When I was talking to my Grandpa, who was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, about prison life, he mentioned that it was their job to try and escape, and it was the guard’s job to catch them. In fact, he was part of the team that planned the Great Escape but fortunately was transferred with other American Officers to a different camp right before they carried out their plans.
This whole idea of “cops and robbers” is alive and well in our current prison system too. Inmates will find extremely creative ways to get around restrictions placed upon them. Much like the prisoners in World War II and in our current correctional facilities, kids can find extremely creative ways to get around restrictions placed upon them.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of these creative hacks so you can watch for them, or do things to prevent it from happening.
Changing the time on the device
One of the oldest tricks in the book is to adjust the time on your device so it seems like it is in an allowed timeframe. After 11 PM your child can go grab their phone, change the time to 6 PM, and suddenly they are allowed to use their phone again!
To combat this, layers of controls are recommended. Using restrictions not only on the phone itself but through the carrier and the wireless router in the home will help make sure that even though the time on the phone says 6 PM, the other systems know otherwise.
Installing a VPN
I mentioned before that there is really no reason for a child to have a VPN installed on their phone unless is it already part of parental controls you have set like for Circle Go or Verizon’s Smart Family. If your child installs a VPN app, it essentially allows them to remove the device from the protected network and allows them access to a network that does not have restrictions. Don’t allow the installation of VPN apps and that should clear this one up quickly.
Use the sharing feature
Many kids today are getting around parental controls by using the sharing feature built into their phones. They will take a photo, or screenshot, or open something else that they ARE allowed to access, and then use the sharing button to “share” to their messaging app. Once the messaging app is open, they can delete the photo and then write whatever they want.
This one is a little tougher to combat since the phone doesn’t really have a way to lock that down. Some things you can look at are forcing apps to open in Chrome or some other default browser that IS locked down, or lock things down at the carrier level so texts won’t go out in the middle of the night.
Use a messaging app they CAN have to text themselves content during times they are allowed
This is another tricky one, well, I guess they are all pretty tricky, HOWEVER…As with the above trick, this is sort of the opposite of that. They will share something to the messaging app the ARE allowed to access after hours and click on the link from there. Sometimes that opens it in a sudo window that isn’t really an app itself but a window to the app inside the app that IS allowed.
Let me explain. Say your child is allowed to use Messenger Kids any time because that is how you typically communicate with them. They will then share a YouTube video to themselves through messenger kids. Then they can open messenger kids, click the video, and voila! Video access.
Figure out your password
Kids these days are getting super tricky about parent passwords. From just guessing what it might be to installing something to record the screen while you are entering your password into their device. Once they have your password, they can grant themselves extra time, approve apps and more. Just make sure you have your notifications turned on for your parental control app so you know when it’s been entered!
Change the DNS
OpenDNS is a great way to filter content on your network. Some kids are able to figure out how to change their DNS settings to bypass the filter. Make sure these settings are password-protected so they can’t make the change.
The old tried and true method of simply unplugging any filtering device that is on the network like Circle. Again, make sure you are notified when these things happen to issue a punishment when you get home. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to prevent them from unplugging it, but you can put additional filters in place so it only cuts out one of the blocks.
Using airplane mode to disable controls then enabling the phone again
I haven’t actually seen this one work in person, but the theory is if they turn on airplane mode, and then go in and try to disable some of the controls, or change settings, they can do so. Most of the time no internet access renders most of the phone useless with the control apps I utilize.
Grabbing the phone back once parents are asleep
If your children are required to turn their phone in at night, a low tech method to bypass this parental control is that the kids will wait until their parents are asleep and then go get their phone. One way to combat this trick is to get something like the TechDen.
Letting YouTube keep going
One of my daughter’s favorite ways to get around her YouTube time limit is to Chromecast the video to her TV and then just let YouTube continue playing the next recommended video on the list automatically. Forcing this feature to be turned off, and then disabling access to YouTube settings through a parental control app like Boomerang can help you fix this one.
Opening YouTube in a browser window
Another way my daughter has gotten around her YouTube time limit is to open YouTube in a browser instead of the app. Since I have a specific time limit directly for YouTube, this allows her to view videos when she still has other free time available on her device.
Ask voice assistants to send messages for you
In the super sneaky department, if your child has a smart assistant in their room or on their device, they can see some of the messages they receive through their notifications, and then tell Alexa, Google or Siri to send the messages back for them.
Delete and re-install app right away to reset the time limit
Another way kids are circumventing specific app time limits is to delete the app itself, and then re-download it again right away (since it’s already been approved). This sometimes resets the time limit for the app and allows them to use it again or double the original time!
Messages from notifications
Many Android devices allow you to respond to text messages directly from the notification itself. This is another way kids are getting around texting time limits since the notification is still allowed. You can disable notifications for specific apps, but it may be easy for kids to find and re-enable.
This one is more of a glitch than anything, but I’ve seen kids swap back and forth quickly between apps that are allowed and those that are blocked until finally the blocked app actually opens. It’s hard to combat this one as well since it’s also actually hard for the kid to get to happen.
Wipe and reload
Finally, the killswitch. Your child could wipe and reload the whole phone and you may not even know. Eventually, your parental control app should tell you that it is no longer reporting. Locking down the “settings” app can help you prevent this from happening. It’s a drastic move on your child’s part for sure, and it would be a good idea to have a serious conversation if you notice that this has happened.
As you can see, kids can be VERY creative when it comes to finding ways around parental controls. All you have to do usually is Google for how to get around your specific parental control device or app and you will find a ton more ideas.
No app will be perfect. This is why I recommend layers of protection at the device, router and cloud levels to help make it as difficult as possible to get around. No system is perfect though, not even mine. Frequent conversations about how to properly use technology, and correcting when you discover improper use is ESSENTIAL in raising this new generation of digital natives!
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com