tween tweetYou’re getting your child an iPhone for Christmas? They’ll be thrilled, but you’ve got some serious steps to take to ensure your child's safety. It's important to have a conversation with them, discussing the proper practice of their mobile devices, along with teaching them how to stay safe and secure while using it.

Technology Contract

All families are different and will find their own path to rules that specifically work for them, and when that is done, an actual contract between the two of you could solidify your talk, provide guidance when conflicts arise, and ensures that the whole family is on the same page. Need an idea of what to include in your contract? Consider:

  • Advising your child that their phone is a loan and they do not actually own it
  • A pledge to not share anything mean or inappropriate
  • How to handle bullies or inappropriate media they may see
  • Willingness to check in when requested, or respond when you contact them
  • Appropriate times of the day to use the cell phone
  • Keep priorities straight, such as getting schoolwork done before using the device for entertainment
  • People they are allowed to communicate with, provide personal information only to people they know in real life
  • Web and social media sites he/she is allowed to access
  • What to do if the phone is lost or damaged
  • Consequences for breaking the rules

Now, to help keep them safe, there are specific measures YOU can take:

Setting Controls Via Your Provider Network

Most major cell phone service providers offer apps and services that will allow you to limit and monitor your child’s data usage. For example:

  • AT&T uses SmartLimits to limit the amount of time per day that a child’s phone can be used, as well as the number of texts and the amount of web browsing
  • Sprint uses Mobile Controls to block text and picture messages from certain numbers, to track the phones and even to deactivate the camera function
  • T-Mobile’s FamilyWhere tracks the phone and offers Web Guard to filter inappropriate content
  • Verizon has three different parental control services:
    1)     Usage Controls set limits on minutes, data and messages
    2)     Family Locator tracks the phones
    3)     Parents can also restrict content by age, for children aged: 7+, 13+ or 17+

Setting Controls Via the Device Itself

  • iPhone & Android: OurPact app allows you to restrict what your child views on the internet, as well as how long they use the internet, from anywhere.
  • Android: Screen Time is an app that allows parents to monitor and set limits on their child’s data usage as well as what they’re viewing.

Setting Controls Via Social Media Outlets

Kids love social media, but sometimes it can get them into trouble: bullying, child predators and an array of privacy issues. Utilizing the privacy settings in any social media app is important.

Facebook Settings:

  • Limit the number of FB friends your child has
  • Control who can view your child’s profile and posts
  • Use the ‘about’ section to limit what information about your child can be viewed by the public
  • Turn off your child’s location feature so that their location isn’t shared with their posts
  • Review your child’s tags before they’re able to be posted
  • Limit sharing in Facebook apps to “Only Me”

Also, always remind your child to log out of their account when they are finished.

Twitter Settings

  • Choose the setting for Twitter to verify log-in requests
  • Choose limited photo-tagging options; parents can even choose the option titled: “Do not allow anyone to tag me in photos”
  • Select “Protect my Tweets”
  • Just like with Facebook, turn off the location feature
  • Uncheck the discoverability options to make your child ‘less visible’

Instagram Settings

  • Turn on the Private Account setting to make your child’s account private (it cannot be viewed by the public)
  • Don’t add any personal information to your child’s profile that someone could use to find your child or otherwise do harm
  • Remove photos from Instagram’s map for even more privacy
  • Use Instagram Direct to see who is looking at the photos and/or to send photos to a certain group of people

Snapchat Settings

Because the images disappear, many kids think that Snapchat is completely safe. However, snaps can be screenshot and saved, or a photo of the snap can be taken with another phone or camera.

  • Choose “My Friends” or a custom setting as the View My Story privacy setting to share content only with people your child knows
  • Set a strong password

By Brian Bason, CEO of Bark Technologies, an online software tool that alerts parents to potential issues like cyberbullying, sexting, drug use, and even depression and suicidal thoughts.