Top 4 Ways to Keep Kids Safe in Their Smartphone Use
September has begun, and kids are going back to school. This may be a welcome break for stay-at-home parents who are looking forward to getting some “me time” in. But it can also mean your kids are being exposed to influences beyond your control. This can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, and if your kids have smartphones, there are a plethora of digital threats that they’ll have to face down. Here are some top tips to keep kids safe on their smart devices as they go back to school.
1. Monitor Your Kids’ Phone Usage
This is the #1 Golden Rule: no matter how safe you think your parental controls are, nothing beats good, old-fashioned surveillance of your kids’ online activities. Lay down your ground rules: what websites and content are your kids allowed to access. What are out of bounds? Explain why certain digital activities can be dangerous or harmful. Good communication is key, especially when it comes to teenagers, who thrive on testing boundaries.
Parental firewalls and child-friendly apps should also be used on all devices your kids have access to. However, it’s important to remember that they’re not foolproof. Just the other month, Facebook discovered that their Facebook Messenger Kids app had a glaring bug in its design, allowing kids to message with unknown adults. Messenger Kids was designed to allow kids younger than 13 to communicate with other users who have been approved by their parents. However, an oversight allowed kids to join group chats with unauthorized adults. The group chat function was shut down, but especially in light of the $5 billion fine for the Cambridge Analytica debacle, it is yet another example of Facebook’s cavalier attitude towards user privacy.
2. Activate Parental Controls in Phone Settings
Of course, you can’t be there 24/7 to monitor your kids’ online activity. That’s where parental monitoring apps come in. These apps can be a handy way to supplement a more hands-on approach to ensuring safe, responsible smart device usage.
If you don’t want to download an app, Android and iOS phones have functions worked into the settings where you can restrict what can be accessed from the device. With iOS, if you go into Settings > General > Restrictions, you can select Enable Restrictions to block apps and devices functions, including Safari, the camera, as well as the ability to download apps. You can also get more involved in blocking certain ratings of video (for example, videos rated PG and above). This lets you curate a list of no-go websites and block explicit audio content. Apple Screen Time also lets you monitor and set limits for screen time on a certain device.
With Android tablets, it is possible to create different user profiles with various functions blocked. Samsung phones allow you to access a Kids Mode that will lock certain functions, and Google Play Store lets parents filter access to apps according to PEGI rating.
3. Monitor Phone Usage With Apps
There are a few mobile apps you can download that take a more sophisticated approach to child protection. Boomerang automatically blocks new apps your kid tries to download until you can give parental approval. And it gives you an extensive oversight over your kid’s activities on the phone. Among other functions, it sends push notifications when triggered by use of blacklisted words, offers easy Time-Out mode, tracks your kid’s location, rations screen time, and even allows a list of “encouraged” apps, such as educational, reading, etc. that don’t count toward the screen time deadline.
Net Nanny has similar functions, with options to block prohibited websites and apps as well as adult content. It includes 14 dynamic categories that parents can screen for, including “death/gore,” “drugs,” “pornography,” and so on.
Kaspersky Safe Kids, provides a PC as well as smart device app bundled. With Kaspersky Safe Kids, you can not only monitor their digital activity and screen time with filters and no-go zones, but you can keep them safe in real-time as well. A GPS tracker lets you monitor your kid’s whereabouts, designated safe zones alert them when they’re about to stray into the wrong area, and a battery tracker sends them a notification when they need to charge their phone.
4. Ensure All Downloaded Apps Are COPPA-Compliant
True data security goes beyond shielding your child from strangers and unsavory content online. Popularity of an app is no indicator of whether it is keeping your child and their data safe. We have seen in the aforementioned Facebook Messenger Kids oversight as well as the recent TikTok data scandal, apps can be lax when it comes to complying to COPPA.
COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) aims to protect the online privacy of children younger than 13. This means that any app or website that tracks, shares, or processes the data of under-13s can only do so with a parent’s consent. This applies to any personal identifying information (PII), which is fast becoming a very lucrative industry in the online world, often referred to as “the new oil.”
And while the sale and processing of data is what keeps the attention economy running, allowing us free apps and services such as Facebook and Twitter, it is also extremely dangerous when we don’t know what organizations are receiving our data en masse. As a parent wanting to protect your child’s privacy online, it’s crucial to ensure that not only apps are COPPA-compliant, but their push notification practices as well.