to protect their kids’ young minds and eyes, at the very least…

MAKE IT WORK.

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Filtering My Kids’ Online Experience Provides Me Peace of Mind

Nov 16

About four months ago, I erased all internet safety programs from my kids’ computer.  No matter what software I tried (granted, they were all freeware), the computer’s performance slowed significantly.  Add to that the effort I was exerting every time my kids called me over to add the protection password so they could visit a new website.  The most recent program, offered by Cogeco, eventually blocked our family’s entrance to the world wide web completely.  How’s that for internet safety?  Maybe it was trying to tell us something…

Although the filtering software did provide me peace of mind, I was so frustrated by the tediousness of entering password after password, not to mention the agonizingly slow page loads, that I had the local computer repair shop extract every shred of ”nanny” software.  The computer now works better than ever.  But that peace in my mind is a little frazzled. 

To compensate, I’ve been extra vigilant in tracking where my kids go online.  I always explain to my ten-year old (the most prolific of our web surfers) that he cannot visit just any website, but must ask me first.  I remind him that there exist a lot of horrible images on the computer that he does not want to see.  Among my bits of advice is a plea to refrain from any Google searches.  On the other hand, I am online every day and have never personally come across anything explicit or disturbing.  As a grown-up, however, I know what phrases may lead to unsavoury sites and likely, on a subconscious level, avoid them.  Kids, however, haven’t that built-in censoring system because they don’t have the depth of experience to understand the need for caution.  For them, the internet is just a bunch of fun games and videos. 

While my paranoia radar has been on higher alert since I removed the filtering software, one of the biggest benefits to the change has been an increase in communication with my kids about internet safety.  My fears have prompted me to talk to my boys about the dangers that lurk in some websites and the need for them to censor themselves should they come across an image that is scary or lascivious.  It has been a great exercise.  And helps prepare my ten-year old who is evermore hanging out at other kids’ homes where the computer rules are more slack than our webkinz-friendly household.  I think our open discussions about the internet have better prepared him for those times when his friend’s screen plays something inappropriate.   

I’m now ready for my peace of mind to return to its previous levels.  Yes, it is time for Big Brother (or Panicking Parent) to move back into our computer.  The timing couldn’t be better as YouTube has become a new fascination among my boys.  And I’m not sure anything else on the internet scares me more than YouTube.   It represents, to me, the Wild West of the internet where anything can happen without a second’s notice. 

This week, I will install Norton’s Online Family program which is offered free of charge.  The company has also just released an upgraded version called Online Family Premier that includes video monitoring capability, available for $29.99 for a limited time.  It’s a great idea, considering that visiting video sites is the third most popular online activity after social networking and playing games, according to a 2010 study by Kaiser Family Foundation.  And I may consider it in the future, but for now I’m going to stick with my old standby – plain and simple censorship.  Sorry YouTube, but you’re being added to the list of blocked sites.  I expect soon enough I’ll have to extend that apology to my kids, too.

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Not Ready to Play Shoot-Em-Up Games

Oct 16

Not Ready to Play Shoot-Em-Up Games

My kids accuse me of being mean fairly often.  I like to think it’s because I’m such a responsible mother.  I don’t cater to their every whim or open my wallet to every blurt that begins with “I want.”  But their accusations wear on me. 

“Just stop asking for so many things, and I won’t seem so mean,” I try to explain to them as they stomp off, rolling their eyes.  My no-reflex is most prominent when someone asks about video games.  The list of requests around this subject is always growing, my kids’ appetite for digital entertainment insatiable.  This, in turn, creates a never ending cycle of argument and compromise.  Sometimes the kids compromise.  Sometimes I compromise.  And, as I wrote earlier… It wears on me.

Today, I was bombarded with a plea that I’d never had to contend with before.  My ten-year old son has suddenly decided that he wants the game, Halo.  Since I’m not much of a video game follower, myself, I had only a few images and ideas relating to the game that floated about in my mind.  Something along the lines of violent, rated Mature, unsuitable for kids, blood.  Presumably I’d picked these ideas up through commercials, posters at stores, and the odd google ad. 

“No chance,” I responded instantly.

“But it’s so coooooool!” he pleaded, followed by a rambling of all the merits of Halo.  I realized that perhaps I was too hasty in my no-reflex and listened to his rant patiently.  Unfortunately for my kids, I’m never in the mood to buy them video games.  How many addictive games does one household really need?  And how can I get them excited about practicing piano when they have so many thrilling games to play in the basement?

I conceded to him that maybe the game isn’t that bad.  However, his friend was playing outside as we had this conversation and he was kind enough to admit that Halo is, in fact, rated Mature.  Still, my son would not give up.  “It’s not that violent, Mom.  There’s no blood.”

