The internet is a dangerous place, especially for a child. Adult websites are easy to access, predators can lurk around every forum, scams can collect information, and cybersecurity threats abound.
The dangers of being online are at their worst on a phone. Seemingly harmless apps can have hidden payment aspects set up to exploit users and thoughtless downloads can open up access to sensitive information on any device.
If you have a child that is using a smartphone, here are a few important ways to ensure that they stay safe and secure when using their device.
1. Get a Family-Friendly Phone
The easiest way to keep your child’s phone free and clear of any dangerous applications is by getting them a kids phone. Typically a phone of this nature will focus on key features like GPS tracking, Bluetooth and headphone capabilities, a camera, and of course, making phone calls.
Even if you’re working with normal smartphones, if you look for kid-friendly models, it will likely give you greater power to limit available apps and even avoid internet access entirely. This provides your child with a functioning, capable smartphone that doesn’t leave the door open to poor decision-making or downloads that compromise their cellular device.
2. Review Your Child’s Downloaded Apps
If you can’t get an internet-free kids phone, there are still plenty of ways to turn a full-blown smartphone into a kid-friendly device. One of these is by regularly reviewing your child’s app purchase history.
Much like your internet search history, it’s possible to review what apps your child has downloaded in the past. On an Android, you can see this in the Google Play Store. On an iPhone, the information can be accessed in the iTunes & App Store.
It’s wise to review your child’s app download history from time to time, particularly to see if they’re temporarily downloading and then deleting any unwanted apps without your knowledge or permission. If you find this is the case, try to constructively and lovingly confront them with the information and discuss the dangers of reckless downloads.
3. Install a Parental Filter or Monitor
Taking the time to review the apps that your child downloads is a good first step, but you shouldn’t stop there. Remember, a smartphone gives the user access to the entire vastitude of the internet. This opens up the possibility of visiting illicit or inappropriate websites without ever needing to download an app specific to that site.
With this in mind, it’s important to also check your child’s search history on various apps that give them internet access. If this sounds overwhelming, it’s because it is. For instance, you may check their viewing history on a Google Chrome app but miss the fact that they used a Google Search app or even an unexpected app like Facebook Messenger to follow a link online.
If you truly want to keep an eye on all of your child’s internet access, it’s recommended that you install a parental control app on their phone. There are many apps that can give you control over things like web filtering, location reporting, app blocking, and time restrictions. Most of these cost something, but it’s well worth the investment if it will help to keep your kids away from any unsavory online activity.
4. Take Each App Installation Seriously
Downloading parental control apps and reviewing internet and app download history are both helpful reactionary measures. However, there are also ways to proactively head off any trouble right when an app is initially installed.
For example, it’s wise to set up a password that you alone are privy to specifically for app installations from the Google Play or iTunes & App Store. This can be separate from the password to unlock your child’s device and can primarily serve as a barrier that requires your permission to download a new app.
Each time your child requests to download something, this gives you an opportunity to review the app first before inputting the password. When you do so, make sure to do two things along with considering the content of the app itself: read the fine print and address permissions. These are essential items if you want to keep your child’s phone safe.
The fine print will tell you if the app requires access to certain parts of the phone like the camera, internal files, or microphone. It’s wise to deny these permissions whenever possible, as they technically give the app developer “eyes and ears” into your child’s phone. While the overwhelming majority of developers won’t take advantage of this ability, if you do accidentally stumble on a bad app, it’s best to have permissions like these turned off from the get-go.
Even after reading the fine print, it’s a good idea to go into your phone after the app has downloaded to review what permissions were allowed during the installation.
Understanding the Importance of Safe Phones
Tech guru Bill Gates didn’t allow his kids to have a smartphone until they were 14 years old. Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer didn’t allow his kids to have smartphones until they were in high school and had shown that they could both exercise restraint and value face-to-face communication.
In spite of benchmarks like these set by iconic leaders and trend-setters, the average age that a child gets their first phone has continued to decline, dropping from 12 to 10.3 years old between 2012 and 2016.
With this increasingly youthful demographic of smartphone users firmly established in the tech-centric modern culture, it’s absolutely critical for parents to stay fully involved in monitoring and protecting their child’s cell-phone usage. Kid-friendly phones, parental control apps, download history, and cautious installations can all help to create a safe environment on your child’s smartphone device.
Your child may not relish the necessity to have their parents monitoring their smartphones in the short-term, but the long-term benefit to their mental, emotional, and even physical health cannot be overstated. So review the above steps and begin implementing a safe-phone-protocol in your own home as soon as possible.