Smartphone Privacy: The Parents Guide to Keeping Their Kids Smartphone Safe
One of the biggest concerns parents have about getting their kids a smartphone is security. We all know how tough it is to keep our own devices safe and secure. There seem to be bad actors everywhere, and adults are tempted daily to click on suspicious emails and links. So how can we expect our children to accomplish what we cannot? The short answer is that “we cannot, but we can take steps to make them as safe as they can be.”
So what are those steps? The first is knowledge. Parents of kids with smartphones must be proactive about teaching kids the dos and don’ts of managing safely online. Do some research in advance, and find sample rules for kids of the same age as yours. These suggestions often come from experts or from other parents saying what has worked for them.
Some simple rules to consider include limiting the times and places when the smartphone is allowed to be used (like never in bed, or not at the dinner table), minimizing who has the child’s phone number, and refraining from showing off to peers. Teach the kids that phones are not toys, but tools that likely have some specific purposes. Be clear to the kids about what those purposes are.
During our conversation, she said something that really resonated with me:
The balancing act between independence and oversight needs to be respected. As a parent, it’s important to set boundaries and ensure your children know what is and isn’t okay. However, you can also empower their independence by teaching them the skills they need to know to stay safe online. That doesn’t mean you go entirely hands-off (unless you’re comfortable doing so), but that you teach your kids the “why” behind the “what’.
– Farah Premji, Msc.
Teach the kids to keep their private information (name, phone number, address, and so forth) private. Tell them that they should only share their number with pre-approved individuals, rather than letting them give it out to anyone who asks.
Set limits on downloads, as well. Most smartphones have parental control features that can help you control what is and is not available for downloads, so take advantage of them. Lots of downloadable content is fun and tempting, but there is also the risk of malware or unintentionally incurring fees or charges.
Teach kids to be selective about who they answer and respond to on their phones. If an unknown number tries to contact your child, teach them to let it go to voicemail. That will weed out quite a few junk calls, and will allow them to decide how to respond based on the message. Stress that not everyone is who they say they are, so answering unknown callers or texters can be very risky for kids. Some security apps allow you to ‘whitelist’ just the people that you want your child interacting with. The older the child (or the more mature/responsible -it’s not necessarily the same thing!), the more freedom you can allow.
Remember that freedom with a smartphone comes with responsibilities, and the goal is to have a savvy and capable smartphone-using child sometime in their teens, just before they take on adult responsibilities. Just like with other “grown-up” privileges, parents will need to keep a close eye on the situation and pull in the reins at the first hint of misuse. It will take intentional teaching and close monitoring to help them grow into the device.
Many families find that some technological help for the situation goes a long way to keeping their child’s smartphone safe and private. Here are some great apps that you will want to explore to help you with safety, supervision, and responsibility.
All of the major phone manufacturers have safety features built into their systems. It’s like having a built-in security guard on duty all the time. However, it’s up to you, as a parent, to activate many of them.
One route to security is to give your child a simpler, less-capable device. If you have concerns about your child’s ability to manage with a true smartphone, then consider some of the devices designed specifically for children or a quasi-smartphone that limits access to the internet. These will get the job of communication done without the risk of accessing inappropriate things online.
Another route is to check out the built-in safety features on most smartphones.
Emergency SOS System
Dig around in your phone’s settings, and there is likely a way to call 911 with a few simple steps, even when the phone is not unlocked. See what is involved, and choose if you want to set this up for your child.
Do Not Disturb and Do Not Disturb While Driving
On most phones, you can set quiet times or activate a system where phone calls and messages go straight to voicemail. This is not only useful when young drivers are behind the wheel, but can also be activated for school times, for mealtimes, and/or for quiet hours after bedtimes.
App Privacy Settings
Parents should also periodically review which apps have which permissions in your phone’s settings section. Some are sneaky, taking permissions that you did not activate on purpose. Others may want to use location services or allow access to the App Store, or other inappropriate things. Make it a habit to review your child’s app permissions regularly, say weekly or monthly, to be sure that nothing is happening behind the scenes that you do not approve of.
Tend to Updates
Make sure that your child’s smartphone and apps are all updated when needed. Many of these updates contain security help and are critical to making your child’s smartphone safer. Don’t neglect these! There is also a system to find lost phones. Set this up as well, and make sure the information is current, so if your child misplaces his or her smartphone or has it stolen, you can take action that will lock down the device, and perhaps help you recover it.
Set Up Parental Controls on Common Websites
Many commonly-used websites, like YouTube, Amazon, and Google, have security features that parents can activate on their children’s accounts. Be sure you explore these options thoroughly to help you with filtering content and keeping your child’s information private. And remember that social media sites, such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, have a minimum age requirement for usage. These requirements are there for a reason- using such sites at younger ages puts your child at risk for interactions with people you don’t want them in contact with.
The App Stores are full of some great tools to help your child stay safe with his or her smartphone. Check out some of these options:
Bark Technologies Inc. – Free with in-app purchases
Like many of the really good parental monitoring apps, Bark is set up with a website on your personal computer. The app can help parents monitor their child’s screen time, location, content, and more. An app like this really adds to a parent’s arsenal of protection.
This system is somewhat unique in that it has two different levels of protection (for different fees). The “Junior” program is offered for $5.99 monthly or $49.99 annually. The full program is available for $14.99 monthly or $99.99 annually.
This app will help parents control kids’ smartphone usage. You can set limits on screen time and block or allow specific websites. It will also monitor how much time kids are spending with their devices and help you set limits. One unique feature is the capability to “reward” your kids with a small amount of additional electronics time when they follow rules or comply with your guidelines.
Circle is available for $9.99 monthly or $89.99 annually via in-app purchases.
Give your parental eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head a boost with this app. OurPact allows parents to set reminders, block specific apps, block or allow text messages from specific numbers, and much more. It will also alert parents when new apps are installed on the child’s device. Plus, you can set up geofencing that will allow your child freedom of movement within a specified area but alert you if the child leaves that space.
OurPact has a free trial program and two different levels of paid protection available as in-app purchases. Prices range from $1.99 to $9.99 monthly and $69.99-$99.99 annually.