The more I told him that I didn’t want to talk about it anymore, the more he talked my ear off about it.  Until finally I said, “I will give you a definite answer after I research it on the internet.”

“Oh, you’re in trouble now,” his friend warned him. “She’s going to know it’s got blood!”

I started by reading reviews of Halo on Amazon.comAccording to many of the 86 comments, there is lots of blood and gore.  Alien blood and gore, that is.  One commenter says:

I played this game when I was 11 and laughed at the M rating, with green and purple blood and no real profanity also note you are not killing humans or anything resembling them. 

I suppose I should feel all right that the profanity is not real.  But I’m not sure what fake profanity is like.  And is it fair to think that killing digital aliens is more appropriate for a child than killing digital people?

Interestingly, when I looked up a family review of the game Halo Reach, Common Sense Media provided this:

Parents need to know that this adult game has been hyped by a massive advertising campaign that extends to normally kid-friendly establishments like Burger King and 7-Eleven. But the ESRB gave this first-person shooter game a “Mature” rating for violence for good reason. Throughout the game, players shoot aliens and humans using a variety of weaponry, and they’ll see vivid images with blood. And know that when the Halo games are played online, players can communicate — and curse — via headsets.

The level of violence is described as: gamers shoot aliens from a first-person perspective with the gun seen on the screen at all times (unless you’re riding in a vehicle or manning a turret). Blood that splatters can be alien or human. Weapons include shotguns, machine guns, bombs, grenades, turrets (for mowing down hordes of enemies in a flash), and special alien weaponry, including laser blasters.

Oh gosh, I’m not ready to invite shoot-em-up games into my kids’ lives at this point.  I think I would find it disturbing to observe my young boys’ exhiliration at blasting aliens with automatic weapons and cheering at exploding guts.  We’ll stick with Mario and Kirby for a while yet.  And, anyways, it turns out that Halo is only available as an Xbox game and we own a Wii.  So I’m off the hook for now.  But I’d better prepare myself for the Xbox request, because that is certain to come soon.

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Report Card Translation, Please!

Apr 02

It’s report card time again.¬† Unfortunately, I’ve come to dread reading my boys’ reports as much¬†as the mutual fund statements¬†I get from the bank.¬† It’s not the marks that are the problem.¬† It’s the commentary.¬† I could spend thirty minutes¬†reading every sentence provided by the teacher along the right column of the page, but I’d be no further ahead in understanding what exactly my son needs to do to earn a higher mark.¬†

That’s why I keep it simple.¬† In five minutes I can review his marks and determine if he deserves accolades or a lecture.¬† Did he get A’s or B’s (and better not be C’s.)¬† Did his marks go up or down?¬† I can easily determine how well he has behaved in class by reviewing the bottom one-quarter of the report that lists his progress in Learning Skills (Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, or Needs Improvement.)¬†

No comments are necessary.¬† That’s not to say I wouldn’t appreciate knowing more specifics about why¬†one son¬†went down in Social Studies¬†and another went down in Science and Technology, but the comments listed provide no such indication.¬†

Here are examples of what was provided on my kids’ report cards:

“He investigates mechanisms that include simple machines and enable movement with considerable accuracy.¬† He should continue to assess the impact of simple machines and mechanisms, on people and the world around them.”¬† — Okay.¬† I’ll get right on that!

Other comments border on comical, such as this one on Physical Education:

“He is encouraged to practise jumping and landing safely, using takeoff combinations of one or two feet.”¬† — Perhaps I should have him jump off his bed more often?

That report card listed 51 lines of similar comments.  Besides the fact that they about are as reader-friendly as a manual on how to assemble a cell phone with one hand, they are typed in a miniscule font size.  It makes one wonder whether the school boards even believe we bother to read them. 

I realize teachers spend copious hours doing¬†students’ report cards and are, themselves, shackled by the Ontario boards’ guidelines.¬† They have little flexibility and, I believe, are truly doing their best.¬† Lamented one teacher recently on¬†the comments:

We MUST print them this way in our board. They will never get signed by the principal if they are done without the ministry expectations. We are told year after year. DON’T MAKE THEM PERSONAL. USE THE MINISTRY EXPECTATIONS. We slave over those comments, which I agree, make absolutely no sense to someone who isn’t familiar with outcomes. All teachers know that parents look at 2 things on reports which are, the actual grades and the learning skills comments at the bottom. That’s the way reports should be. Grades and then a small blurb about how they are doing. There is a high rate of teacher absences surrounding every reporting period. Why? Teachers get really stressed about these reports, get sick and end up off work. Make them manageable and you’ll see teachers at school during reporting periods. Come on ministry.

