When smartphones were first popularised in the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was little suggestion that they were devices for anyone other than adults. Times, alas, do change, and today it almost seems a given that even fairly young children should have a smartphone. An incredible nine in every 10 UK children under the age of 16, in fact, are said to have a mobile.
Of course, we shouldn’t be too ‘old fogeyish’ about this trend. Smartphones are by no means only geared towards adults these days, and there are plenty of games, apps and educational resources on such devices that could do a huge amount to enhance your little one’s life.
However, giving a child a smartphone does still have its risks, ranging from cyber bullying and contact with strangers to inappropriate web content and the potential for hefty phone bills to be racked up. Plus, with technology moving at such a fast pace these days, even if you’re a tech-savvy Millennial parent, you might still struggle to keep up with the latest apps that are popular among kids, and the new and distinctive dangers they may bring.
With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most important things that you need to do to shield your child from harm when you give them a smartphone.
First of all, make sure the device itself is well-protected…
One of the first things that you will need to do when you buy a smartphone for your little one is ensure it has a suitable case and screen protector – after all, children are notorious for their clumsiness and if they are ever lost, you won’t want them to ever be unable to contact you due to damage to their device.
As you might expect, there are a lot of options for suitably themed smartphone cases, including those based on popular cartoon characters, as well as some more unusual and innovative options that are just coming onto the market. These include the OTOMOS case by the Japanese company Momo, which according to the Daily Mail, will go on sale for £3.50 in August 2017. It’s a high-tech case that enables the phone to be controlled remotely – for example, by parents wishing to impose restrictions on how much time their child spends on the device to help prevent addiction.
A screen protector is an essential purchase too, of course – these being films that are applied to the phone’s display to prevent it becoming scratched, which can so easily happen with accident-prone children and teens. After all, we’re sure you won’t want to have to fork out for a replacement for something as expensive as a smartphone.
There’s another reason, though, why you will want your child to suitably protect their device – if they do get lost or their phone does, you will be able to make use of the various ‘find my phone’ apps on the market. The Life360 Family Locator app, for instance, enables you to quickly locate and communicate with family members, including the option to be notified when your child reaches a specified location, and it’s a free download on both iOS and Android phones. A similar app is available from Sygic.
What about all of the messaging apps out there?
It’s true that there are a lot of popular apps out there that it can be easy to lose track of amid the continual changes in trends. Kids aren’t only chatting to their friends on Facebook anymore, so you really need to know your Snapchats from your Kiks, and your Twitters from your Instagrams.
Certain apps may bring risks that aren’t so present on others – for example, Snapchat is based on the principle of users sending pictures and videos that delete themselves after a short period of time, usually a few seconds. While this may sound like a useful safety feature, it may encourage children to engage in risky behaviour, sending inappropriate photos or videos that they expect to be deleted, but which can be saved by the recipient if they simply take a screenshot or take a picture of the screen with another device.
In the above instance, you will need to warn your child that anything digital can still be saved and shared with others. There is also an option within Snapchat to adjust your child’s account settings so that they can only receive pictures from those on their friends list, rather than everyone.
Parental controls can also be a godsend
The most popular phones should have parental controls of some kind, usually in the settings – it’s just a case of finding them. Parents of children with Apple products, for example, should go to Settings, then General, then Restrictions. On an Android phone, go to Settings, followed by Add user or profile. This will enable you to control which apps your child is able to access, while limits can also be placed on app or in-app purchases in the Settings of their Google Play account.
Separate apps are also available that can help to keep your child safe, such as Mobile Guardian, which offers such features as the ability to receive reports about your little one’s web browsing, as well as to view and block contacts. Screen Time, meanwhile, enables you to manage the times when the device can be used, including setting timers for individual apps.
The above are only a few of the pointers that can be given to help to keep your child safe, so it’s vital to remain alert to the latest apps and advice. Nonetheless, it should give you a good amount of food for thought when you are considering how you can best shield your little one from the worst threats that the wide, dangerous world of the Internet can pose.