Monica VIla offers a few tips on making cell phones safer for kids

Tips on how to block inappropriate content from your child’s mobile devices

I’ll always remember my friend telling me about the time she ‘lent’ her iPhone to her daughter to buy herself a little uninterrupted time at the supermarket. Thirty minutes later she got the phone back, but not before the seven-year-old had ‘googled’ her former teacher and discovered not just that she had died, but that it happened in a particularly gruesome way.

Inappropriate content is just one of the hazards that face inexperienced users of today’s complex mobile devices. Add in random texting, unauthorized in-app purchases, location tracking and malware, and it’s not surprising that parents are sometimes reluctant to buy that first smartphone!

But you have to start somewhere. So start with filters.

Inappropriate content is not just about porn and violence. It can come in the most indirect ways – such as the Google search example above.  Also, if you are around kids, there are some subjects that you simply don’t want to have to explain before they’re ready. Filters can be be set up for smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, e-readers and gaming consoles.

The good news is that as hardware and operating systems have become more sophisticated, so have the protections that can safeguard our kids. Apple has frequently updated its Restrictions option, which allows parents to disable many of the iPhone’s features, including Safari, access to YouTube and iTunes, and even use of the camera. While most Android devices still rely on third-party apps to provide security, some manufacturers are not waiting for Google to catch up and are adding parental controls of their own. One of the best is NetNanny because it’s easy to use and inexpensive.

For devices with cellular service, your carrier will be able to provide filtering options, many of them free, and you also get additional features such as family locator and more. And for search engines, you should always choose the Safe Search option on your browser — here’s how you can do this on my favorite browser, Chrome.

Perhaps Windows Phone 8 offers the best controls of all the major operating systems with its excellent Kid’s Corner. This option, which can be accessed through Settings, allows you to set up a password-protected area on your phone just for your kids. You can then add games, music, videos, books or apps, so your kids have a ‘fenced’ area to play in with no possibility of getting to more sensitive areas of your phone.

Whatever safeguards you choose, make sure that they are tailored to your family and the way your children use their phones. As your kids become older and are better able to manage their devices, you can cut back on the safeguards and give them a little more freedom. But when you give your child that first phone, you want to know that she’s more connected than ever and not left to figure things out on her own.

What are your suggestions for a safe environment around mobile devices for kids? Share them with us here!

MonicaVila

Monica Vila is “Chief Technology Mom,” born and raised in Mexico and co-founder of The Online Mom, the market leader in providing online and off-line tools to make parents of kids K-12 smarter and more comfortable with the technology that touches their family. The Online Mom is a website, an online newsletter, a forum for discussion, a network of certified experts and a social community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play 

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