Explained: managing the risks of mobile phones
What can I do to protect my child?
As many parents now buy mobile phones for children under 12 some advice on the use and management of mobile phones might be helpful.
There are a number of strategies that parents might adopt to encourage their children to make safe and responsible use of mobile phones.
These may include activating the mobile’s own Parental Controls and Apps Content Rating Filter but should also include a discussion about the following:
Talk to your child often about their mobile use and safety
The most important online safety strategy, regardless of the technology involved, is to talk about and share in your child’s enjoyment of their mobile and maintain an open dialogue with your child about their digital lives.
Help them choose age appropriate content for their Internet devices.
Watch, play, listen and read with your child as they explore online.
Set ground rules for using mobile phones (and all Internet enabled devices they have)
Discuss and set ground rules with your children for their use of mobile phones.
If children feel that they have been involved in the making of rules and understand the reasoning behind them, they will be more likely to stick by them.
While setting some ground rules try not to impose the fear in your child that their phones will be taken away from them if they encounter problems.
If problems do occur, talk through the issues in a calm and rational way, and try to help your child devise sensible self-protection strategies should they encounter problems again in the future.
Learn about the Apps they use and discuss their cost and possible hidden “In-App” additional charges. Discuss together which Apps are suitable for their use. Bluetooth, camera use and Location Apps should be discussed also.
Watch out for changes in your child
Are they quieter than usual and withdrawn? Do they seem overly tired and detached from family life? Children are often reluctant to discuss their problems, but any of these behaviours could indicate that they are experiencing issues such as textbullying.
Mobile phones: shop wisely
When buying a mobile phone for your child ask the salesperson about the company’s Parental Safety Guide and Controls.
Ask for the link to its Parental Safety website section. Ask about the phone’s inbuilt tools, ask about the safety services provided for parents.
Mobile operators are beginning to provide such tools to help parents manage their children’s mobile phone use.
Parental Content Control, Parental Contact Control or dual access are some of the tools now available.
For example, when buying a Vodafone smartphone once the parent registers the phone user as under 18, Safety Net is activated by default.
Vodafone’s access control system filters out inappropriate mobile internet content for users under 18 – once the parent registers their child as being under 18.
Such content restrictions are typically set to the highest level of protection by default. Ask your mobile phone operator and/or retailer for further information on the safety tools available to you.
Daily downtime and mobile-free bedtimes
Consider having a central place in the home where all mobile phones are kept for charging overnight.
Aside from making sure that phones are charged safely it will also ensure that the child gets some ‘downtime’, without disturbance from text messages or emails throughout the night.
No child needs to suffer from “techno stress” by being “always-on”.
Know where to get help and advice if things do go wrong
If you or your children do experience problems relating to online safety issues, it is important to recognise that you are not alone – there are a number of organisations that can provide help and advice.
The The National Parents Council operate a national helpline for parents and Childline Online offer children and young people support through their helpline.
Some sample ground rules?
These suggestions come courtesy of SaferInternet.org, the European network which promotes the safe, responsible use of the Internet and mobile devices to young people.
Ground rules are likely to vary depending on age, but may include for example:
- Rules on where, when and how mobile phones can be used (for example, not at mealtimes, not at school during lesson times, not after a certain time at night).
- An understanding that mobile phone numbers should never be posted online.
- Limits on monthly mobile phone expenditure (pre-pay services, for example, can help to keep costs under control).
- Restrictions on accessing premium rate services via the phone (for example, only with prior permission).
- Discussion about Apps and whether they may purchase them. Not all Apps are suitable for children, some Apps which appear to be ‘free’ have In-App costs.
- No responding to SMS spam.
- Don’t let other people use your mobile phone, unless there is a genuine emergency and only if you are present.
- No sending mean or unkind messages via mobile phone. If mean or unkind messages are received, or anything else that doesn’t ‘feel right’, seek the help of a trusted adult.
- Think carefully about what you share or upload from your mobile phone. Once shared, messages and images cannot be taken back, and will potentially exist in cyberspace for evermore.
- Be discreet in your use of your mobile phone – don’t flash it around as a target for thieves.
Be sure to review the ground rules regularly as your child’s needs and expectations regarding mobile phone use will change and evolve as they grow older, and likewise the functionality and services offered by handsets and mobile operators may change over time too.
Find out also about school policies for mobile phone use on school premises, and discuss these with your child. Try to support the school as best you can through your own ground rules.