Sarah E. Werle Kimmel

Sarah E. Werle Kimmel

Your family technology coach

Productivity & Time Management

This week I sit down with Erin Woodruff from the podcast “Time is On Your Side”. We talk about the best productivity apps, tips on managing your time, and discuss if those digital assistants and smart home devices are really helping us be more productive!

Home Security System and Solutions for 2022

Join me and the Secure Dad as we discuss the best home security system, solutions, and setup to help you get your home secured! We will talk about the best products, and how to get started with a DIY home security system, and how to protect yourself from having your system hacked.

iPhone vs Android Built-In Parental Controls Which One Should You Choose?

While it’s no secret that I am not a huge fan of Apple, I promise I have the ability to be unbiased. I go where the technology fits ME best. If the features it has fits you best, then more power to you. My goal has always been to get the right information out to people so they can make an informed decision on what is best for them.

Both iOS and Android have free built-in parental controls that can be set, but there are significant differences between the two. While I could go on and on about why I think one is better than the other, in the interest of fairness I am limiting myself to 3 pros and 2 cons for each operating system. Obviously, the “pros” for each could just be the “cons” but I tried to highlight different things for the cons. Just know that each of the pros could also be listed as a con for the opposite device and vice versa.

iPhone Parental Controls – What it does better

While Apple was a little behind the curve when it came to built-in parental controls, what it has released is pretty good. There are 3 features specifically that I wish were available on Android.

1 – Communication Limits

One feature that I gotta give Apple credit for is Communication Limits. This allows the parent to limit calls and texts to only people in the child’s contact list. With all the spam messages and calls these days, it’s a great feature to include to help make a kid’s device a lot safer.

2 – Remove the app store

Another great feature in iOS is the ability to completely remove the app store from the child’s device. This will ensure that apps do not get installed without the parent’s consent. The only problem with this is that apps that are already installed will not be able to be updated unless you allow the app store again temporarily. I would love this ability since my son is CONSTANTLY browsing the Play store for new apps to install.

3 – Disable passcode changes

The last benefit to an iOS device over an Android is the ability to disable the device’s passcode from being changed. If you have a deal with your child that you know the passcode to their device, setting this will make sure that the passcode is not changed without your knowledge.

Android Parental Controls – What it does better

1 – Take back app approvals

If your child uses an Android device, and you approve an app to be installed on it, you can take back that approval. You cannot do this on an iOS device. Once it’s approved, it’s approved forever. In Google Family Link you can “unapprove” that application and then the child won’t be able to re-install the app.

2 – Lock at will

Android devices will completely lock during “bedtime” if you set one. You can also control the device at any time by pressing the Lock Now in the parent’s control app. This will block out the entire device with a “time’s up” screen and will render the device unusable.

3 – Google product integration

Using Google Family Link, you can set up filters and parental controls for YouTube and Chrome because they are all Google products. Since the majority of kids use both of these products, it is great to have that tight integration with parental controls on these particular services.

iOS Parental Controls – Where it’s lacking

1 – Need an iOS device to control

There is no Android app for Apple’s built-in parental controls. This is a HUGE con for children to have an iOS device if the parents use Android. If you want to manage a child’s iPhone, you have to have an Apple device.

2 – 3rd party limitations

Due to the privacy settings built into iOS, 3rd party parental control applications are severely limited in what it can monitor on an iOS device. Most 3rd party apps will require you to back up the phone to a computer in order to monitor the content from the device since it can’t do anything on the iPhone itself.

Android Parental Controls – Where it’s lacking

1 – Sideload capability

Because Android is a more “open” operating system, it offers the ability to side-load apps. This means you can install apps outside of the device’s application store. You can limit this capability inside Google Family Link, but the ability is still there and could open the device up to bypass the controls you have set.

2 – Google Family Link needs to be installed

Unlike “Screen Time” in iOS which is just located in the settings of every iOS device by default, Google Family link needs to be installed in order to use it. You have to install Google Family Link on both the child’s device and the parent’s device. Some people do not like having to install an additional app.

What parental controls on an iPhone or Android device can do

All of the above-mentioned features are either available on an iPhone or an Android, but none are available on both. However, there are some features that both devices have the capability to do.

1 – Limit time spent on apps

Both devices give parents the ability to control how much time is spent on individual apps. You can set a time limit for Instagram or YouTube or whatever app your child uses most frequently to make sure they aren’t wasting too much time on one individual application.

