Growing up as a pre-teen or teen in the 80s, 90s, or even early 2000s was a completely different world to today. When your crush rang you, they probably rang the landline and had to go through the embarrassment of talking to your parents or siblings first. If you got stuck getting home you would walk to the nearest pay phone to call your parents.
Fast forward to present day; I can't recall the last time I saw a pay phone. Whether we like it or not, the internet is present at the touch of a button and part of everyday life. Chatting to friends “online” is simply how we communicate and it’s all there on your mobile – sitting right in your pocket. Deciding whether or not to give your child access to a mobile phone is a personal decision. We gave our eldest child a phone once she started walking home and going out without us but it's not without concern.
So how do we keep our children safe? We’ve put together Ten Mobile Phone Safety Tips, a guide for you and your child to go through together - basic steps to keep your child safe while using their new mobile phone.
1. Set some rules!
Just like with rules in your home, start with some ground rules about their new mobile. Outline your expectation of their behaviour and the consequences (like losing all apps, or data allowances) if they break them.
- How long they should spend online?
- What apps and social media sites can they use and have on their phone? Make sure you have researched them thoroughly and discuss potential issues that may arise.
- What is appropriate content to view?
- Will you (the parent) review all content each week? Read texts and messages?
2. Have a chat about what they’d like to use their phone for
- Who are they talking to?
- What’s involved?
- Who’s in their network?
- What information do they share?
- Are they using the internet to learn? To communicate and create friendships with others? To create music or videos?
Show a genuine interest in the things they’re doing; in the long-run it will help you understand what their online environment looks like.
3. If you don’t understand it – try it!
Sign up to any apps or games yourself and get to know what it’s about. You can even ask your child to show you because chances are they’ll be 10x more savvy at Snapchat than you.
4. Make a plan for unwanted messages
Some good ideas to abide by: Don’t reply to any nasty messages you receive, texts from someone/a number you don’t know, or calls from withheld numbers. If it’s important, they’ll leave a voicemail.
5. Make a plan for bullying
Remind your child that messages sent on their phone are as important as the words they speak to their friends. If they are being bullied on their phone it’s important they come to you or another trusted adult.
Ensure your child knows to keep messages they’ve been sent, and keep the time and date of any calls/messages in case they need further investigation.
6. Protect yourself! Information to protect online
- Login details and passwords
- Bank account details
- Home address
- Phone numbers
- Personal information that could be used to guess security questions for online accounts
You can also talk about personal details they could share online unknowingly, such as their school or where they are during the day. Check apps and location sharing too.
7. People can pretend to be someone else
As adults, we know without thinking that people can pretend to be someone else online. It seems like common knowledge but this is something children need to learn and be told. Talk to them about not becoming friends online with someone they don’t know personally (this rule may be more flexible for older pre-teens, but start with the basics). We have a rule in our house - every single follower request that comes through needs to be checked with us first. We need to be confident that the person they are connecting with online is someone that my child knows in real life.
8. Understand the digital footprint
It’s important to teach your child that everything they post online leaves a digital footprint – when they post something about themselves online it’s a permanent record (even if it gets deleted). Once it’s out in the land of the internet, it’s probably there forever. This includes photos they send over private messenger.
9. Safety tools for apps
We love the tools social media apps already have available. Most social platforms have a safety centre with tools for staying safe online, like how to block people, report content and how to use the privacy settings.
10. Keep talking!
The best way to keep your child safe is as old fashioned as it comes; talking. Be aware, keep the communication lines open between you and them, and go through this handy checklist before handing the mobile over.