All smartphones have internet access. This allows a wide range of app functions and it allows you to browse the web and go on social networks like Facebook. The same advice that you give your child about keeping safe online applies to smartphones, so talk to your child about the SMART rules.
Smartphones can be easy for young children to use, but this does not necessarily mean they’re ready to use them. It is worth bearing in mind that children, especially younger children, can be upset and distressed if they come across age-inappropriate material. Parental controls can be a real help and may be particularly important for younger children. For older teens it can also be a help, but it may be more appropriate to talk about dealing with peer pressure to share and watch content that is inappropriate rather than just simply blocking access to YouTube, for example.
There are several options to help limit internet capability on smartphones, so it is worth considering what would be helpful for your family. However, remember that filtering is only part of the solution and it is important to talk with your child about how they use the internet on their phone and make sure they know what to do and that they can turn to you if they get into any difficulty.
- When they are out and about, smartphone users access the internet via 3G connection which is provided by the data allowance in their mobile contract. All mobile network providers provide parental controls. Some will have these on as default, but others you will need to request to be turned on. For example, Tesco Mobile and O2 have a parental control option to ensure that only websites they have classified as suitable for children under 12 can be accessed. Contact your service provider to find out about filtering options:
T-Mobile | Orange | O2 | Three | Tesco Mobile | Virgin
- It's also possible to connect to public wifi when out and about, with shops, cafes and restuarants increasingly offering internet access. Look out for the Friendly WiFi symbol which means the content has been filtered.
- When smartphone users are at home, they often connect to their home wireless internet (to save using up their 3G data allowance). This does mean that any filtering options set up with your mobile provider do not function. All of the major internet providers offer free filtering tools that work across all devices connected to the home internet. See our handy video guides from BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media.
- Some apps can help filter out age-inappropriate content or help restrict some of the smartphone functions, so have a look in the app store.
- Check what parental controls are available for the specific smartphone; some devices may have options for switching off the internet browser (see iPhone tips).
If you are thinking about buying a smartphone for your child, why not print out our Shopper’s Checklist and ask these important questions in the shop?
You can also check out our top tips for iPhone and BlackBerry.
Save or print these questions
Buying a mobile phone? Questions to ask in the shop
- Does this phone have internet access? What does this allow the phone to do?
- Is it possible to filter internet content that is potentially harmful for children?
- Is it possible to disable the internet browser to prevent my child from surfing the web?
- If my child accesses wifi from home, how can I ensure that filtering is still in place?
- How can this smartphone be used to watch films and TV or listen to music? Can I restrict access to content based on age ratings?
- What are the ways this device can be used to communicate with people?
- Are there any settings to prevent video calling?
- Are there any settings to prevent multiplayer gaming?
- How can I report unwanted or abusive calls or messages?
- Can I prevent my child from downloading apps which are not age appropriate?
- How can I report an app?
- Are there any apps which might help protect my child?
Protecting personal information
- How can you set a PIN to lock the phone when it is not being used?
- Does this phone have any location services? Are there any settings to prevent my child sharing their location?
- How could my child run up a bill using their smartphone? Are there parental controls or ways of restricting spending?
- How could my child spend money on apps or in-app content? Are there parental controls or ways of restricting spending?
Don’t overreact if your child tells you about something they have seen. It is great they have turned to you as a trusted adult. You might feel shocked and angry but by dealing with it calmly your child will know they can turn to you again.
If you come across illegal content, such as images of child abuse, you can report this to the Internet Watch Foundation at www.iwf.org.uk in the UK, and find details of other national hotlines at www.inhope.org.
Help your child communicate safely
Because of the interactivity of smartphones, the same advice that you give your child about keeping safe online also applies. Speak to your child about the importance of not giving anyone any personal information, such as their phone number, school or address, or meeting up with anyone they don’t know in real life. Encourage your child to tell you if anything makes them uncomfortable or upset. Speak to your child about whether they share their mobile phone number on their Facebook profile – this is not recommended, even if their profile is private/set to ‘friends’ only. Make sure that they know how to report unwelcome contact, and how to make use of safety tools such as blocking and privacy settings.
What to do about unwanted contact
While many young people experience the internet and mobile phones as a positive and integral part of their life, mobile phones can be used in incidences of cyberbullying. There is no single solution to the problem of cyberbullying, but there are steps that you can take to help prevent cyberbullying and support your child if they are experiencing cyberbullying. Read our advice for parents and carers on page 5 of the Cyberbullying leaflet and talk to your child, using the seven key messages for children and young people as a starting point.
Ensure that your child knows how to block contacts on Facebook, BBM or any other communication channels they use, and knows how to make reports to any service they use. Ask your mobile operator how you can report and block unwanted or abusive calls or messages.
If you suspect that your child is or has been the subject of an inappropriate sexual contact or approach by another person you should report this to Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre at www.ceop.police.uk in the UK, or internationally at www.virtualglobaltaskforce.com.
