The controversy over smartphones for children continues to escalate. Some argue that it may be actually educational for the children, while others maintain that it’s simply a useless distraction. However, children are gaining more and more exposure to smartphone technology. A survey conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and detailed in The Wall Street Journal reports that most parents “allowed their kids to use a smartphone at least occasionally.” Moreover, “About two thirds of the children said they have used an iPhone before, and almost two thirds said it was “easy” or “very easy” to use.”
The fact remains that if you choose to allow your child to possess a smartphone, or even play around with yours, you should inform yourself about ways to keep safe. Here are six essential tips for child smartphone security:
Check for Parental Controls On The Device
Many times, a phone will come with parental controls already available on the device. The iPhone allows parents to set a limited number of restrictions on use. Go to settings, then restrictions, then choose enable restrictions. You’ll then have to enter a 4-digit passcode, which is irretrievable, so don’t lose it. You can choose to un-enable features like Safari Internet, iTunes, YouTube, and/or app installation.
Monitor Your Child’s Use
Sometimes–if your child has a history of hiding their activity—monitoring his/her behavior from afar might be the best bet. Parental Control software is everywhere, and some of the best of it makes it worth the purchase. PhoneSheriff, for example, allows parents to block texts and calls from certain numbers, implement time restrictions, block the Internet and app usage, and monitor content (such as email, sms, website, and GPS logs.) Once PhoneSheriff is installed, it is hidden to the child (except for the PhoneSheriff icon, which needs a password to enter into.) It works on Android, Blackberry, iPhone, Windows, and Symbian devices. While software such as this can make it easy for parents to check in on their children’s behavior, it’s important to talk to your children about why certain actions–like sexting, for example–are harmful to the child’s wellbeing.
There are a number of apps that allow parents to block unsolicited messages from unscrupulous users. “Bully Block” for the Android Platform lets users record verbal threats and harassment, block inappropriate texts and “sexts,” and allow users to email/text this behavior to parents, teachers, and law enforcement.
Use a Time Manager
Does your child spend an inordinate amount of time on gaming sites? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit screen time to no more than two hours per day. An iPhone app called Game Time Limit helps to do just this. Parents can set the number of minutes they’ll allow their child to play on the device, then start the timer before giving it to the child. An alarm will then appear on the screen and prevent the child from playing the game anymore. Once you enter your special passcode, the alarm stops. AT&T’s $4.99/month “Smart Limits” plan allows parents to set limits on how many minutes children can use, as well as what time of day and specific days the phone can be used.
Beware of Free WiFi
Many people assume that their smartphones are more safe than their computers, but in truth they are just as susceptible to malware attacks. It might be tricky to enforce, but encourage your child not to use his/her smartphone at airports, cafes, or other free WiFi spots. Explain to him/her that those locations are not safe for Internet cellphone use–people with bad intentions can more easily hack into phone data there than at home. (And, when that happens, identities can be compromised.)
Lost Phone Software
Should your child lose his/her phone, a lost/stolen phone app should help him/her locate it, or erase its data remotely.
BlackBerry Protect, for example, is a software service by Research In Motion that allows wireless backup, password locking, cell tower tracking, and secure wiping of the phone. You just need to download Blackberry Protect to your smartphone; you’ll have an Internet dashboard to control in case something goes wrong.If your child has an iPhone, the “mobile me” app will also let you remotely wipe private data stored on it.
Useful tracking apps include the following: Android Lost and Where’s My Droid? for Android platforms; FoneHome, BarHeist, and MobileMe for iPhone; and Berry Locator for blackberry. Additionally, Lookout Mobile Security offers antitheft and antivirus protection, as well as essential data backup.