The landscape for Digital Natives is a completely different one for Digital Immigrants. For some of us Immigrants who can recognize the sound of a dial-up modem like the voice of our own mothers, the Native world our children are growing up in can be more than intimidating. It can be terrifying. How can parents keep up with swiftly changing technology and their even technologically savvier children? Internet safety and cellphone safety needs to be as important in discussing with our kids as “stranger danger”.
Parents on Deck
Parents, we have no choice but to keep up because we are our children’s first line of defense in protecting them from those who are even more savvy than they are: predators. Because predators are motivated by their addictions they will put in the added effort to learn how to navigate the newest social media platform or how to emotionally manipulate our kids. And because social media platforms are motivated by making money by downloads through app stores and click throughs on advertisements, they will not have anything in place to protect our children for us. Besides, social media platforms have the First Amendment to hide behind. We do not.
It is unrealistic to believe our children can survive without access to the internet or cell phones (depending on their age, of course). However, we can inform ourselves better. In the interest of informing and empowering parents, this post will be the first in a series of what parents need to know to keep their kids safe.
Cell phone: Privacy or Nah?
Every parent handles the cell phone conversation with their kids differently, and that’s okay. Each household has its own set of rules on when a child will receive a cell phone of his or her own and what rules will go along with that phone. In order to frame this particular conversation of kid safety and to keep things simple, I will refer to what’s expected with my 15-year-old son and his electronic devices.
Before my son had anything in his hands, he knew that he would have no expectation of privacy when it came to his cell phone and all other electronic devices. This means that I can check his phone at any time (texts, pictures, apps, etc.) and he understands that nothing is private. It also means that I won’t read anything in great detail; I only quickly scan to see if there is anything concerning. I also have all his passwords. He’s a great kid and when we had the conversation about the responsibility that came with a cell phone and internet safety, he understood why it was important that I always had access to his information. He hasn’t ever been resentful about “invading his privacy” and, in fact, has forwarded me texts several times to ask for my advice on how to respond. Does his compliance mean I’ve never gone through his phone? Oh hell no. Of course I have. In fact, as recently as a couple months ago I could tell he was struggling with something and didn’t want to talk to me about it so I went to his phone. I skimmed his texts and saw that he was having some issues with a friend and was able to help him resolve it.
Regardless of how each parent sets up the arrangement with their kids about cell phones, I think the most important thing is that both parent and child have created a relationship where they can go to each other if there is a concern. Especially if “privacy” really just becomes another word for “secrecy”.
Cell Phone Security Features on Deck
So what if a parent wants to secure a phone or electronic device before it’s even given to the child? There are actually several security features already in place on both Android and iPhones that help parents out with this although neither one is absolutely perfect for every situation. When I ask my friends about their biggest concerns regarding cell phone and/or internet safety, most of them say they worry about specific apps (more about those in a later post). Some say they worry about the added costs of in-app purchases, and others say they worry about sexting. All of these are concerns and clearly there are other concerns as well. The list will obviously grow as technology advances. Fantastic.
When it comes to Android devices, security features are enabled either through Google Play Store’s settings, the specific device’s settings or through a downloaded app so it really depends on what feature a parent is looking for. If the primary issue is preventing a child from downloading your mortgage in apps, then definitely start in these settings. For this post I am using screens from my daughter’s Samsung Tablet, the only Android we have in the house. Other Androids might look different but I am assuming most will be similar. (Image 1)
Once you’ve opened up the Google Play Store’s settings (on the device itself), you’ll tap the option “Require authentication for purchase” and from there you will enable the slider for “Purchase Protection”. At that point you will be able to select a time frame for how long the user can download apps before needing a password. (Images 2 and 3)
The parental control slider lets you decide what is available based on ages.You might notice in the same settings screen an option called “Parental Controls”. If this is tapped another screen is open where you can use a little graphic to determine what content to restrict based on age groups. Here’s what you see when you select it. You first want to select the slider to the on position. This will enable you to adjust the slider. I happen to love this option because it gives kids autonomy to select apps but it will automatically limit apps available to them based on what is age-appropriate. So if you’re a parent who is concerned about certain social-media platforms, simply limited the apps available to your child in this way could be a viable option to you. Don’t forget to select a password that you not only won’t forget but won’t be guessed by your kids. (Images 4 and 5)
Once you’ve taken care of the settings in the Google Play Store don’t forget the settings on the actual device itself because it will have a different settings menu. The reason why you want to do this is because even though you’ve gotten the Google Play Store taken care of, users can still download apps from third party locations. Not only does this expose the device to viruses and malware, but it completely undoes everything you just did in the Google Play Store which is annoying.
