This holiday season there were reports that “smart phones” beat out “toys” as the top gift request from the 18 and under set. With a lot of new phone users out there, now is the perfect time to set some basic rules of the road with your child and really get to know how the phones work before they become an inevitable appendage of your child (and don’t worry, iPhone buyers – a post for you is coming soon).
Today’s smart phones are the house phone, record player, maps, books, and libraries of parents’ youths rolled up into one device that lives with your child 24x7. Rather than being overwhelmed by this technology, parents need to get smart about how to harness that same power to make sure kids are using the phones in a responsible way.
First, the “easy” stuff. Now is the time to set up some Rules of Ownership with your child. Set some rules for your kids that range from times of day that are off limits for phone usage, asking permission for app downloads, creating “screen free” hours for the whole family, no phone usage while driving, no phones at the table, etc… Phone privileges should be consistently tied to these rules, if a rule is broken the phone is taken away for a predetermined amount of time. Do remember to model the behavior yourself to show the importance of following the rules.
Now for the technical side of digital parenting.
Monitoring -- Android phones are built on an open-source operating system which generally means the source code that runs the operation of the machine is made available for use or modification by users and developers. On the phone it means that developers are more easily able to create applications that run on or access the phone for Android than Apple (for Apple, there is a special process to develop for the Apple Operating System). For you as a parent this means greater access to monitor what your child is doing on the phone (text messages, app downloads, usages etc…). Using third party applications (including ours), you can see downloaded apps, call history and text messaging.
Parental Controls -- In terms of parental controls (i.e. setting limits on what your child can do) you will have to download separate applications to enable you to shut off access to web browsing, the camera, video chat, installing apps, and deleting apps among other things. Also, check with your carrier to see how you can set restrictions on general usage and particular times of day.
Security –- Android phones are more susceptible to viruses (viruses are not typically written to attack Apple operating systems). Since kids tend to download without a thought to legitimacy of the application, make sure you have an anti-virus software on the phone to avoid needing tech support to clean off an infected device.
Location Services -- Take advantage of the phone’s built in GPS technology. Turn on the location service feature in settings to access children’s locations in the event of emergency or just general daily check-ins. images to the web, they will be tagged with their exact location, making it easy for people to pinpoint the whereabouts of your child at the time of the post. It is up to you to decide the value of the trade off of public privacy for your access to your child’s location.
Smart phones when used…well, smartly… can serve to better connect the family to one another. Taking some time to educate kids on appropriate usage, and in turn, setting up the phones to enable parents to have transparency will go a long way in harnessing the power of these devices for a more entertained, connected, and safe family.