2 – Time spent on the device

You can also limit the time spent on the entire device. You can set it to turn off at a specific time every day, or just how long the device is able to be used each day.

3 – Content filters

Based on the child’s age, you can limit content from the app stores, and even filter the internet including blocking individual websites from being accessed. The one limitation here on both platforms is that they only filter content for the built-in browser on the device. For Android devices, it will filter Chrome, and for iOS devices, it will filter Safari.

4 – Location

Both devices allow you to track the location of the child’s device based on GPS. You do have to enable this for the child’s device to track correctly. Any time your child puts their device in Airplane mode, or if they go into a special power-saving mode that disables the GPS functionality, the tracking will not be accurate.

5 – Approve app downloads/installs

Android and iOS give parents the ability to control what apps go on their child’s devices. You can set it to send you a request to approve the app download or install. I recommend all parents utilize this function so you know which apps your kids are installing.

I do love that tech companies are seeing more value in offering these kinds of options to parents. I definitely wish they would do even more to help parents, but I’ll take what I can get for now! Hopefully, this list helps you make the right decision for your family. Good luck!

Troomi vs Pinwheel vs Gabb – Which Cell Phone for Kids Should You Buy?

The age that kids are getting phones is getting younger and younger. While it’s been 9 years since I gave my 8 year old a cell phone, that statement is almost common now! Since I’ve been writing this blog for almost 13 years now, I have seen several “kids safe” smartphones come and go.

The market may not have been ready for these options 9 years ago, it is definitely ready for it now, and these companies are seeing some real success. I think we are getting some really great options as well!

There are 3 major players in this space right now. Troomi, Pinwheel and Gabb. So, how do they stack up against each other??

Gabb Wireless

I’ll start with the first of these recent cell phones for kids. This is also my least favorite of the 3, and I actually do NOT recommend it at all.

The benefit of using Gabb is that there is no internet available on the device at all. This means there is no browser and no social media apps. The phone only has the ability to talk and text.

This is where the benefits of Gabb end. The problem with the device is that you are unable to limit contacts to the device, so they could call or text people you do not know. They can also get spam calls and texts, which could be problematic as well.

The other issue with Gabb is that there is no management available for the device. You cannot limit how long your child spends on the device, or when they can use the cell phone. So, if they wake up in the middle of the night and grab their phone, you would not be able to lock it down to prevent that.

Lastly, you are also not able to monitor the messages on the device. So, your child could send inappropriate or concerning texts, and delete them before they get home, and you would never know it was sent.

Pinwheel vs Troomi

These two devices are very similar, but there are definitely distinct features that you will need to evaluate which ones are more important for you. Let’s start with where they are are similar though

Both devices allow for contact approval, which means you will be able to approve who can call or text the device. They also both have message monitoring, so you can see the text messages your child is sending and receiving.

Troomi and Pinwheel also both have GPS tracking, and use very similar Android based hardware. In fact the highest cost device on both Troomi and Pinwheel are the same Samsung A32 device.

The great thing about both services is the curated app store. Troomi and Pinwheel have selected various apps that should be safe for kids to use, however you can still choose to allow the app to be installed on the phone from the parent portal in each service. Pinwheel displays warnings on the app if there are things that could be concerning inside the different apps.

Benefits of Pinwheel

Since Pinwheel has been around a bit longer, the curated app store has more options at the moment. As of the writing of this article Pinwheel has 288 apps available to install on the kids cell phone, while Troomi has 56.

Pinwheel also has the ability to create various “modes” that allow different categories of apps during different times of the day. For example, during school hours you can set it so only educational apps are available, or during bedtime, only music apps are available. This allows you to create a highly customized profile for each day that will allow your child access to the applications they need to use, and reserve the more fun applications for other times.

These modes also feature a routine feature. During the specific mode like “homework time” you can create a checklist for your child to complete. This makes the tasks they need to complete easy to find. Every morning it can show tasks like “brush teeth” and “make bed”. At night it can show things like “read a story”.

Even though there is no social media available for Pinwheel, and you can view all of the text messages that have been sent and received, you can add Bark monitoring to the Pinwheel phone to get alerts about concerning content.

Another benefit to Pinwheel is that it is carrier agnostic. This means you can add the Pinwheel phone to your current cell phone plan to make sure your entire family is on the same plan. You do have to pay a fee to Pinwheel for the software and the parent portal. This is a $15/month charge. If you think of it as just paying for a parental control program, it’s on the more affordable end of the parental control options, and there is less of a chance that your child can circumvent the controls like they can on a standard iPhone or Android device.

