While a true helicopter parent would have no qualms about taking their child’s smartphone each evening to check up on their activity, most of us realise that this is a clear breach of trust and not a good way to deal with things. Not only will it build barriers between ourselves and our kids, you probably won’t get the full picture anyway.
Ofcom research shows that 46% of 12 to 15 year olds know how to delete their browsing history, and more than a quarter have done so in the past. Around a third (36%) know how to use private browsing too.
Breaking our kids trust by going through their phones behind their backs will only increase the likelihood that our children will start hiding things from us. We want to know what’s going on, but how? Thankfully, as Apple would say, ‘there’s an app for that’.
What do you want to know?
As a parent, the knee jerk reaction to that question is ‘everything’. Of course you want to know who your kid is talking to, what they’re saying in their messages and what they’re scrolling around on for all those hours.
In reality, not all of this matters. What’s really important to you will depend on your individual concerns, but for most parents these fall into similar categories:
- Limiting time spent on the device
- Tracking usage
- Blocking inappropriate content
- Locating the device (and child)
Some apps exist which only do one or two of these things, but some manage to cover all of them pretty effectively. I’m going to talk you through some of my favourites, to help you discover how to manage your child’s mobile phone ownership without treading on their toes.
Built in controls
Before you hit the app stores, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the built in safety features of the smartphone your child owns. Most smartphones will be either Android or iOS, and both come with some handy built in parental controls which it’s good to be familiar with.
On an Android device, go into the Play Store app to set up parental controls. In the top left, click the three lines to open the menu, then select ‘Settings’ and ‘Parental controls’. Choose to turn these on. You’ll be prompted to set a pin to prevent others (i.e. your child) from changing these settings. You can then select the type of content you’d like to filter.
On an iPhone, as long as it’s updated to iOS12, you can use Screen Time to control content and privacy on the device. Screen Time can be found in the settings menu, where you can create your own passcode and control what they see and do. There’s a great page explaining how to do this on the Apple website.
Common sense media, a non-profit working to keep children safe online, recommends checking other smartphone settings before handing it over to your kid. Notably they suggest:
- Turning off location services to stop apps tracking where your child is
- Refusing to share data with apps such as contacts stored on the phone
- Use the strictest privacy settings, particularly on social apps like Facebook and Instagram
- Understand what logging in with social credentials will share with other apps
Talk to your child about how they use their phone, in particular what permissions they give to the apps they download. Apps will often work just fine without all the requests being granted, so don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ if they ask for too much.
Third party controls
Aside of the controls built into the device, there are a few good third party apps out there which can help keep your kids safe on their mobile phone. I’ve picked four of my favourites to tell you about here.
- Kaspersky SafeKids
This app not only allows you to keep an eye on where your child is, it also gives some insight into what they’re accessing and for how long. Once the app is installed on your child’s device, you can control it yourself from a dashboard on your own phone or tablet.
It’s super easy to set up, and lets the parent create their own rules for the child’s smartphone use. The app will send a warning if those rules are broken, including if they access a restricted website or go over a set usage limit.
There’s a free version which allows the basic controls to be used, but for all the whistles and bells there’s an annual subscription which doesn’t exactly break the bank. This gives even more insight, with things like location tracking, logs of calls and text messages as well as statistics on app usage.
This app serves to monitor your child’s exposure to social media and websites. It also acts as a GPS locator to locate your child when they’re out and about. Interestingly, you can even set up a ‘geofence’, and receive an alert if your child moves out of a designated area.
One thing I particularly like on Kidgy is the ability to set up daily tasks. This can be reading a book, doing their chores or their homework, and until those tasks are marked as ‘done’ by the parent, the child is limited on the things they can do on their phone.
Another favourite feature is the ‘panic button’ which allows the child to alert their parent if they are in trouble without needing to scroll around looking for a phone number. You can also see who they are texting and calling, helping you stay informed about what they’re doing.
As with other parental control tools, you can monitor and block the content that your child I able to access on their smartphone. As well as this, you can set time limits, track their location and more.
You can create a schedule in family time to block access to games and distracting apps when its time for homework or chores. There’s support here for geofencing too, so you know if they’ve left the area that you thought they were in.
Blocking on apps can be done on an app by app basis, and of course you can install internet filters, as well as monitor texts, calls and contacts they’ve saved to their phone.
- Web Watcher (Android and iOS)
For older kids who are a little savvier about hiding their information, Web Watcher does a great job of monitoring what’s going on. As well as telling you who they’ve texted, you can delve into deleted texts, web browsing activity and can track historical locations.
Where this app really excels is by keylogging activity within apps themselves. This means you can check up on messages being sent through apps such as Tinder, Kik, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The downside is it’s essentially spyware, so it needs side loading from outside of the usual app stores. You also need to give it green card permission for basically everything on the phone, and it’s very invasive in terms of your child’s privacy. It’s the best but requires some serious thought.
All these apps work on both Android and iOS. Apart from Web Watcher, they all offer a free download, but with limited functionality. To upgrade will cost from £30 a year upwards, with the most expensive being Web Watcher which is typically £100+ per year.
As much as apps can help you keep your children safe on their mobile phones, what works much better than this is having a healthy, open relationship with your child where you can talk together about what they do on their phone, especially around social media where they’re more exposed. Education is key, so be sure to work on that (but for back up, a parental control app can offer some additional peace of mind!).
Disclosure – collaborative post