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For children and teens, getting their first smartphone is a liberating and exciting rite of passage. A mobile device is an empowering tool for communication, learning and knowledge for young people – connecting them to their friends and family, and allowing them to have access to the massive stores of information on the Internet.
However, young smartphone owners should be taught the basics of digital security, safety and etiquette to help them get the most from their devices. Just the same as you wouldn’t give the keys to your car to a newly licensed teenage driver without setting some ground rules, you should also set some basic policies about how and when your child can use his or her new phone. We spoke with Ernst Wittmann, Regional Manager – Southern and East Africa at TCL, about how to ensure your child stays safe online.
Before you buy your child a smartphone, talk about the rules you expect them to follow. Every family is different, so there is no definitive set of rules, but some of the issues to discuss include:
- Is the smartphone allowed at school?
- How much time may the child spend using the device during the week and on weekends, including internet browsing and talk time?
- Is the child old and mature enough to be allowed to download apps, or should he or she seek parental permission?
- May the child use social networking services like Facebook and WhatsApp?
- Will you as the parent install monitoring, parental control or location tracking apps on the device?
Educate and inform
The Internet has its dangers, including malware, cyber-bullying, inappropriate content and adult predators. Children need to be educated about the importance of:
- Not interacting with strangers on digital platforms.
- Using strong passwords to protect their device and related accounts.
- Installing anti-malware services on their devices.
- Only downloading apps from official stores.
- Not responding to spam and phishing messages on email or instant messaging.
- Realising that the images they share and the words they say on the Internet are permanent and out of their control as soon as they post them.
- Understanding that there is no anonymity on the Internet
Encourage your kids to talk to you
Encourage your children to tell you when they encounter something on their devices that makes them feel uncomfortable – whether it’s inappropriate adult content, a message from a stranger on a social network or a hurtful message from one of their peers. The digital world is in many ways a reflection of human society and its advantages, problems and evils. Pragmatic, open discussion is the best way to handle these challenges.
Check app permissions
Many apps, including social media apps, request permission to access the user’s contacts, messages, camera and location, among other things. The result is that these apps may share private information about your child with third-party companies or even the wider world. You can use the smartphone’s built-in settings or a third-party parental control app to manage the data and functions an app can access on your child’s device. For example, you might prefer that the child cannot use the camera for video chat or that a social networking app cannot broadcast his or her location to the world.
Take control of their experience
There is a wealth of apps for Android devices that enable parents to control and monitor various aspects of their children’s smartphone experience. Some examples include:
- Kids’ versions of popular apps: YouTube Kids, for example, is a family-friendly version of YouTube for younger children, with parental control features and video filters.
- Monitoring tools: Apps like Qustodio, NetNanny, and Boomerang allow parents to monitor what children are doing with their devices and filter the apps and content they access. Some apps stop kids from making phone calls, texting or performing other actions that could cost you money.
- Location tracking: A mobile parental control app helps you keep track of a child's current location, giving them more freedom and you peace of mind.
Start with an entry-level device
In the rough-and-tumble of day-to-day play, children have a tendency to lose things and break them. A child’s first smartphone should ideally be a robust model. Today’s entry-level smartphones are affordable and offer everything most children need to get started with mobile apps and the Internet.
By teaching children that a smartphone is to be protected, respected and used wisely, parents can equip them to live with confidence in our increasingly digital world. One of the best ways to teach these lessons is to lead by example and show your children how you use your smartphone safely and responsibly to enhance your life.
Sign up for a contract for your child on Vodacom Online from R49 PM, or R99 PM for a smartphone.
Parental controls from Vodacom
Vodacom offers a free opt-in service to help you protect your children from illegal and inappropriate adult content like gambling or violent and sexually inappropriate material. Vodacom’s Contract Protector lets you block adult content from being accessed through a cellphone on the Vodacom network. Enabling Vodacom Parental Control is easy: just dial *135*123# from your cellphone.
To unblock it, you’ll need to visit your nearest service provider and provide your ID to prove, in person, that you’re older than 18.