Phones are a popular gift at this time of year. I actually upgraded my kids' phones for Christmas. If you’ve just bought your child a new smartphone, your main concern should be their personal safety. There are all sorts of risks that these devices pose.
Ten years ago, it was a real Wild West out there. There was virtually no protection for children, so practically anything could happen. But, these days, things are a little different. Parents, vendors and manufacturers are all taking online safety more seriously, and putting procedures in place to keep them safe online.
Set Up Parental Controls
Both iPhone and Android phones come with tools that allow you to set up parental controls, preventing your child from accessing the thing that you don’t want them to see online.
Generally speaking, controls are excellent these days, using a combination of programmed restrictions and machine learning to keep your child safe.
To find parental controls, go into the phone’s “settings” option and then choose the right menu option (usually something like “security and privacy”).
From there, you should be able to put the phone into “child mode,” or calibrate the type of content you want them to be able to access.
Some phones will then ask you to set a password to access these settings in the future. This is to stop your child from turning off safety settings or moving the device out of kid mode.
You can block websites on iPhone with Screen Time as well. So if you’ve bought an Apple handset, use this method.
Cut Down On Screen Time
Speaking of which, there is still a risk that your child will spend too much time on their new handset (and not enough doing other things, such as playing with friends). If that’s a risk, you can use apps that limit the number of minutes their devices will light up and remain accessible each day.
How much time you set depends on your priorities and inclinations as a parent. Two hours seems reasonable for most, although you might want less.
Don’t worry: kids can still use their phones to make calls in an emergency. You can adjust this in settings.
Keep Your Child’s Identity Safe
Unfortunately, predators are a real online risk. There are people out there who might try to take advantage of them, either digitally or even, sometimes, physically.
To prevent this, you can try to block their access to social media – something you should be doing if you have young children. However, if your kids are older, then training them to respond appropriately to strangers online is a much better strategy.
Start by reminding them that they shouldn’t share photos or personal information with anyone online, even if they think that it is one of their friends. They should never do something that they feel uncomfortable doing, even if a stranger asks them to.
They should also never reveal their location to other people, either. This could potentially put them at risk of being taken.
Keep Tabs On What Your Child Is Doing Online
As a parent, you need to keep tabs on your child’s online activities. Nipping bad habits in the bud early on is the best strategy and avoids more pain later.
For instance, your child might engage in inappropriate texting conversations with other people. These could potentially land both them and the other party in serious legal trouble. It’s best to help them steer clear of these subjects, or leave them to the physical world when they are ready.
Control Access To Specific Apps
You may also want to control access to specific apps – something that you can do with a fine level of control. For instance, if you don’t want your child using Snapchat (because of the fact that it has disappearing messages), then you can block it individually. You can also place restrictions on other apps that you don’t want your children viewing.
The same applies to sites. If there is certain content that you don’t want to risk exposing your child to (which isn’t usually covered by conventional filters), then you can block sites individually. Generally, putting the phone into child mode will prevent them from seeing anything Google or Apple consider age-inappropriate. However, as their parents, there may be other content that you believe they should avoid.
It turns out that protecting your child from the dangers of the internet is probably easier than you think. However, you’ll need to be smart about it. While child modes and filters are good, they aren’t always foolproof. Hence, you’ll need to continually monitor your child to ensure that they continue using their phones appropriately.