A couple of our kids have developed a new habit, when their phones buzz they suddenly have a bout of constipation, rushing urgently to the toilet and then spending thirty to forty five minutes on the loo, no fun when you are a family of ten soon to be eleven.
Now I know none of my kids have ever suffered from constipation and I haven’t read any evidence of mobile phones causing constipation especially triggered by a message being received. As an experiment I started banning phones being taken to the loo and guess what? They were all cured and the bathroom is now free when I’m bursting for a wee.
What ever the contents of the messages were, they are obviously only to be read and replied to behind a locked door. Which got me thinking, just how much do we know about what are kids are up to on their mobile phones?
In our day there was no mobile phones and the internet was just for scientists and geeks, you were lucky if you even had a landline.
You would call for your friends and play out until it was dark, there was always a dodgy bloke on every street who you were well warned about. You didn’t talk to strangers and everyone knew who you were and what you were up to, and if you ever stepped out of line it got reported straight back by Mrs busy body via the mums network and you got clobbered for it.
Christmas day you use to be out with a million other kids riding new bikes, skateboards, scooters and go-karts.
Those days are gone, now the streets are deserted, Kids are sat staring at screens connected to the entire world and Mrs busy body mum is now redundant.
Whilst smartphones undoubtedly have their advantages for staying in contact with your kids and knowing where they are, but as a parent how much do you really know about what your kids are up to on theirs?
What content they access, who they are texting and what they are sending and receiving are all things you should know as their parent.
With so many free messenger apps available it’s all to easy for your child to send and receive inappropriate pictures, videos and messages. Today’s digital age makes it all to easy for anyone to get in touch with anyone and more worryingly anyone to pretend to be anyone.
There are many things you can do to help keep your kids safe on their mobiles and the internet. Parental controls on your children’s devices and on your home wifi hub are a start but all to often your kids are a step ahead of you.
Accessing public wifi hotspots, using proxy sites to bypass your hubs parental controls and even just simply resetting the hub are just a few tricks your kids will undoubtedly already know about.
As a parent you have a duty to educate yourself and to become as tech savvy as your kids.
Talking to your children about their usage and understanding how and what they use their phones for is an important place to start.
Is it wrong to check their phones, read their messages be it texts, facebook, kik messages, SnapChat or what ever they use?
We have a policy of no passwords allowed on our children’s phones, I believe this makes them think a little knowing we could access their phones when ever we like.
At the end of the day you do have a duty to ensure you children are viewing age appropriate content and to make sure the only people they are talking to is family and friends.
Set some down time, we have caught my own teenagers still awake past midnight on their phones school night or not, whenever we caught them the phones are taken away for a week and our younger children have never been allowed phones at bed time at all.
Banning certain apps is also worth considering in our house WhatsApp and SnapChat are banned SnapChats most common use seems to be to exchange pictures of body parts, people falsely thinking because the image is deleted in a few seconds and it’s gone for ever, this isn’t true. A simple screen shot can capture it and then it can be shared across the internet.
You can block the SnapChat servers in your hubs firewall to prevent your children using it over your home wifi simply block the following urls: feelinsonice-hrd.appspot.com
But it won’t stop them using it over their mobile data plan or public wifi.
The many apps your kids use to communicate swap pictures and videos are well documented on the internet and I have provided some links to popular ones at the bottom of this article, so I am not going to cover them in depth here.
I strongly believe that not enough is done to help protect our kids online by the social media sites and the producers of communication apps. Most of which adopt a self-moderation style approach, relying on their users to moderate and report any inappropriate content published.
Once a site reaches a certain size and turnover I think they all have a duty to do more, after all many of them generate tens of billions in income from their users each year. Yes you can argue these sites are too big to moderate every piece of content added and I agree but more can be done then is at present.
Google, Facebook and others are all more than capable of tracking your every move online, even when you leave their own sites, any website that has sharing buttons, social logins, analytics software or other services linked to search or social media sites, are also knowingly or not, providing further tracking information back to google and or the social sites in question, this is how ads appear which are relevant to websites and content you have just or previously viewed. They then use this information to build up profiles on each users browsing habits to re-market products and services that are relevant to their profile.
Now if they can do all of that surely they can do more to flag and automatically remove inappropriate content before our children see it and whats more they can also stop marketing directly to our children.
But of course we can’t just lay the blame on the websites and apps alone parents need to do more to help protect their kids online, too many of us today barley know our kids. We are guilty to of allowing screens to baby sit our children from cBeebies through to an Xbox , Playstation, phone, tablet or computer there is a screen for every age group.
Simple things like all sitting down at the dinner table during meal times without mobile phones or TV and having a conversation with your kids, helping them with their homework instead of leaving it to google also gives you a chance to talk – you might have to use google yourself in order to be able to help them.
Asking them about their day when they get home from school and taking an interest in their life goes a long way to understanding what you child is up to and if anything is bothering them.
Encouraging your kids to talk to you about their day to day lives means they are more likely to seek your help or advice if they find something online disturbing or are having any issues online such as cyber bullying.
There are a number of parental control apps available, most if not all are quite intrusive and may be overkill in my opinion and are no substitute for actually knowing your own child and in one respect yet another virtual babysitter but some features are useful like the ability to limit the time spent on phone for instance.
So what apps are out there to help you protect your children on their phones?
Many phones have built in parental controls, which can normally be found in the settings. Apple devices have them under Settings->General->Restrictions, on Android Settings->Add user or profile and windows phones look for My family.
The following apps are all available at a monthly and or annual cost:
Works on Apple, Android, Blackberry and Kindle
Mobile guardian lets you block the ability to text whilst driving, limit the hours the device can be used, view and block contacts, locate and track the device and it produces web browsing reports.
Screen time lets you manage your Childs device from your own phone or computer but is only available on Android. You can manage the times the device can be used , set timers for apps, block apps from being used at certain times, pause a childs device from your own phone or computer and read reports of app purchases and downloads.
Qustodio offers a free version but with limited features, the full paid version offers:
Set times the device can be used, monitoring of social media usage, advanced facebook monitoring reporting status updates, relationship status updates, picture uploads as well as device tracking and the blocking of games and apps. Available on Apple, Android and Kindle.
Many of you will already know Net Nanny but I bet not for mobile phones, it is available for Apple, Android and Windows phones and includes: web search filtering, set times the device can be used, pornography block, profanity mask, choose which apps can and cannot be installed and a social media monitor.
TeenSafe is available on Apple and Android devices and offers the following features: Monitor messages (text,Kik and WhatsApp), view sent, received and deleted text messages, view incoming and outgoing calls, view browser history and search history, track the device location and view location history and view social media activity.
My Mobile Watchdog:
Available on Apple and Android it offers a two week free trial and then is payable monthly. The app features a contact list manager, website blocker, manage the times the device may be used, monitors pictures sent and received, web usage reports as well as text and call history.
Further information and Reading:
Keeping Kids Safe on Apps:
Does Kik Messenger Pose a Danger to Your Kids?
Parental Control & Monitoring Apps: