You're probably not excited about giving your kids their smartphones, but it has become the need of the century. We live in a digital era, where everything is incomplete without having a smartphone. But as technology is growing, it is challenging to save your children from the nasty world of the internet without cellphone parental control.
As scary or invasive as this might sound to you, it is our duty as parents to "spy" on our kids and assure their safety. We do this for years when asking where they're going after school or about that new friend you saw on Sunday. We shouldn't feel uncomfortable asking them about what exactly they do online. In this article, you will get to know all about the effective cellphone parental control to follow so you can protect your kids and keep them safe.
Buying the first cellphone for kids is a tricky job. That little head usually has a particular model in mind, sometimes because they heard it's good, many times because they need to show friends they have it too. According to a recent survey from Common Sense Media, 53% of children have their own smartphone before turning 11. No wonder why every kid has the same wish on top of their Christmas list for years until they finally get it.
Let's start with some basic questions.
Smartphones nowadays provide so much functionality, thus, different types of risk. As a parent, you should pre-evaluate what functions you'll be comfortable with and at what age. Transparency is critical, so after you figure it out, make sure you're explaining and detailing the process and "upgrades" as they grow.
So - here are the first questions to ask yourself:
Once you've established the functions you're comfortable with, it's time to do some research.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options available in the market to cater to your concerns. Disabling purchases, limiting screen time, and location access are pretty easy to set using your iOS/Android parental controls. But if you're looking for just one or two options from the above list, you might want to stay away from "phones" per se and look for different options.
Decided to go with the real phone option? One of the main concerns for parents is the cost those smart devices bring with them. Being made of glass and kind of touchy, you should also expect some repairs to be done with time. Let's look into some options to make this cheaper, both in the beginning and in the long run.
Sending our kids out there to the darkness of the internet is a dangerous mission. It doesn't matter how old they are; danger awaits all ages. As parents, we must always be on the lookout and monitor what's happening.
Sometimes, kids don't even understand that something is fishy, so they don't know they need to tell an adult about it. Sometimes, it is too exciting to give up once they see darkness, so they won't tell a parent about it. There's much you can do, and none of it requires being super tech-savvy, so let's do it:
Speaking of kids getting excited about the darkness they discover, this is the main reason we as parents need to control their online surfing. You cannot talk about what not to search for because- duh, the moment you'll leave the room, they will be frantically searching for it... The only way to protect them from harmful content is to block this option ahead of time.
Start by setting up the Apple / Google account with Safe search as default. This search engine, powered by Google, filters out inappropriate search results for all web, images, wiki, and videos. Having this installed will give your child the opportunity s/he needs to prepare homework, do some research, watch fun movies and find images - all without being exposed to any inappropriate content.
In addition, there are many third-party services to block complete sites for a specific device. To do so, there are two technical ways, usually called an "allowlist method" and a "blocklist method." The allowlist option means the provider operates with a growing list of "approved" sites updated daily. The blocklist option means the opposite: controlling an ever-increasing list of "unapproved" sites. The blocklist method is less effective as many sites fall through the cracks, especially temporary ones.
When searching for service like this, make sure they do not feature a "blocklist based operation" as the allowlist is much more secure. Using allowlists ensures your child will never land on the wrong content, even if someone sent a link to them directly. Some of these services even offer ad blocking to prevent harmful ad content and keep your kids innocent for a little longer.
Not all of the content consumed by your kids on the phone is search results, which is why we also have to do our fair share by tracking the content they're consuming via chat / phone calls. Luckily, the latter doesn't happen much nowadays, but the former is pretty much all your kids do on their phones when they're not on social media.
You can also monitor your kid's phone with the help of some applications. For example, one of the most famous parental control apps, "Bark", can track your kids' texting. It also notifies you if your child is texting problematic words like "drugs," "guns," or other known shortcuts. (More about Bark below)
By monitoring this activity, you can exercise authority only when needed. There should be a discussion with your growing teenagers when your "spying" will stop. As kids grow, they need their privacy more, and you'll need to see how they handle complex situations before giving them their "freedom". This "invasive" act can save you and your family from potential threats on the internet. As long as it's done respectfully and professionally, your kid will probably thank you one day.
