As your children grow older, you will eventually be faced with the decision of when to let them have their own smartphone. Along with that comes questions of how you can monitor their phone usage and protect their privacy. We've compiled some of the commonly asked questions below. If you have other questions, please use the comment form to get in touch.
At what age should my child get a smartphone?
The short answer is, it depends. Only you will know if your child is mature enough to follow family rules, take care of the phone and not lose it. Another factor to consider is whether your child understands how to use the phone in an appropriate manner.
How can I limit or monitor what my kids do with their phones?
In addition to family rules and lots of communication, there are parental control tools you can use to block access to websites and apps, monitor what kids are doing (including texting) and control who can call them.
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If you use a parental control app, tell your child why you’re using it. Also consider how much information is too much. Some monitoring apps record a user’s every keystroke, even in text messages. Think about whether you really need to know the content of every message.
How can I make sure my child’s privacy is protected?
There are two types of privacy protection: one that can be set or installed on a phone, and the other that develops as part of a person’s general awareness.
Privacy settings in apps and on phones help to provide control over the use of your child’s data, and parental controls can give you more control or oversight over his or her phone activities. Locking a phone reduces the risk of it being used by someone to impersonate the phone’s owner or bully others.
More importantly, learning how to protect the privacy of you and your friends is just as important because the information users post and share with their smartphones has just as much of an impact on privacy as app settings and other safeguards. Helping our kids share information carefully by showing respect for themselves and others results in real protection of both privacy and well-being. It helps to be up front with your kids about the measures you take, and you can learn together what rules and tools best keep their phone use positive and constructive.
How can I make sure my child only uses apps that are safe and appropriate?
The best way to ensure that your kids are using safe and appropriate apps is to talk with them about each app they use or want to use and do a little research to make sure it’s appropriate. Bear in mind that some apps, although appropriate, can be misused. To play it safe, check out the ratings in the app stores, search the Web for reviews or talk with friends who have used it.
You can also have a rule that no app gets downloaded without a parent’s permission, or use parental controls to put app downloading behind a password so your child can only perform downloads with your help.
How do I control the cost of my child’s phone service and stop app purchases?
First, review your mobile phone plan to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s use. Factors to consider are limited or unlimited texting, the number of voice minutes, and how much data can be used each month. Teach your kids about Wi-Fi usage, which enables them to use their mobile devices to watch videos or download apps without using data.
Consider having a family policy that addresses spending money for or within apps. You may also wish to set up an account password that prevents your child from spending money on such purchases without your consent.
If you are keen to know more about screen time, social media, sexting, privacy, online gaming, and other challenges facing parents today, you can check out “Their Own Devices” podcast, brought to you by Marc Groman (former Obama White House tech and privacy adviser) and David Reitman (an adolescent medical doctor).
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