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Challenge: Kids and Technology

Parent Hacks for your iPhone

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In my house, there are six people and four iPhones. Usually this is a good thing. As my daughters (14 and 12) become increasingly independent, our phones give us an easy way to communicate. But our embrace of technology isn't without its challenges. So I'm always looking for ways to make our devices work harder for us, in more positive ways.

A recent Washington Post article featured a list of iPhone tricks to make your life easier. Among the suggestions: using the 'travel time' feature of Apple's Calendar, and knowing how to ask Siri to remind you to get gas the next time you get in the car. Reading it made me think of other iPhone hacks I've picked up over the years—ones that parents will find especially useful.

Do Not Disturb

This was already my all-time favorite iPhone function (you can read about why here), but it moved even further up the list when I discovered three new ways to use it to better my life:


  1. I usually leave my phone charging downstairs overnight. But when one of my kids is at a sleepover, I want to have my phone nearby in case of emergency. Because I’m a light sleeper this was tricky. Until I discovered the function that allows calls from your ‘Favorites’ to ring through, while still blocking all other notifications. Here’s how you do it: add the phone number of the sleepover host to your Favorites list, then Settings>Do Not Disturb>Allow Calls From: Favorites. Now you can sleep soundly, while also knowing that if your kid needs you in the night, your phone will ring.
  2. Another great tip: Settings>Do Not Disturb>Repeated Calls. Switch this on and “when enabled, a second call from the same person within three minutes will not be silenced.” My kids all know this, so if for some reason they’re calling from an unknown phone—they can use this trick to get my phone to ring, even if it's set to Do Not Disturb.
  3. Finally, you can schedule your iPhone to automatically switch to Do Not Disturb from, say 10pm to 7am, everyday. (You can also strongly suggest that any teens living with you do the same.) Settings>Do Not Disturb>Schedule

Guided Access

Man, could I have used this one when my kids were little. But even now, I’ve found myself needing to let a kid use my iPhone for some particular task, without wanting to give them access to everything on my device. Enter, Guided Access.
Settings>General>Accessibility>Guided Access (keep scrolling, it’s waaayyyy at the bottom).
“Guided Access keeps the iPhone in a single app, and allows you to control which features are available. To start Guided Access, Triple-Click the Home button in the app you want to use.”
What does this mean in plain English? It means you can hand your kid your phone while you try on clothes, or wait in line at the DMV—and the only thing they can mess with is the one app you enable. They can’t accidentally delete other apps. They can’t call Grandma. They can’t post to your Facebook page accidentally-on-purpose. When you set up Guided Access, you'll need to create a passcode for it. When you're ready to go back to regular mode, just triple-click the Home button, enter your passcode, and your phone goes back to normal.


Block Caller

This function is a great one to know about, because there are so many ways it can be used (and abused.)
From your Phone Contacts screen you can automatically block calls or texts from people you don’t want to hear from. This is a terrific tip to pass along to your teenage daughter when she's crying over an ex-boyfriend who won’t stop calling, or when your son has a friend whose texts have taken an unfriendly turn. Then, when they work it out and go back to being good friends—just turn off the blocking.
Of course, once your teens know about this feature they can use it to block you. Or their siblings. (Yes, this is an actual text exchange between my enthusiastic, new-to-texting 12-year-old and her older, more jaded sister.)

One last thing.

These iPhone hacks can definitely make your life as a parent easier. You should also know there are some kid hacks to watch out for. (This one, for example).

Is it too much to hope that one day you'll be two steps ahead of your teens when it comes to technology? Yes. Yes, it is. But if you invest some time now in at least keeping up, you'll be ready when it comes time to tackle the really hard things (like sexting—yikes!).

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