If your children don’t have mobile phones yet, odds are they really, really want you to give them one this holiday season. For a young person, a phone might be a toy, fun convenience, or status symbol, while for you as a parent, it can make sense as a safety device—a means for calling for help—or a helpful tool, as when they need to call you to ask for a ride home.
The appeal and convenience of having a mobile phone is clear. But before you give one to a child of any age, make sure you also recognize that mobile phones—especially smartphones—pose very real dangers, including:
- Access to adult content online
- Exposure to online bullying and cyber-stalking
- Identity theft through inappropriate sharing of information
- Physical danger from texting or talking while driving
If you’re concerned about these threats, there are several steps you can take, beginning with selecting the right phone. If the phone will be for emergencies only, a simple one offering no online access will suffice (and will limit the dangers). If you want to purchase a smartphone instead, consider one like the Kurio smartphone that comes with built-in parental controls and geo-mapping and fencing options that allow you to track your child’s location.
Also be sure to talk with your cellphone carrier about the child safety controls and privacy settings they offer with each phone. As parents become increasingly aware of the threats posed by smartphones, carriers are offering more services to keep kids safe—but you have to ask to learn about all the latest options.
Once you have the phone, you can download a variety of free or paid parental control applications, such as Net Nanny, Mobicip, and Qustodio Parental Control. Most of these apps filter out websites that contain explicit or otherwise inappropriate content, often by forcing the child to use a custom browser. Better, and more expensive apps provide more granular filtering options—blocking curse words but not entire websites, for instance, or allowing sex education websites while blocking pornography.
Many parental control apps also offer options for controlling social media usage. You can block sites like Facebook and Twitter entirely, or some apps allow you to block certain questionable contacts or view logged conversations. For the greatest control, apps such as Net Nanny Social are dedicated entirely to social media protection.
Of course, there is only so much that technology can do to protect your child. Another important element in phone safety involves teaching your child about safe usage. For example, you may want to discuss these difficult questions with your child:
- When is it safe to share photos, and which photos are appropriate for sharing?
- When is phone usage not safe (walking, biking, driving, etc.)?
- What types of information are not safe or appropriate to share on social media?
- Is it OK to talk with strangers online? How can you tell who is safe to talk with?
- What should you do if you feel bullied by friends or others online?
It is almost certain that your children will own mobile phones—and this may be the year that it makes sense to get them started. If so, being aware of the available technology to limit online threats and teaching your children to keep themselves safe from some of the risks can provide peace of mind.