Mobile games and educational apps for kids combined to make up close to 32% of the total number of app downloads from the Apple App Store in January. 1 out of every 4 children are using smartphones and tablets on a daily basis. Thanks to the rapidly spiralling number of kids’ apps, the average time spent by toddlers with mobile devices is also steadily moving up. As a responsible parent, you need to ensure that your son/daughter does not accidentally chance upon any inappropriate content while using handsets. Too much of a mobile addiction is not a good thing either. In what follows, we will elaborate on some ways in which you can establish parental control in mobile devices, so that your li’l one only sees things that are suitable for him/her:
- Lock your iPad – Surveys have shown that the iPad is the most popular device for toddlers to play games and use mobile storytelling apps for kids. However, you certainly do not want him/her to stay awake till late in the night, playing or reading ebooks, do you? Simply lock the iPad at odd hours, by going to Settings → General → Restrictions, and tapping on ‘Enable Restrictions’. You will be prompted have to enter a 4-digit passcode next. Choose something that your child won’t be able to guess!
- Lock Android tablets – While iPad leads the way, many parents own Android tablets, on which they install educational and other apps for kids. Provided that the tablet is running on the JellyBean (Android 4.3) or KitKat (Android 4.4) platform, locking it is very easy. All that you have to do is activate the ‘Restricted Profiles’ option (viewable under Settings → Users → New Profile (i.e., the profile created for your kid). In case you have a tablet running on an older version of Android, set parental controls at the Google Play Store level, or simply upgrade the device.
- Prevent accidental in-app purchases – Most good mobile apps for kids come with interesting in-app purchase options. However, the last thing you want is your child trying to purchase stuff from such freemium apps on his/her own. In iPads, you will find an ‘In-app Purchases’ option under ‘Restrictions’. Tap it to do away with the risks of accidental purchases. If you have a Play Store account, set up a PIN number, which will prevent your kid from downloading anything without your knowledge.
- Use the Family Sharing feature of iOS 8 – The new mobile platform from Apple has made monitoring the mobile usage of kids easier than ever before. From iCloud, you can activate ‘Family Sharing’, and make yourself the family organizer (there will be a few screens to navigate through for that). Once you are done, add your son/daughter, by entering his/her email id on iCloud. Every time (s)he tries to download any iPhone app for kids, you’ll receive a notification. If you do not feel an app or a game is not quite appropriate, disallow the download. Simple.
- Be around – Okay, practically every present-day Android and iPhone app for kids have child-friendly controls. However, the fact that your son/daughter can use applications on his/her own does not mean you need not ever be present when (s)he is using a mobile device. You need not help the child with the usage of the app (let the kid enjoy the feel of self-sufficiency!), but keep an eye on what (s)he is viewing on the mobile screen. Apart from being a method of parental control in the literary sense, you will enjoy spending some quality time with your child too.
- Block all explicit stuff – This is of immense importance, to protect the impressionable minds of little kids. If you are using an iPad, navigate to the ‘Music & Podcasts’ section under ‘Restrictions’, and block all explicit-rated media content. At the Google Play Store, select the highest maturity level for app downloads (and use a PIN). Keep in mind that only Android apps for kids can be blocked in this manner – television content, books and music are not affected by whatever maturity level you set.
- Talk about potential risks of using mobile devices – There is no scope for doubting the benefits of iPhone apps for kids, but the little ones have to be aware of the things they should be wary of. Caution your child against sharing personal information (phone number, address, email id, etc) on any mobile public forums. Chatting with others on through social networking apps or via text messages might not be safe either – since the person on the other side might simply be ‘posing’ as a child. At least once every day, ask your son/daughter about what (s)he has read/played on your mobile phone/tablet.
- Gift your child a mobile device only when (s)he is ready – The trend of parents gifting iPads and smartphones, with an array of free apps for kids pre-installed in them, to their kids is rather alarming. On many occasions, such expensive gifts are bought to make up for the fact that they are not being able to give enough time and attention to their children. What is generally not considered is whether the kid is mature enough to own a mobile device. Observe your child’s behavior, gauge his/her sense of responsibility levels, and, if required, consult a child psychologist. Remember – there is no hard and fast rule about the age when a child becomes ready to have a mobile device. Some are ready at 5, others lack the requisite maturity even at 15.
- Set a few ground rules – Not all mobile parental control measures are about changing the settings and establishing restrictions on devices. You need to pay attention to behavioral attributes as well. Put a cap on the amount of time your child is on the phone every day, do not give permission to talk or text during meals or study hours, and have a proper cutoff time at night, after which (s)he is not supposed to use the handset. Getting acquainted to mobile technology at an early stage is all very well, but having proper discipline in mobile usage is also a must.
- Choose apps that offer learning opportunities – Every kid in the world loves gaming applications like Candy Crush Saga and Gummy Drop. Do make sure that your device is not filled with such fun-only games and apps though. There are plenty of nice learning apps for kids at the stores – which help little children learn the alphabets, numbers, and become familiar with sounds and nursery rhymes. Choose a few of these that are likely to pique the interests of your child. At the end of the day, you are the one who decides what types of mobile apps your son/daughter uses.
- Check for app bugs – Consider this: you have downloaded a mobile reading app for kids and have purchased a fair number of digital storybooks in it (via in-app purchases) – but the books get automatically deleted after a couple of days, right? Not an ideal situation, right? Unfortunately, kids would not understand that this is happening due to a bug, and you might end up buying the same ‘lost’ stuff all over again. Make it a point to download apps from reliable developers, and take a tour of the application to make sure it is bug-free. Repeat this check once or twice every week. There are many shady companies which release applications without proper mobile app testing – stay well away from them.
- Discourage the use of location services – There are many GPS-based mobile apps for kids, and almost none of them are suitable for the little ones. Whoever your child might be interacting with via the app, there is absolutely no need to share physical location details. Explain to the kid why posting something with location details on mobile social networking apps can be dangerous. A kids’ app should always promise anonymity.
- Say ‘no’ to exchanging photos – Unless you are around, the camera feature of your iPhone/Android device should be out of bounds for your child. Loads of unpleasant incidents can occur, if a child unsuspectingly sends along his/her person to a new friend (who, in actuality, is nothing of the sort). Before your child posts any picture on a public platform, (s)he should always seek your permission.
- Parents’ contact numbers should be present in their children’s phones – Your sweet little kid has just started attending school, and it is no longer possible for you to watch over him/her all the time. This, in turn, makes it essential that (s)he has a cellphone to get in touch with you any time. The first thing you need to do after buying a mobile for your kid is store your and your partner’s contact numbers in the device. If any emergency occurs, you should never be more than a phone call away.
Mobile usage among kids is at an all-time high worldwide, and the effects of this trend have mostly been positive. However, the threat of hackers, unwanted downloads, and cyber bullying can never be entirely written off. Children need to be smart while using mobile devices and applications, and the above parental control measures would certainly help them in that.
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