Today, it is more important than ever to hack-proof devices and ensure that the right security measures are in place to protect personal data. The Information Age has brought about a significant rise in cybercrime, costing individuals and organizations more than $2 trillion globally. But parents have even more to be concerned about than simply data breaches.
As a parent, it can be especially challenging to monitor a child’s phone without being too intrusive. With cyberbullying and “sexting” starting earlier than ever before, it’s important for adults to educate themselves on their options and develop clear strategies around parenting with smartphones. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help guide you through the tough challenges that come with modern technology.
The Big Questions
There are a number of important questions for parents to ask before giving their young children smartphones. One of the biggest and most widely asked is when a child should get his or her first cell phone. A 2018 Nielsen report found that nearly one in five children have a cell phone by the age of eight. This number increases to 50 percent by age 12.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The decision largely depends on family needs and the maturity level of the child. Once children receive their first cell phone, they will never go without one again (at least until smartphones are displaced by new next-gen technology). What’s most important is that parents set clear rules, designate screen-free times, and continually engage with their children about healthy technology use.
Many parents also question what level of control they need in order to effectively monitor a child’s smartphone behaviors. Security apps come with a wide degree of flexibility and can be configured to address specific digital threats. For example, some apps specialize in blocking pornographic material while others prevent cyberbullying on social media.
Experts recommend that parents start with minimally invasive controls and give their children the freedom to make their own mistakes. This enables them to develop self-control and learn how to use technology in a healthy manner. Another option is for parents to give their children stepping stone communication devices, such as flip phones or smartwatches, that are more limited in functionality.
Parental Controls: The Essential Considerations
Parental controls to monitor smartphone usage come in all shapes and sizes. There are several factors to consider on this front.
First, controls should be accessible and easy to use. Parents need to be able to monitor their child’s activity remotely and receive notifications when any issues arise. Also, being able to change settings is also helpful for adjusting usage limits over time as children get older.
Controlling daily screen time is also important. According to Common Sense Media, average screen time for children between the ages of eight and 12 is over four and a half hours per day. With the right parental controls, adults can limit access to certain apps or categories of apps.
It’s also recommended that parents find controls that allow them to turn off all phone functionality at certain times. For example, parents may want to block phone use at dinner time or bedtime in order to teach children when it is appropriate to use their devices. It can be hard to implement these rules at first, but doing so builds good habits in kids who are exposed to more technology than ever before.
Recommendations for Getting Started
Apple’s latest operating system comes with Apple Screen Time, a free set of tools for deploying parental controls. Although setup can be confusing initially, the feature enables parents to easily set time limits and restrictions on certain apps and the entire phone. Controls can be applied remotely for both iPhones and iPads, and parents have access to a ton of information on how their children are using their devices.
For managing Android devices, Google Family Link is an effective and free app that allows parents to control usage and access in a similar fashion to how Apple Screen Time Works. The app allows parents to limit the time spent on devices and block certain apps from being used at all. The one downside with Google Family Link is that it can only be used for children 13 and under.
Once children “age out” of Google Family Link, parents can use the Qustodio app to track and manage usage. With Qustodio, parents can set multiple smartphone restriction times, in addition to being able to read text messages and see their children’s web searches.
Between these three tools, parents have everything they need to get started on the right path with their children.