With back to school season just weeks away, a lot of kids are looking forward to getting their hands on the latest tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. Whether that means bringing home a school-issued tablet or spending more time with mom and dad’s device, parents worried about screen time shouldn’t fret. At this point, numerous studies have shown that controlled access to mobile devices in the classroom and at home can have a positive effect on everything from test scores to literacy to study habits.
That doesn’t mean worriers are off the hook, though. Protecting your child’s tablet is about more than investing in a kid-proof case. Any device with a network connection is potentially vulnerable to hackers and predators. Plenty of child-friendly games are free-to-play but pay-to-win, and kids have proven themselves adept at making in-app purchases. And then there’s the fact that the Internet is full of adult content.
The good news is that safeguarding kids’ devices isn’t too hard. You just need some time and, in most cases, a few strategically chosen apps.
School-issued devices can present problems because they may come home with download restrictions already in place and locks that prevent you from changing default settings. In that case, be proactive and contact your child’s teacher or appropriate school district official to find out what the school is doing to protect students from hacking and predators. Make sure that you’re comfortable with the level of security in place or, if you’re not, schedule a meeting to discuss your concerns with an administrator. Until then, make sure your wireless network is secure and password protected.
If you’re passing down your old device, the first thing you should do is a full factory reset. That will wipe all the internal storage, delete any settings changes and remove the apps you installed, giving you the opportunity to start with a blank slate. A new device may also come with apps you don’t want, so take the time to review what came pre-installed with any new tablet and toggle settings to block in-app purchases. Sit down with your child and choose a password they will remember. Then install a parental control like MMGuardian or something similar that can limit kids’ app and app store access, block access to adult sites and apps and even help prevent cyberbullying and sexting.
But the most important thing you can do to protect your child when they go online is talk to them frequently. Make sure they know that they can come to you with no threat of punishment or judgment if their device ever acts strangely, they’re contacted by a stranger or they end up viewing content meant for adults. Talk about how screen time can be addicting and make an effort to turn off your own devices after work so you’re modeling good behavior.
Thanks to powerful processors, mobile technology can be such a positive part of life, even for kids, when used thoughtfully, in moderation and safely. Even if you’ve never monitored your child’s device usage before now, it’s never too late to start!