Benefits of the Troomi Cell Phone For Kids

As Pinwheel is carrier agnostic, Troomi is it’s own cell phone service. There are 3 monthly service options. The first is $15/month and includes calling and texting only. This makes it very similar to Gabb, but has the added ability to limit the contacts and monitor the text messages. The next option is the $20/month plan that adds the ability to send photo messages and particpate in group text messages. The third plan is $25/month and includes the kids safe app store so you can allow any of the available apps.

One huge benefit of Troomi is the kids safe web browser. This allows for parents to specificially allow various URL’s to be accessed. With this safelist only browser, the child’s cell phone will not be able to access any websites that have not been specifically allowed. Why this is important is with Pinwheel there are apps that have a back door to the internet. There are warnings on these apps that will notify you of this possibility. So once you get access to this back door, the entirety of the internet is opened up. With Troomi, if they find their way to a browser, it will still limit the browsing to the websites you have specifically allowed instead of the whole internet.

While you can approve contacts on both platforms, Troomi takes it a step further and gives you a few options on this. You can choose to have contacts blocked until you manually approve them, or have contacts in a moderated state that allows contact for 72 hours. If the contact is not approved within 72 hours, the contact will be blocked. The third option here is just the ability to allow anyone to contact the phone.

Final Recommendations

As I mentioned, the only one I absolutely do not recommend is Gabb. Even worse would be a flip phone. Most flip phones also have internet capabilities, so it doesn’t have the management or monitoring, plus an open window to the unfiltered internet. I like both Pinwheel and Troomi. Take the differences into consideration and decide which features are more important for your family.

During February, the code FAMILYTECH will get you the A12 device on Troomi for FREE. After February, you will still get a discount with that code, but the phone will not be free. You can also get a discount on Pinwheel by using this link. https://www.pinwheel.com?via=familytech

YouTube Announces New Parental Controls

Today a huge win for parents came in the form of an announcement from Google about some brand new parental controls for its YouTube application.

According to Google you are now able to set up Supervised YouTube accounts for your teens and tweens. Although, during this beta stage the option is only available for the Google Family supervised accounts that are under age 13.

For several years now, this age group has only been able to access YouTube Kids under their supervised accounts, so this opens up the standard YouTube app to them. With access to the main YouTube app, your children can explore a broader range of videos.

YouTube states that there are going to be three levels you can set for your tween.

Explore: For children ready to move on from YouTube Kids and explore content on YouTube, this setting will feature a broad range of videos generally suitable for viewers ages 9+, including vlogs, tutorials, gaming videos, music clips, news, educational content, and more.Explore More: With content generally suitable for viewers ages 13+, this setting will include an even larger set of videos, and also live streams in the same categories as “Explore.”Most of YouTube: This setting will contain almost all videos on YouTube, except for age-restricted content, and it includes sensitive topics that may only be appropriate for older teens.

I love that there are levels here so you can move your child up to fewer restrictions as they prove themselves in the more restrictive settings. By the time your child is ready to leave the house, they should be able to manage themselves on the app if you’ve held their hand in the beginning and loosened the reigns over time.

Additionally, YouTube will be disabling personalized ads, and ads altogether in specific categories for supervised accounts. The company will also disable access to the comments for the videos as well. We all know that the comments section is probably the worst part of the whole application for many videos. Disabling these will definitely help keep kids safe when browsing videos.

The company did state that they may be working on a way to enable limited versions of comment creation and viewing, but during the beta, it will be completely disabled.

One of my favorite features of this new ability is access to a watch and search history for supervised accounts. This has been a long-awaited feature for many parents. Monitoring the content your child is viewing is important to help you have conversations with them about what is considered appropriate for your family.

My main concern right off the bat is whether they will be able to prevent the child from logging out of their supervised account. I will test it out and write a post on exactly how it works and if this ability is disabled. I think it would be a very important component to add if it’s not already there.

You can check out more information about the new features here.

I am thrilled Google is really trying to take this problem seriously, and I wish more applications would hop on board to help parents protect their children on their apps (I’m staring DIRECTLY AT YOU Instagram!)

