*This is a commissioned post*
At eight years old, Ben is already counting down to being allowed his own mobile phone . . . he has two years and ten months to wait in case you’re wondering! Dave and I agreed that 11 seemed like a sensible age to allow the kids to have their own phones in preparation for going to secondary school. If I’m honest I’d really rather they didn’t have one at all but we all know that in this day and age, that’s just not going to happen.
Although I know there are clear benefits to kids having their own mobile phones, particularly around safety whilst they are out and about, there are also significant risks which weigh heavy on my mind. From the risk of expensive bits of kit being lost, damaged or stolen to concerns about social media and being able to access inappropriate content on the internet or actually just being a downright distraction when they should be learning. If I thought I could get away with providing the kids with a simple mobile phone which did nothing more than make phone calls I would jump at it however as a good friend pointed out, that’s basically going to be social suicide when they can’t use the likes of Whatsapp to arrange meeting up with their mates . . .
My friend’s daughter was telling me just last week that if she is caught with her phone out in school then it will be confiscated for five days – even if that five days falls over a weekend! Whilst this might seem like a particularly harsh consequence I was actually pretty impressed that her school were taking such a hard line on the issue and it was certainly enough of a threat to ensure that there was no way she was going to risk getting her phone out to check her instagram at lunchtime!
Although mobile technology in school isn’t a massive issue for my own children yet, we have been super cautious with their own use of tablets and the internet at home from the start. I think setting out ground rules from the off means we all know what’s expected of them and of course these ground rules can be added to or relaxed over time as the need arises. When Ben and Chloe first got their tablets, we were really strict about how much time they could use them for and when. As time has gone on we have stuck to the strict rules about not using your tablet before school or after teatime – however we don’t really worry so much about how long they use them for as they have proven themselves to be sensible about monitoring their own use. We also insist that their tablets remain downstairs (unless they are being used to stream music to their Bluetooth speakers in which case we use “Applock” which means only Spotify will work). I would anticipate that as time goes on these ground rules will remain in place and will translate to mobile phone use too – however you can’t always control what your children have access to when they are out and about.
It goes without saying that there are a lot of things on the internet which could easily be classified as ‘niche’. Niches that you wouldn’t want your kids to even know exist let alone be looking at. With that in mind you need to have some sort of control over what your kids can access on the internet. Even in ‘walled gardens’ like Instagram, you can accidentally find pictures of body parts by looking at the most innocuous of hashtags. At present, Ben and Chloe have Hudl2 tablets which came with pre-installed parental controls and they work very well. These controls mean you can set limits on what apps they can use, how long they can use the tablet for each day, what times they can use the tablet in between and if they have access to the internet. We have turned off the internet browsers as they don’t really need to be able to wander on their own on the information superhighway. Lord knows where they’d end up.
There are plenty of other apps and services which give you parental control over your children’s device, like Kaspersky Security Cloud which allows you to control how much time your children spend online. It also lets you set a time limit so you can monitor your children’s online activity. As well as keeping children protected online, Kaspersky Security Cloud offers security protection for parent’s devices, including a Password Manager service to help protect private and sensitive data.
Of course it’s all well and good being able to insist on time limits, reducing access to certain apps or web browsers at home but once your children have left for school in the morning, what control do you have then?
It’s really important that you keep a close eye on the apps your children are downloading and using. At the most basic level you don’t want them to be running up big phone bills with paid for apps or in-app purchases but more serious than that, there are apps which at face value appear to be completely harmless but on further investigation are full of inappropriate content or worse could be used for grooming youngsters. Keep the lines of communication open – talk to your child about the apps they are downloading and what they are using them for, research them online and even try them out yourself. There are new apps and trends coming onto the market all the time, it’s impossible to keep track of them all – but do try to be aware and keep yourself up to date with the latest information about online safety. Many a time at school we’ve sent letters home to parents informing them of inappropriate apps which they had no idea their children were using, or just didn’t know how they worked.
For a more overt control – using the parental control apps and services mentioned earlier would give you the opportunity to manage your children’s online activity and control which apps are installed on the device. You could discuss with your child the apps which they wish to use and why they want to use them. This would give you the chance to see first-hand what they are interested in and give you a bit of peace of mind over their internet usage. The app store of your choice, whether Android or Apple will give you the option to control any in-app purchases and paid for apps through the use of a password or some other form of identification. This should help with keeping unfettered spending under control. Ultimately as your child gets older these forms of protection/control will be less and less acceptable to them. That’s when the communication really becomes paramount and you have to hope that those ground rules you set in place have done the trick so as to encourage appropriate and sensible usage.
So, in all honesty I’m grateful that I’ve got another couple of years before I really have to face this issue head on – and who knows how the mobile internet landscape will change in that time – but in the meantime I’m going to keep firm on those ground rules and hope that we’ve laid the foundations for safe mobile usage! I’d love to know how you deal with the issues around mobile safety for your own children?