There is hope in sight for baffled parents.¬† Globe and Mail reported recently that the Ontario Ministry of Education plans to allow teachers the option of writing their own comments¬†or continuing to use the prefabricated ones provided.¬† The question remains, however, as to how much liberty teachers will¬†be given¬†in their wording selection?¬† If they will continue to be forced to write specific examples of academic achievement, such as how high one needs to jump in phys.ed., it seems quite plausible that teachers will likely continue to do what’s easier – slot in a ready-made comment.

But if teachers are given a fair amount of autonomy, then parents may find reading report cards a lot more enjoyable and informative.¬† Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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Buy Movie Tickets or Psychopathic Action Figures

Jan 24

You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Hollywood these days.¬† Recession times, such as they are, have hurt them as much as any other business out there.¬† Did you see the Golden Globes?¬† Clearly, they’re on a budget – why else would they have hired a Brit to host?¬† Cheap overseas labour is something every business needs to consider when tough times hit.

The moviemakers have not exerted much effort into improving the quality of their product – that would just be wasteful spending.¬† But rather they’ve brilliantly concentrated on marketing to an expanded audience for each movie produced.¬† Understandably, this is to make up for cheap consumers who’d prefer to buy a week’s worth of groceries than spend a night at the movies.¬† The cinema’s failed poster campaign featuring George Clooney in a three-piece suit (the bubble above his head saying “Aren’t I worth $15 to you?”) gave me pause, but ultimately was not persuasive enough to entice throngs of patrons, such as myself, to the theatres.¬† You are worth fifteen dollars, I said to George’s dapper image, but who was I kidding?¬† As a youngish 37-year old woman, I was still a decade too old to even fantasize about fantasizing about being his main squeeze – we’ve all seen his cocktail waitresses, er, girlfriends.¬† And if it’s fantasy that Hollywood is trying to sell – I’d rather see Twilight.¬†

In fact, it was during New Moon’s opening night, sitting among angst-ridden teenage girls that I realized I’d been manipulated by the latest of Hollywood’s marketing strategies – make a movie that appeals to a “broad”er audience, that is, offer a little something to everyone. ¬†The Twilight movies attract both teenagers and women who want to still look like teenagers.¬† Pure genius.¬†

These efforts have also worked fabulously with children.¬† Walk into any grade one class at Halloween and what do you see?¬† Girls dressed as princesses and boys dressed as superheroes.¬† That must have been the big wigs’ inspiration to jump on the superhero blockbuster wagon.¬† The Hulk, Batman, Superman, X-Men… I can almost hear the chorus of little boys begging Mom and Dad to take them to the movies.¬† But those Hollywood executives aren’t suckers.¬† Sure, movies like Kung Fu Panda do all right, but why not think bigger?¬† And George Clooney needs another pay raise.¬† The PR folks, between plastic surgery appointments, concocted a fail-proof plan to pack the theatres.¬† Draw in the kids with the superhero title, yet pack the flick with violence (plus a small sex scene without the nudity) to attract the older guys.¬† It’s a win-win.¬† The kids get to see Batman save the world and the grown ups get to see a thriller featuring a psychopathic killer.¬†

Of course, Tinseltown had enough foresight to consider hardened parents who aren’t so easily swayed by the incessant begging of their children.¬† They realized such parents are either too cheap to shell out the hundred dollars for a pleasant family night out or are too paranoid to allow their kids to be exposed by some wholesome “violence.”¬† That’s why they created movie merchandise to stock every toy store’s shelves.¬† The Gotham Knight pickings were especially tantalizing.¬† With every purchase of a Batman figure, kids received a free figurine pack of blood-covered corpses.¬† Christmas was very special that year.¬†

Apparently there’s some parent-led movement across North America trying to put a stop to this Hollywood practice.¬† Of course, Hollywood is fighting this madness.¬† America is, after all, the land of the free. ¬†Free – not as in free movie tickets, but as in free to make and sell movies as we please.¬† They quickly silenced the ever growing demands of BAM ¬†(Babysitters Against Movies) whose complaints of job loss were assuaged with free tickets to – you guessed it – New Moon.¬†

Hollywood is just trying to keep itself afloat in uncertain economic times.¬† Yet some people are unconvinced, saying they’re putting profits ahead of child safety and welfare.¬† To these naysayers, the big studios are offering a free showing of the popular movie The Hangover during which they will slash the price of popcorn by half.¬† Should that fail, they will be forced to consider giving George Clooney a pay cut.

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