Determine if your child is ready, plan and communicate usage guidelines, and know how to prep mobile devices with appropriate parental controls and protective apps and filters.
by Kristen A. Jenson
Is your child begging for a smartphone, tablet or iPad? Many parents wonder at what age a child is ready to have a constant connection to the Internet via a mobile device. Horror stories abound about kids accessing hard core pornography via iPads, iPod Touches and smartphones, so parents are wise to proceed with caution.
Following are 3 proactive and protective strategies, crammed with great advice and links, to use before (or even after) your kids receive access to a mobile device.
ONE: Determine if your child is ready for a mobile phone.
Lookout (a mobile cyber security company) in conjunction with The Online Mom, published a family smartphone guide. Here are their four questions to help decide if a child is ready to receive a mobile phone or device. When you can answer yes to all of these, your child may be ready:
- Does your child need the phone to stay connected with you or for emergency situations?
- Does your child understand and respect the time and usage limits you have placed on other things like television and video game playing?
- Does your child understand what types of apps are okay to download and how to surf the Internet safely?
- Does your child know how to use the phone safely and appropriately? (Do they know who and who not to communicate with? What they should and shouldn’t share online? What sorts of words and pictures NOT to send?)
NOTE: I strongly advise parents to give the gift of access to a mobile device instead of allowing your child to “own” it. It’s your device, but you are allowing them to use it as long as they follow your rules.
Before your kiddo rips open the package, everyone needs to understand the guidelines, boundaries and expectations that a powerful Internet-enabled device requires. The family smartphone guide gives several tips for a family meeting, including:
- Write a list of rules before the meeting, but consider asking your child to come up with smart guidelines as well—sometimes kids are even more strict than their parents! (Cover guidelines about calling, texting, downloading apps, taking and sharing photos, posting to social media, GPS location settings, and when the phone needs to be OFF. I advise parents to collect all mobile devices from kids at bedtime and recharge them at your bedside.)
- Post the rules where everyone in the family can see them.
- Ask your child to sign a contract listing their responsibilities and the consequences for failing to be responsible with their mobile device.
NOTE: Even if your kids already have use of mobile devices, it’s perfectly fine to hold a family meeting and do a “Re-set”!
THREE: Set parental controls and passwords. Install filtering software or apps.
- Set the password on your child’s mobile device, and keep it safe. (Check out this handy, free tool called KeePass to conveniently store all of your passwords.)
- Set search engines to “safe search” modes and use other parental controls. Droid Lessons explains how to do this for Android devices and Apple Support explains how to set restrictions on iPads, iPhones, and the iPod Touch.
- Install filtering software or apps to protect your child from unwanted content. Here’s a list from PornHarms of filtering products, and this article, Keep It Clean: 8 Tools to Block Porn and Sexting, contains other great options for protecting your kids. Uknowkids provides this list of three must-have security apps for teens.
- After they’ve been using it, periodically browse your child’s device, checking on the photos they’ve taken and shared and the apps that are installed. (Let them know beforehand that you’ll be checking their devices periodically.) Make sure you understand what each app does. You may want to make a rule that all apps are approved by you. (Realize that some apps are designed to hide content. For example, Hide It Pro brags that “the app is cleverly disguised as ‘Audio Manager’ in the App Drawer… [and] is basically your secret vault of pics/videos/messages/apps etc.”)
Remember, You Are Your Strongest Tool!
Finally, almost every article on installing filters and using hi-tech strategies to protect kids, ends by saying this: You are your strongest tool! Talking with kids, regularly, is what will persuade them to protect themselves. This is the low-tech route, but in the end the most effective.
That’s why we encourage parents to start when their kids are young to explain the damage Internet pornography and addiction can have on the brain. The best-selling book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids is one way parents can begin to educate kids without scaring them, and to get them excited about protecting themselves with their own internal filter.