GPS tracking is no longer a rare feature nowadays. Many apps offer location tracking as part of their experience, and for kids nowadays, it feels almost natural. While the thought of being tracked 24/7 creeps out most adults, children actually like it. Research shows 67% of parents stated their kids feel more secure knowing a parent is watching over them like a guardian angel, knowing where they are at all times.
The "Find My" app, along with the "parental control" app for iPhone, will do the trick for you. On Android, use the Family Link app. More on both below.
Kids feel more secure and confident when parents' location tracking is on.
Is your kid too young for internet access on their own? Most parental control apps allow you to manage internet access, so you can turn it on or off when needed. Yes, phones without internet access are still helpful in many other ways. Just remember, the location tracking will not work if there's no internet service. So, if you choose no internet but still want to track your kid's location, you should get a separate tracker, as suggested in the first part of this article.
Just looking at what your kid does online is not enough. As part of the reinforcement, your child should see you take action to help them overcome hard times. Cyberbullying cases are reported everywhere, not because kids are meaner than they used to be; the kids who bully at school will bully online. The kids who are being bullied at school are being bullied online - the battle just moved to a different location. With a small addition: it's a little easier to become a bully behind the mask of the internet.
Cyberbullying is the act of bullying people online in private chat rooms, chat groups, comment sections of social networks, a gaming platform, or even a school-issued account. It could be a shaming post containing embarrassing images, videos, or text. It could be a gif in a chat. It could be a one-line catchy message. Unfortunately, the phone you hand over to your child has access to all of those, so it's critical to monitor what's happening and respond immediately if needed.
Cyberbullying has a strong effect on the emotions of children, and it's way more common than you think. 34% of children reported they have experience cyberbullying at least once in their short lifespan online. Research shows the mental health of cyberbullying victims is highly affected, leading to low self-esteem, anger, frustration, suicidal ideation, and other emotional / psychological issues.
To prevent or stop cyberbullying, you first must KNOW about the problem in time. It starts with keeping an open communication line with your kid, so they feel comfortable and safe coming to you for advice about their social issues. Since it's also a very shameful situation, even if you've done your best, your kid might be just too embarrassed to talk to you about it. Some victims even blame themselves for this behavior ("He's only picking on me because I'm stupid/ugly/wearing a yellow shirt") and will not tell you, even when things get really bad.
That's why you need all those "spying" apps and every skill you have to connect with your kid. Track their happiness, how much they share about school or friends, changing habits, how upset they are after using the internet. If you see any concerning changes, sit for an eye-to-eye talk. It is important to remember that your kid is going through a traumatic (series of) event(s) - handle with care and listen to what THEY feel comfortable doing.
Do they want to confront the bully? Should you just block them? Should you report this to a school counselor and get them involved? (If the school has a policy regarding cyberbullying, this is the time to put it to use). Should you see a therapist for a few sessions to get tools and better handle this crisis?
For bullying on a social platform, you can use the built-in features to report the bully and hurt their "scoring," so they'll have a harder time bullying others.
A big concern for every parent is screen time: how many hours do your children spend staring at a flickering screen? It's not just about forgetting homework or house chores. It's about the effects of screens on the brain and eyes, especially for young children. It's our responsibility to set some time limits for mobile usage.
You can do it in two ways: use the manual methods ("It's time to stop now, Ethan") or install applications that automatically perform the task for you. Some of them can even let you set specific rules, like which apps are allowed during particular times of the day.
While this is indeed cool and helpful to get your kids off the couch, you should consider a mix of talking and using forced shut-offs by an app. Being able to stop on their own will give your kids the skill of self-control.
