By Ginger Kadlec — get free updates of new posts here.
Your child’s first smart phone… a time of excitement for your child. A time of relief… and anxiety… for you.
Smart phones can open a whole new world to your child – a world filled with friends, games and fun. However, there are also very real dangers that can present themselves in that world, too.
Far too many parents purchase smart phones, hand them over to their children and allow them to go on their merry way. But that’s exactly the wrong thing to do!
Would you hand your car keys to your child and say, “Go ahead! Drive across the country… just check in with me now and again so I know you’re okay”? Of course, you wouldn’t do that! You would have NO idea where your child is or with whom your child may be connecting.
This same concept holds true with smart phones or other access to the internet. Not prepping your child to know how to safely use this new device is truly like handing him/her the keys to your car without any driver’s education or training.
It’s essential to prepare kids to use digital devices in a safe way. So how can you do that? Well, here are 7 simple steps to help get you started.
1. Work with your smart phone carrier to secure parental controls on your child’s account. Check with your carrier about parental controls they offer (beyond those you can set-up on the phone). Depending on the carrier, you may be able to purchase, for a small monthly fee, features like call blocking, usage restrictions based on time of day, data and text limits that you set, and even designate trusted/safe numbers. There are additional parental controls you can physically set-up on your child’s phone. Learn how to set-up the parental controls on your child’s iPhone or Android… and know that, at some point, those manual controls could be removed by your child (or his/her friends), so refer to #4 below to be sure those controls remain in-tact.
2. Establish boundaries of use. In addition to the parental controls you impose, it’s important to outline your expectations for your child’s usage of this new phone. By allowing your child use of a smart phone, you are instilling a level of trust with your child that s/he will be responsible when using this device… but your child needs to understand what “responsible” means when it comes to using this cool new gadget. So, set expectations, such as:
- The times of day your child is allowed to use his/her smart phone. (For example: no earlier than 7:00 am and no later than 9:00 pm.)
- Limitations for using the phone. (For example, do not use the phone during class, at the dinner table, when guests are over, when crossing the street, etc.)
- Any friend request by someone you don’t know (that isn’t a known friend of your child’s) needs to be approved by you. Sexual predators often portray themselves as other children, lying about their ages, gender, names and background. Help your child be smart about accepting new friend requests. Netsmartz, an initiative by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, offers terrific videos kids should watch to better understand online threats and heighten their awareness about the need to be safe online.
3. Limit the number of apps your child can have on his/her phone. That number is up to you… 3? 5? More? I would suggest not allowing too many apps on your child’s phone and that YOU need to approve each and every one of those apps… and learn how to use them yourself. After you’ve done some basic research on the apps your child would like to use, have your child show YOU how to use those apps. Then, load those same apps on your phone and connect with your child on each of those apps. Being your child’s “friend” on these apps gives you greater visibility into your child’s activity. If your child wants to add a new app and is already at the limit you set, consider having your child remove one of the other apps to replace it with the new one.
There are quite a few apps that younger kids really shouldn’t be using… or, that tweens and teens are using that hold potential dangers in terms of connecting them with strangers. Online games, chat rooms and apps are often used by sexual predators to target potential victims. Click the button below for a guide that lists a few scary apps about which every parent should know.
4. Support an “Open Phone” policy in your home. So, who’s footing the bill for that smart phone? Most likely, it is the parent. If expectations are NOT established up-front, at the time you give your child his/her new smart phone, your child may likely believe that phone belongs solely to him/her. As kids grow older, they can earn additional freedoms as they build your trust by demonstrating good judgement and making safe, sound decisions. But as your child first begins using his/her new smart phone, make it a point to periodically “check” that phone. Just give it a quick review every now and again to be sure your child is using it safely.
- Are the approved number and types of apps on the phone?
- Is your child texting or communicating with others in a respectful way?
- Are there people you don’t know who have befriended your child in an app?
There are all sorts of apps that “hide” other apps, photos, etc. so they cannot be readily seen from the primary smart phone screen. Instead, you see an image that looks legit, but isn’t.
One more heads-up for you, parent: check for hidden apps. There are all sorts of apps that “hide” other apps, photos, etc. so they cannot be readily seen from the primary smart phone screen. Instead, you see an image that looks legit, but isn’t. The test? Click on the icon. If it requires a password, like the secret calculator app, chances are it may be hiding things your child doesn’t want you to see.
5. Implement a family digital safety agreement. These documents can be awesome tools for both you and your child as they specifically outline expectations, boundaries and ramifications for breaking the terms of the agreement. You can find several examples online. I also offer a customized BeAKidsHero Family Digital Safety Agreement as part of my extended sexual abuse prevention training for parents. Check out the introductory free course here.
6. Disable “geotagging” on your child’s smart phone. The same GPS technology that enriches our online lives with apps such as Four Square, Gas Buddy and Pokemon Go also enables geolocations to be pinpointed on random, everyday pictures you and your kids take at the time those photos are taken. In fact, most smart phones come with geotagging automatically enabled; meaning each picture you take is tagged with the exact geolocation where the photo is snapped. This leaves tangible clues for sexual predators, stalkers and others as to you or your child’s whereabouts (e.g., your home, friends’ homes, school, clubs, church, etc.). Click here to learn more about geotagging and how to turn it off in your iPhone.
7. Use parental digital monitoring software. I’m a BIG fan of digital monitoring software for parents! Why? Digital monitoring software helps you know where your kids are going online and what they are seeing. Additionally, you can monitor text conversations which gives you a leg-up to potential problems your child may face including sexting or cyberbullying. Simply stated… you are legally responsible for your child until s/he turns 18. Therefore, if your child begins going down a slippery slope, it’s your duty to protect or correct him/her and guide your child to a safer path. Digital monitoring software helps keep you abreast of what your child is actually doing online.
Digital monitoring software helps you know WHERE your kids are going online and WHAT they are seeing.
Many (if not most) of my law enforcement friends think digital monitoring tools are a good idea! One cyber crime expert actually shared a story about another law enforcement officer who was privately monitoring his son’s online activity. Apparently, his son made disparaging remarks about his dad, which got under this officer’s skin. He talked with the cyber crime expert about it and was ready to ‘bust’ his son and call him out for the remarks he made. They cyber crime officer told him to sit tight and “don’t blow the mission, man!” The mission being to keep tabs on what his son was doing online, even if it meant biting his tongue. If his son knew dad was monitoring his activity, he may have gone to greater lengths to hide what he was doing online.
Here are a few parental monitoring software services you may want to check out. As with anything else, please thoroughly research the cost, features, benefits and pitfalls of each to best meet the needs of your individual family.
- Net Nanny
- PhoneSheriff (Android)
- Life 360 – offers digital monitoring of child’s location, private circle texting, etc.
- Dinner Time App
- FamilyTime App
Please know, that if you use parenting monitoring software, you may see things that can be upsetting or alarming to you… just be composed and smart in your response to what you see. Again, keep the end-game and primary mission in mind… protecting your child’s online safety. “Don’t blow the mission, man!” Instead, use the information at your disposal to help coach your child into making smart, responsible and safe decisions. You can do it!
Do you have other ideas about keeping kids safe on smart phones? Please share them in the comments section below.
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and trained child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues. Along with her husband John and pets Lexi and Chase, Ginger enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, brisk mornings, colorful sunsets and just hangin’ at home with “the Pack”.
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