There’s a Facebook Group for That: Finding the Best Facebook Groups to Join

We have apps that can do just about everything we want these days. Although, there are definitely some features I’d like to see added to some of my favorite productivity apps. The phrase “there’s an app for that” really holds true now. With the plethora of Facebook groups to choose from, you should be able to quickly find the best Facebook groups for your to join!

Now that social media connects, and sometimes disconnects us, you can find like-minded people anywhere you turn. There are trending hashtags in TikTok for Mom’s over 40, or people who love the show Friends. And while Reddit has been around for quite a while, many people still aren’t using the platform, especially Moms.

Where a lot of middle-aged women generally spend their social media time is Instagram and Facebook. While Instagram is pretty limited in the group interaction front, Facebook has really taken the lead here and become a great spot for like-minded people to gather and discuss various topics.

You can literally find the best Facebook groups for anything you are interested in. Hate MLM’s? join the Sounds like an MLM, but OK? Facebook group. Love skincare? There are about a thousand groups dedicated to that. Of course, if you have tech questions you need answers to, join Family Tech Help!

The truth of the matter is that there is literally a group for you to join no matter what you are passionate about and interested in.

You might be asking me now, “if there are a thousand skincare groups, which one should I join??” It’s a valid question. So here’s my 3 step guide to figuring out if a group is worth your time and effort.

How do I find the best Facebook groups to join?

First, when you are in the Facebook app on your phone, tap the magnifying glass icon, and search for the topic you are interested in finding a group about. Tap the “Groups” tab and you should see a list of groups that have that word in the name of the group. You can also tap the “groups” next to the home button on your Facebook app.

If you don’t pull up groups right away, you can tap the “discover” icon in the Groups tab as well. As you browse through the different groups it will show you how many members it has and if you have any friends that are in the group. If you are browsing through groups you can also see how many posts a day the group averages.

What kinds of groups should I join?

First, many neighborhoods have created their own Facebook group, and if there isn’t one for your specific neighborhood, maybe you should create one! It’s a great place to go when you are cleaning out your closet, or need to borrow some butter. Similarly, there is probably a Facebook group for the city you live in as well.

Other groups I like to join are support groups for various things. Whether you are trying to live on a budget, you have a chronic illness, or are in a stressful career, there’s definitely a Facebook group for you. My Crohns and Colitis group is one of my favorites, especially when I’m having tough symptoms.

Next, you can find groups that have similar interests as you like political or religious beliefs, sports you like to participate in like running, and SO MUCH MORE!

How many members are there?

You don’t want to join a group that doesn’t have very many people and has very little interaction (meaning posts per day). Don’t completely judge a book by its cover though. If it’s a real niche topic it may have a lot of good information and not very many followers.

When a group gets too large it can become a little overwhelming to try and get answers to your questions, or to interact and find people to connect with. I think the sweet spot for a group is around 5000-20000 members. Once it gets above 20k, you get the same sorts of questions over and over again, and the group can become overwhelming and stale when only new people interact regularly.

What are the group rules and privacy settings?

Prior to joining the group, you can also check out their rules and settings. Some groups are public, which means any posts you create in that group can also be viewed by anyone, and sometimes those posts will even show up in your friend’s feeds. If you can’t agree to the rules, it’s definitely not the group for you. To view them just tap on the group itself for some more details.

Once you find a group you want to join, click the “join” button. They may have some questions for you to verify you will follow the rules and that you are a real person. Make sure to fill out the answers to these questions. Most groups will reject you if you don’t answer the questions.

Enjoy your groups!

Apple & Google, Why Do You Hate Parents?

Most parents these days have the same complaint. Trying to manage kid’s cell phones is almost impossible. Of course there are many solutions to this problem, and generally you need to use at least a couple parental control tools to get the job done properly, but the operating system manufacturers seem to be bent on making this process as difficult as possible.

I know that both Apple and Google have their own parental control platforms. You can add parental controls on an iphone through the built-in iOS Screen Time settings, but it is lacking some very key features and is frequently failing or not working. Similarly, the free parental controls for Android devices is called Google Family Link and also lacks some features.

I generally recommend parents use these built-in controls in addition to 3rd party parental control apps like Bark and Boomerang Parental Controls. One of the things I love the most about technology, and the reason I prefer using Android devices, is that I can choose how to use it. If I want to use a 3rd party app to control my children’s devices, I should be able to do so.

Here is where the problem starts, and both companies are guilty of limiting 3rd party apps that offer parental controls. Apple devices are just plain hard to monitor and manage. Most of the 3rd party apps can’t even monitor an iPhone as well as they can with an Android device. This is due to the privacy and security built into iOS.