Yes, the manual way is much harder for us as parents. It requires fights over "the new level I finally reached" or the usual "You're SOOOOO mean," - but they'll benefit a lot for the long run. They will be the ones able to focus on a test in college, a mission at work, or a special date with a lover. Totally worth it :)
When you sign up to any social site or sharing platform, it usually requires access to your phone's storage and media. Social platforms ask for that to make the experience better for you, but what's the cost?
There are lots of grey areas on the scale between sharing every picture of your kid to never posting anything on social media. Once you're responsible or young ones, the main points to remember are:
This is also a crucial talking point to discuss with your kid: what do we share? How much? What do we never share? No need to go in all scary and leave them traumatized, but understanding the disadvantages of sharing everything on social media is essential. If needed, help your kid set up the proper settings to execute this.
Being the owner of a cellphone will be a significant change in your child's life. It will take them some time to figure out how to manage on their own. It's important to discuss this change and listen to how they feel about it. Is it causing too much stress or distraction? Does it get them in trouble in school? Over-excitement, in the beginning, is expected, so give it a week or two, but make sure your kids are prepared for this change and know how to handle it.
Some topics you can discuss are:
This should be open conversation as things keep changing - so make sure your kid is comfortable enough to reach out after they already have the phone as well.
In the end, your children are your imprint. They copy the behaviors of adults and do what they see you doing. If you make the rule of not bringing mobiles to the dining table and then break the rule yourself, they will never listen to you.
You need to check out your habits first if you want to create good ones for your kids. Make efforts to have a screen-free time with your family. Arrange activities so that you all don't get bored. Go outside, have quality time with each other. The more you do it, the easier it will be to implement over and over again.
The more you do it, the more they will do it. Win-win.
To implement what we discussed, here is a run-down of the leading apps out there to help you control the content on your kid's smartphone. While it is not the most famous, Boomerang came first with available features for the most affordable annual price. With many features covering calls, web, text, social, location tracking, and screen time, they're one of the best out there.
See the comparison chart below and some specifications for each of the apps.
The bark is one of the popular parental control apps used all around the world. On top of the detailed features, you can also get alerts for spam emails or texts, so even if your kid got something, you know about it too and can discuss it with them. Unfortunately, the application does not feature location tracking, which makes it less suitable for young kids. The app also does not turn the phone off altogether if needed but only stops internet access. If your child is young and not using social media or emails, you might look for another solution and save on the annual rate.
The winner of our chart is Boomerang. The only one offering calls screening and logs, but SUPER affordable and great for parents with multiple kids (and devices) to track. It lacks social media and email monitoring, but let's hope Boomerang will add those features sometime soon to the broad umbrella of services they're offering.
Overall, Boomerang is an effective mobile app, allowing you to set up a schedule and automatic shutdowns at certain hours to help manage your kids' routine.
The Norton Family application features exceptional Android and Windows compatibility. As one of the most experienced players in the field of security, Norton is providing infinite device connections. This means you can connect as many devices to one account as you'd like, including all phones, tablets, and laptops. If you're already using Norton, this might prove helpful for you.
Norton Family is an ideal application if you are an android user, and can afford the steeper price point.
Kaspersky is a budget-friendly app (even a free-forever version!) that delivers more than its price. With just $15 annually, Kaspersky covers most of the musts: Location, screen time, web, email, and even YouTube monitoring & filtering. Combined with a unique low battery alert, it is a competitive offer. Every parent who was ever worried about their kid's whereabouts can relate to the need. If you know ahead of time their battery is dying, you wouldn't be as terrified when you cannot get a hold of them all of a sudden.
Although the app may not have a social media monitoring feature, it is a pretty good deal. Especially for Android users, as the app offers more advanced features for Android phones.
The Family Link app by Google enables you to make healthy digital habits for your child for free. It is not the most advanced one, features-wise, but it might do for older kids. Thanks to the familiar interface most google apps have, it's easy to use, and it does the basics well, 100% free.
Once a month, stay-in-the-know kind of relationship.