If you have a pre-teen in your house, the chances are you will have entered the minefield that is mobile phones. As they become more independent, we feel the need to be able to contact our children when they are out and about. Not only that but mounting peer pressure will mean that your child will want to have a phone to be able to communicate with their friends. So what phone do you buy? Are smartphones a good option, or does access to the internet bring more risks? How do you make your child’s phone a safe way for them to communicate? How do you prevent cyberbullying? We went straight to the experts for some guidance, here Scott Hooton from Phones 4u shares his advice and top tips with us:
Mobile phones are now an everyday essential for children; research by Phones 4u revealed by the time they are 11 years old, 95% of children their own mobile phone and 100% parents are happy to buy their children one. More and more they are using high-end smartphones as the costs are lowered or they are handed down from family members. However, as these phones have internet access, it’s important for parents to have a good understanding of mobile phone security and how to protect their children from accessing content they’d rather they didn’t.
The first step is to identify what type of phone your child has. There are two types of phone: a feature phone which you may feel is better for younger children because it has limited functionality (texts and calls) and generally comes on a Pay as You Go tariff; secondly a smartphone which tends to come on a contract and has internet and Wi-Fi connectivity (therefore giving access to apps including Facebook or Twitter).
Increasingly, smartphones are available to buy at a relatively competitive price to feature phones. Therefore before buying, it’s important to understand which phone meets your child’s (or your) needs rather than which one they say they ‘want’! If your child has a smartphone, the next step is to get a clear understanding of your concerns. Our research identified five key areas, so below are some tips on how to navigate those.
Tip 1: Enable filtering options to block inappropriate content
There are a number of filtering tools available, but these vary depending on the phone your child has. The easiest way to get started is by speaking to your network operator; they will advise you on what is already in place via their network, and will talk you through what else can be done. You should then read the phone’s set-up manual and make sure any handset options are enabled. Network filtering information is also available via the dedicated Phones 4u mobile security website www.Phones4u.co.uk/mobile-security
Lastly, there are a range of apps available that span the different mobile operating systems. These come at varying prices – a large number are even free – , offering anything from basic web page blocking to full-scale monitoring.
Tip 2: Check app settings to improve online privacy
Smartphones help children stay in touch with parents and friends using social networks and messaging apps, as well as letting them browse the web. The result is an increasing amount of personal data potentially displayed online.
For any apps you should check that personal data – such as mobile phone number and date of birth – is not visible, and that all privacy settings are enabled.
Tip 3: Seek third-party advice about online bullying
Protecting a child from bullies is always a difficult subject, but there are apps available that help you to protect your child from cyber bullying through their phone. Websites such as cyberbullying.org and Childnet offer invaluable additional help to parents and children if this occurs.
Tip 4: Make sure you’re getting the right tariff to control costs
Cost is naturally a concern for parents; our research found 80% of parents pay for everything. There are a number of ways you can control the cost – from picking the right handset, contract or tariff, to installing apps that help to monitor usage. Here are my suggestions:
- Get the right tariff: Opting for Pay as You Go is a good way to control spend. There is an upfront cost when the phone is purchased, and then you are responsible for topping up as much as you need to cover the cost of calls, text messages and even data for smartphones. This means that you’re in control of what can be spent.
- Get a specialist contract: Some network operators offer tariffs that can prevent overspending as well as help children know how quickly their allowance is being used. Some can be “topped up”, similar to a pay as you go plan. Once the monthly cost of a contract has been reached you decide whether further data is allowed.
- Mobile apps: Apps can be downloaded that tell you and your child via the handset how much is being spent, and when data allowance is coming to an end. This helps you monitor spending on an on-going basis.
- Use data caps: Depending on the network and tariff, these can be put in place by the network provider and help control the amount of internet data that is consumed. You decide an upper data limit meaning that the services are disabled when the allowance limit is reached.
Tip 5: Learn how to use tracking tools if you’re concerned about a phone being lost or stolen
Finally, if your main concern is that a phone may be lost or stolen, or that you’re interested in keeping track of your child’s whereabouts, it is worth knowing that the option of smartphone tracking is available.
- Tracker Apps are available for a variety of phones and operating systems. They work by sending out a GPS signal should you lose your phone, making it a simple task to track down and hopefully recover.
- Remote Trackers vary between manufacturers, but most enable you to remotely lock your device should it get lost, thus stopping sensitive data being accessed by anyone else.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the range of child internet safety tools at your disposal, you can visit Phones 4u’s dedicated microsite here: http://www.phones4u.co.uk/mobile-security