The 3rd party parental control apps have to come up with creative ways to monitor the device, like using a computer to scan through the iPhone backup. This doesn’t help if your child deletes texts when they are away from home. With Android devices, generally, texts and other social media apps can be monitored in real-time.

Recently, though, my favorite parental control app has been flagged by Google as a malicious application because it prevents uninstallation. This feature is incredibly important for a parental control app, so your children can’t uninstall the application.

Boomerang has been approved in the Samsung Galaxy Play store, and even installations from there are being flagged and automatically uninstalled or disabled from children’s devices.

I recently got a message from my daughter notifying me of the situation. Luckily, my child is honest enough to let me know the parental control app was no longer working, but this could be a really bad situation for parents with kids who are a little more sneaky.

JP, the co-founder of Boomerang has been appealing to Google for months, and his pleas seem to fall on deaf ears. This is completely unacceptable. One quick look from Google will find that this app is NOT malicious and is helping parents monitor and manage their children’s devices. In fact, disabling access to 3rd party apps and enforcing the use of their own parental controls could land both Apple and Google with monopoly lawsuits.

Even JP’s pleas via Twitter are going unheard by Google, like this one.

So, my question to both Apple and Google is what are you afraid of? Do you hate parents? Many kids are getting smartphone devices these days. Typically children are getting smartphones by Junior High now, and several kids are getting them even earlier than that.

Parents are desperate for choices in how they want to monitor and manage the device, and offering choices will only help parents feel more comfortable giving their children devices. Isn’t the goal for both companies to sell more devices? Making it difficult to manage only pushes parents to find other solutions like the Pinwheel.

My plea to Apple and Google is to put parental control apps in their own category in the app store and play store. This category should be tested and managed by real people, not AI, to determine if the app is ok to appear in the store or not. These apps should allow access into the guts of social media and communication apps and video apps like YouTube, and the operating systems need to allow it.

Give parents choices, and let parental control apps have more access so parents can use these apps to help teach their kids proper use of technology.

Samsung is Showing How Life At Home is Different During the Pandemic

The recent pandemic has been causing a lot of companies to pivot their business model. The restaurant and entertainment industry has definitely been the hardest hit. Other companies have seen their business take off in ways they could have never predicted. I’m looking at you Phone Soap.

Samsung is one of those companies that have seen a significant shift in the way we are living our lives stuck at home. People are cooking more, stocking up on food, and generally just around the house more than they have ever been.

The company recently launched a new campaign that is featuring this fact. This new campaign “demonstrates how Samsung home appliances empower people to live lives that are more creative, flexible, and connected than ever before.” According to Samsung, “These days, Americans are cooking at a scale not seen in 50 years. For many, cooking has evolved from a necessity to a passion. In fact, 71% of Americans—and 80% of Gen Zers—are trying new recipes.”

An interesting statistic Samsung shared with the press during this campaign announcement was that prior to COVID 5% of households with children were cooking more than 10 hours per week. NOW over 12% of the same demographic are cooking more than 10 hours a week. That is a HUGE jump!

One highlight of this new campaign is a new Front-Control Slide-In Range.

The range looks quite a bit like my current Samsung Convection oven with an Induction cook-top. One key difference is this has gas burners, and now features the currently hugely popular “air-fry” mode. During the pandemic so many people have gone out and purchased a separate air-fryer. Seeing this trend, Samsung has included the option inside this range, so “you can quickly prepare your favorite fried foods right in your oven. Now you no longer need to store that extra appliance, so you can save some precious cabinet or countertop space.”

Another feature that will help people take the guess work out of cooking is the new Smart Dial. This feature will learn your behavior and create shortcuts to your cooking preferences, which will simplify your menu settings. For someone like me, who isn’t the greatest cook, I use maybe 3-4 options on my current range. If I only had to pick between those, it would make cooking so much smoother.

From smart mops to smart ovens, Samsung has definitely gone to work to find the right tools to help modern parents during this Pandemic. I love this video they created to help show how the world is changing during this strange year.

It’s really great to see companies involved in finding out what is making families tick during 2020 and adjusting their game plan to fit current needs. Can’t wait to see what else Samsung has in store!

Disclaimer: While all of my current major appliances are Samsung, I paid for them all myself, and was not sponsored or compensated in any way for this post.