Once again, go into your device’s menu and find the Settings. Because this is my 4 year old’s tablet made for kids, it was pretty easy to find but usually the Settings is easily found on any device. The option you want to “untick” is Unknown Sources. This will make sure the only apps your child can download come from the Google Play Store — where you have all your parameters set. (Images 6 and 7)
Of course, this is just Android devices. We haven’t even begun talking about all the iStuff around.
I’ll be the first to admit that I know more about parental controls on iPhones and iDevices than anything else because that is what we have in our home. So if anyone has other pointers to add as I continue with these posts, please share them with me!
Most of the parental controls or restrictions that we use are found by beginning in the Settings menu and selecting General.
One of the most important things you’ll do by enabling the Restrictions menu is setting a password. It should be a unique password that can’t be guessed — and one that you won’t forget. If you forget it you’ll end up having to reset your phone which is an enormous hassle.
As you can see, the Restrictions menu shows all the apps at work on your phone. You can toggle on and off which apps you want your child to have access to. When the switch is toggled to the off position the app’s icon won’t show up on the main screen of your phone. I’ve actually done this to my own phone for apps that I don’t use and don’t want cluttering up my phone’s screen so this is actually very useful.
I’ll show you how I’ve set up some of the restrictions on my son’s phone. First of all, I’ve turned “off” Safari, Siri, FaceTime, AirDrop, and CarPlay on his phone. Even with Safari turned off though, he still has access to WiFi just not the internet. (Image 1)
My son’s app store is actually turned off all the time so if he wants to download something he has to bring his phone to me. This has been a great arrangement for us because first of all, it takes away the surprise of charges that some of my friends were talking about and second, I’m able to talk to him about an app that might not be appropriate. However, an app might slip past the both of us so I’ve set his app rating to be 12+, meaning apps that are in the range of 12-16 are okay for him to download. It is also requires a password to be used at all times, even for free apps.
He doesn’t have access to Siri, but I showed the setting anyway because some people aren’t aware that Siri is automatically defaulted to use explicit language or to search for explicit web content if asked. Those were toggled off right away. A parent also has options for websites by allowing all of them, specific sites, or by checking off the option to just limit adult content and listing which sites to always allow and which to never allow. (Image 2)
I’ve also set restrictions on books, movies, tv shows, and music that’s available through Apple. This means books available through iBook, movies and tv shows from iTunes as well as music and podcasts, and news from the Newstand can be limited through here. However, and this is important, these particular restrictions will not safeguard anything that comes from another app. For example, if you toggled off explicit sexual content being permitted under books your child can still download Fifty Shades of Grey from Amazon to read on the Kindle app. (Image 3)
There are a couple other useful tools in the Restrictions menu. This is where you can limit which apps can access the phone’s location services, for example. You can also decide what accounts can be changed outside of the Restrictions menu. For example, maybe you don’t want your child to be able to post pictures in Messenger via Facebook. You can restrict that through here. If you don’t want the volume going past a certain limit, you can do that through here as well.
In the General menu you can tap Messages and turn off iMessages. By doing this, your child won’t be able to use his or her iPad or iMac to “text” (or iMessage) other people if you don’t want them to. Keep in mind that if you want them to not turn this feature back off you’ll have to toggle it off in the Restrictions. If you have a cell phone company that offers services like a Family Services Plan or something similar where they say a parent can limit what hours a child can use their phone, etc, this is only true to a certain extent. iMessaging is treated like an app to Apple and these cell phone plans can’t limit apps, only SMS messaging. If your child is iMessaging, you can’t restrict that using your cell phone company.
I don’t endorse this feature at all, but some parents who are desperate to know what their kids are up to (and for some reason just don’t ask or feel like they can’t) can use the Text Message Forwarding feature on the iPhone. This is where you enable the text message forwarding to another device, like an iMac using your child’s AppleID and then all their iMessaging will be forwarded to that device. Frankly, I think if you’re a parent in that situation your family needs more help than my series of blog posts can give you. You will betray your child’s trust in a way that may never recover.
Lastly, Apple introduced their Family Plan recently. One parent becomes the “head” of the family plan and invites other members to join. Anything from the app store that is bought using the charge card is then shared with the family. This is terrific for several different reasons but in this case it helps with transparency. The child then knows that everything he or she purchases or downloads from the App Store will be followed with a receipt that is then emailed to the head of the family plan. My son learned that the hard way when he app binged his feelings last summer. (Image 4)
Keeping Kids Safe and Smart
Again, these are a few suggestions to kick off my series in what parents can do to help keep their kids safe in a more digital world. Primarily, I hope this will open up more discussions between parents and children because ultimately that will create a safer environment for our kids and make them smarter in making decisions.