Mobile phones have enriched and advanced our lives, but unfortunately these benefits are less clear-cut when it comes to children.
From malware to spyware, from cyber-bullying to grooming, the internet’s various horrors are all easily accessed via a smartphone.
And because phones represent the most obvious and accessible route online for most young people, they’re at the frontline of parental battles to keep kids safe.
Fortunately, smartphone manufacturers and software developers recognise their responsibility to future generations of customers.
While you can’t buy dedicated phones for kids (at least not yet), these common-sense steps should ensure any youngster is free to use a normal Android or iOS handset…
Setting up Apple and Android phones for kids
Some of the best tools and techniques for online child safety are platform specific:
- Set up Google Family Link. This app lets parents monitor activity on a connected handset for under-13s, controlling app downloads, restricted websites and even screen time.
While parents can use an Android or iOS device, the child’s handset needs to have Android Nougat, Oreo or Pie installed.
- Create a dedicated child account on their phone. Some devices support multiple users, enabling parents to register what’s effectively an administrator account.
This allows people to create a suitable profile on a specific handset, rather than logging in and setting restrictions which then carry over to other hardware registered to them.
- Activate parental controls. These are engaged by setting a PIN through the Menu > Settings > Parental controls sub-menu in the Play Store app, and then specifying restrictions.
It’s possible to view content by age group, with family-friendly choices indicated by a green star. Age ratings can be set for games, movies and TV – even music with explicit lyrics.
- Create an Apple ID for your child. If they’re under the age of 13, this is the all-important first step on the path to parental supervision.
An Apple ID gives the child their own email account and access to Apple devices, though it’s possible to stop them accessing it (and any other services you deem unsuitable).
- Use Family Sharing. This is Apple’s version of Android’s parental controls feature, for youngsters with an Apple ID.
Family Sharing provides supervision over purchases, storage and even location sharing – ideal for any situations when a handset is lost or even stolen.
- Apply Content & Privacy Restrictions through Screen Time. There’s a dedicated option for managing a child’s iPhone in iOS’s Settings > Screen Time > Continue sub-menu.
Establishing an administrator passcode grants you exclusive control over content restrictions, from podcasts containing bad language to game/app/book/TV show age ratings.
General tips on setting up phones for kids
Firstly, we’d recommend giving kids gift cards for online activities, rather than enabling purchases on a credit or debit card.
Not only does that cap overall expenditure, it encourages them to think carefully before using up whatever credit is available.
Best of all, it effectively precludes in-game purchases, which could prove tempting and costly in equal measure.
Activating Google SafeSearch prevents explicit results appearing, while arch-rival Bing also offers an identically-named adult filter.
Perhaps surprisingly, the world’s second-biggest search engine isn’t Bing – it’s YouTube. Ensure Restricted Mode is activated via YouTube’s Settings > General sub-menu.
Do be aware children could deactivate Google or YouTube safe searches, so these shouldn’t be regarded as a guaranteed defence against unwholesome content.
One workaround involves activates ISP content filtering through your router, though it’ll affect every device and might annoy or restrict adults using that connection.
It might be safer to prevent kids installing certain apps entirely – especially encrypted communications tools like WhatsApp, or forums notorious for bullying such as Facebook.
Finally, an app like Screen Time (available on both Android and iOS) provides parental supervision for app installation and daily usage limits.
That’s great for ensuring kids aren’t still playing Fortnite after bedtime, or binge-watching Twitch when they should be doing homework.
Given their importance in modern life, phones for kids shouldn’t be discouraged – and an outright handset ban will typically prove counterproductive.
It’s better to teach youngsters about responsible and measured internet usage, so they grow up able to use technology which will certainly be part of their future daily lives.