Apps can be downloaded in an app store either on the smartphone device or online. As some apps cost money and others may contain content that you don’t think is appropriate for your child, you could use your details to register and then decide together which apps to download. As they get older you may prefer to talk to them about the apps they are using but give them the responsibility to download apps themselves.
Familiarise yourself with the online app websites so you know what apps are out there, and perhaps you can recommend your child some fun apps! There are also apps which are tools for parents that can help filter out age inappropriate content or help restrict some of the device’s functions.
It is worth checking the age ratings on apps, where available. However, you should be aware that app developers provide these age ratings and they are not generally independently rated. You can also look at app reviews online. For example, Common Sense Media provide age ratings and reviews for many apps, relying on developmental criteria to determine what content is appropriate for which ages.
It is possible for apps to contain viruses and some smartphones are more prone to malicious apps. Smartphones run on an operating system (much like a computer), the three main ones are Google Android, Apple iOS and BlackBerry. Apple approve every app that gets to their store (for iPhones, iPads and iPods) so there is some degree of quality control. Android and BlackBerry phones use software that allows developers to produce and upload any app. It is always worth reading reviews of the app on the relevant app store to check that other users have not had problems with it.
If you need to report an inappropriate app (it may be a scam app, or contain illegal or inappropriate content), please use the following links:
A lot of personal information can be stored on smartphones, such as photos, videos and email and Facebook logins. Some people also store bank details, usernames and passwords. Using a password, or PIN, to secure your device is a great way of keeping all of this information safe.
Young people can find it helpful to have a PIN to lock their smartphone to prevent friends logging into their social networking sites and changing their page, often called “fraping”. Remember to treat your PIN like a toothbrush – don’t share it!
Location services allow applications such as maps and social networks to pinpoint your location. While it might be helpful to know where you are on a map to navigate your way home, it is important to be careful when sharing such information with other people. For example, Facebook allows users to update their status with their location. While this is turned off for younger users, it is worth noting that many young people do not register with the correct age and so need to choose not to disclose their location. Additionally, apps likeFourSquare, Google Latitude or Gowalla use a smartphone’s GPS to share location.
Speak to older children about the potential consequences of sharing their location and help them to think very carefully about what they share. With younger children you could have a family agreement about not sharing location at all, or perhaps you could use parental control tools to prevent them sharing their location (see iPhone tips for example).
Young people enjoy taking photos and videos of their friends and the things they get up to. Smartphones have in-built cameras, so it is important for young people to use this function positively and sensibly. You should encourage your children to ask the permission of friends before posting their pictures on a social networking site. Remind them that taking photos or videos which upset others is a form of bullying.
Remind your child that if they send an image to someone it can be shared online; if they wouldn’t want a parent, grandparent or teacher seeing the image, they shouldn’t be sending it. Some young people send inappropriate photographs of themselves (which is often called sexting) and there have been cases where these photos have been posted online or sent around a school. For more information and advice on sexting see Connect Safely, a US based organisation, who have some tips to prevent sexting.
If you do not feel that the camera function is appropriate for your child it is possible to block its use on some devices (see iPhone tips).
Young people can often feel they need to be regularly communicating to keep up with their friendships - and with friends, games, music and films at their fingertips 24 hours a day it is easy to see how young people can become ‘hooked’ on their devices.
It is useful to have a family agreement about how your child uses their smartphone, for example, agreeing rules about devices being switched off at night, or perhaps limiting the hours allowed on it as you might do for television. Remember that you need to model good behaviour, and if you decide that phones must be off at mealtimes, the same rules also need to apply to you! It is helpful for young people to understand that they are in control of when they reply to friends and that time away from their phone is okay.
This is something that adults face too - watch the BBC Breakfast discussion about smartphone addiction.
Your child may inadvertently run up a bill by buying apps and making in-app purchases. While many apps are free, young people do often pay for apps, which commonly cost around 99p to £2.99, though can cost more. In-app purchases are not always obvious to young people; you may have downloaded a free game app, but then to upgrade to the next level you are asked to make an “in-app purchase”.
Talk about the cost of apps and in-app purchases and decide spending limits together. For younger children, you could have a family agreement about only downloading apps together. On some smartphones it is possible to block in-app purchases and downloading apps (see iPhone tips), if you feel this is more appropriate for your child’s age.
Ensure that you and your child understand the internet data allowance; accessing the internet uses internet data and if you go over your allowance, it may cost you. Internet data allowances are not used up if you use wifi to access the internet on your smartphone, so if you have wireless internet at home it is a good idea for your child to log in and use this when they are at home.
It is also helpful to understand what further costs there can be. You can speak to your service provider about how best to manage payments and to understand the following possible charges:
- Your charges for calls, texts and internet use, which may be Pay As You Go or on a monthly contract.
- Premium rate services, such as ringtones, competitions and television voting. See www.phonebrain.org.uk for advice for young people.
- Roaming charges when using internet abroad. Normally your operator will text you about the rates (for texts, calls per minute and internet access measured in megabytes of data) as you arrive in another country.