Keeping Your Kids Safe Online – What you can do today

How to ensure your children are safe on their phone or tablet

The age at which children have access to a smartphone or tablet is dropping fast as they become a normal part of family life. Even games consoles – devices that parents think are safe such as the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita – can allow them access to websites and video services like YouTube. This creates the risk of children being exposed to inappropriate content, receiving messages from strangers and other threats. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your kids are safe online:

Prepare their device

Rather than give the child their new device, often gift wrapped up, and letting them play unchecked, it is best to change certain settings before they start using it. With consoles, there are family settings and supervision PIN numbers that can be set up during first use. These will prevent the child accessing unwanted content, exchanging messages with strangers and so on. Both Sony and Nintendo make this clear in the instructions and it should be easy for you to do.

Most smartphones and tablets are devices aimed at adults and come with less hand-holding. Some models are aimed at children, which come with special settings to limit what apps they can use, but for older children, peer pressure will drive them to a typical budget, or mid-range smartphone.

Ensure the settings are appropriate

If they buy a Windows Phone device, parents can use Microsoft’s My Family settings to help decide which apps the child is able to download. However, websites and other content are still generally accessible. Android device-owning families will find themselves in better shape as recent models come with different user profiles. Child profiles can be restricted in the type of apps and content they can view. Just ensure you password protect all the other profiles so children can’t break out.

There is no such thing as a cheap iPhone, which is perhaps why Apple’s iOS devices lack basic child-safety features like multiple user profiles. What adults can do is use content control settings via the Restrictions option, this can limit the apps that children can access, and the types and maturity level of content and services they can use, such as video chat. For younger children, you can enable Guided Access, basically a kiosk mode that limits them to using one app. This feature is engaged by triple-clicking the home button and can only be exited by entering the passcode or PIN.

With a young adult who basically owns the phone or tablet, these protection systems won’t work or will be harder to police. However, a little education and demonstration of responsibility should soon enable parents to trust the child. To ensure they stay within budget, a pay-as-you go contract is essential, while parents can divert some of their pocket money or allowance to their Google Play or iTunes account to allow them to acquire content, such as digital books, music and videos, without going overboard.

It will come as no surprise that vouchers for these online stores make great and popular presents, while new phone cases, headphones and other accessories will also be appreciated (check out Amazon for all of this stuff at good prices). If you have any other tips for keeping the little ones safe online please share in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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