When we think about keeping kids safe online, we often think in terms of keeping them safe while using computers within our home. But what is becoming more “the norm” is that kids are accessing the internet, apps, music, TV, and movies using mobile devices- whether it's your pre-schooler asking to borrow your iPad and you forking it over to keep him entertained at his brother's baseball game, or it's one of your tweens who now are the owner of their own “i-device”, or it's your teen who practically has the device glued to the ends of their fingers 24/7- mobile access has become part of the safety picture. So here are a few things that you can do today to help keep your kids safe online when using mobile devices:
1 Use Restrictions!
If your child is using an Apple device- iPad, iTouch, or iPhone- you need to go into the Settings button, select General, and then Restrictions. This is where you can limit what your child can access while using this device. And personally, I think it is a good idea for you to set up these restrictions even on your own device if you allow your kids to use it. Select Enable Restrictions. You'll first be prompted to set a passcode. This passcode will be just for the restrictions area of your device- so do not make it the same code that you use to unlock the device each time you use it, and whatever you do- don't share this passcode with your kids!
The first section will list applications- and the default will be to leave all of these apps on. But if you are worried that your pre-schooler might accidentally delete all of your apps, then set deleting apps to Off. When you want to delete something yourself, you'll then need to access Restrictions and turn that setting on before you can delete things- but it's better than finding out that little Johnny “cleaned up” your iPad for you! You can also turn off apps such as Safari so your child can't browse the web, or even turn off the ability to access the camera if you'd like.
The next section focus on Content- and keep in mind that this is related to content that is found in the app store (so if your child accesses YouTube from the device, this does not help filter the YouTube content). You can set restrictions here based on age range of your child (but keep in mind, this may not exactly agree with your own opinions as to age-appropriateness). I also turn off the setting for In-App Purchases (such as games where kids can purchase tokens to play new levels of the game). In the Privacy section you can turn off location services (for a kids i-device I don't feel that they need location service turned on), and in the Game Center section, you can turn off the ability for your child to play multi-player games (I do this for my tweens) and to add friends.
Above all- please be sure to set restrictions on your device to fit how you plan to allow your child to use it.
2. Insist on App Approval
My kids are required to ask me for permission to download an app- and before I say yes, I check out the app on Common Sense Media. Now, not all apps are reviewed there- so if I can't find a review, I will search for one on Google, or sometimes I will allow them to download it and then I play along with them. While there are descriptions of the apps available on iTunes that you can view before you install it- I find them to pretty unhelpful when it comes to determining whether or not they are appropriate for my kids. Mostly what I am looking for is information regarding app content (is there any violence?) and whether or not the app allows for chatting with other players online.
My kids were into playing an app called “Clash of Clans” a few weeks ago- one that I didn't find a review for on either Common Sense Media or on Google, and so I allowed them to download it and try it. Not seeing anything glaringly concerning about it when I watched, I allowed several of them to download it. Until one of them later mentioned to me that you can chat with other players (text) online while playing the game- so I started to scroll through some of what was said on my son's device after he had played. Players were calling each other rude names (“Dik”), deliberatly misspelled so as to avoid censorship within the game. So for my kids- the app had to go. Not because my older kids couldn't handle seeing that exact type of language…. but because who know what else might come across in those chats when my kids were playing the game.
3. Use Parental Controls Within Apps Where Possible
One of the things my kids like to do on their device, is to watch some of their favorite TV shows or movies for free using our Netflix account and the Netflix app. And that's fine- I would rather have them watching a rerun of Zach and Cody than other silly stuff that is on at 7:00pm. But the key here is to set the Parental Controls within our Netflix account first- so that they are restricted from viewing any content other than G or PG. And even if Steve or I placed a movie in the Instant Queue that is rated PG13 or higher, the kids won't be able to see that we have that movie in our Queue. So no having to explain what the heck “Sex in the City” is to your 7-year old.
I have it all here for you on video:
To make it easy to tackle everything I outlined here- I've created a short video. So go and grab your i-device and follow along!
I hope that you enjoyed this 3-part series on how to keep your kids safe online. In Part 1 we talked about a great piece of software called Cocoon Kids that is perfect to help keep younger children safe- by creating a tunnel between your home computer and specific websites that you approve. In Part 2 I showed you settings you should be using Google and YouTube to help your kids search more safely.
How do you feel that you are doing with monitoring what your kids are up to online? Please leave a comment below and share!