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If your child has a new smartphone, here is how you can keep them safe.
You may have concerns about what they can access or if they could end up being cyberbullied.
Then there are online scams youngsters need to be aware of and games with in-app payments that could land parents with hefty bills.
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But there’s help out there. Uswitch, a price comparison service and switching website, has a definitive guide with useful tips for mums and dads.
Rehan Ali, mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, said: “Millions of parents will be giving the latest gadgets to their children this Christmas, and it’s important to know the risks that come with them – especially smartphones.
“If you’re worried about the content your child may be accessing on their device or want to limit the sites and apps they can use, it is a good idea to set up parental controls.
“The most comprehensive and budget-friendly parental control is Google Family Link, which gives you purchase approval to let you approve what content is downloaded. Two-factor authentication offered on certain devices and apps also gives you more control over your child’s smartphone usage.
“Before setting up your child’s phone with a mobile network, speak to them about how to keep track of spending, so that you don’t find yourself with a hefty bill at the end of the month.
“Your child will most likely want to take their phone to school, and with social media connecting classmates, cyberbullying can become a problem for some. It’s important to discuss this topic with your children, and if you discover bullying is taking place, make sure you report it to the relevant technology platform.
“Make sure you have comprehensive insurance for your child’s phone. You’ll find the investment worthwhile when they come to you if the device ends up lost, stolen or broken.”
We have summarised Uswitch’s advice below. However, you can read the full guide here.
How to set up parental controls and monitor phone use
Parental controls allow you to determine what sites and apps your child can access with their smartphone, tablet or laptop.
They also let you set limits on how long a child can spend on their device and even allow you to monitor exactly how they’re using it.
If you are worried about your kids running up high bills in app stores, parental controls can take care of that too, by letting you set spending limits. Or you can set up your child’s phone so they can’t spend any money at all.
There are a number of apps out there that’ll give you the controls you need to help keep your child safe and make sure they don’t run up a huge bill.
Uswitch found that the easiest to use and most comprehensive app for parental controls is Google’s Family Link. It’s free to download and there’s no charge for using the service.
For information about more parent control apps, which devices you can use with Google Family Link and instructions on how to set it up, click here.
There’s another way to stop your child from downloading content or signing into any services you want restricted: two-factor authentication.
2FA, as it’s also known, is a belt-and-braces approach to online security. As well as entering your password, you’ll have to enter a unique one-off code that you’re sent by another method, for example by text message, before you can sign into an online service.
It’s a handy way of ensuring that it’s really you trying to sign in, and not someone impersonating you. But you can also use it to restrict your child’s use of certain apps and services.
Just enter your mobile phone number as the contact method for 2FA. Then they won’t be able to sign in to a service or buy something online without your say so.
All the major web services give the option of 2FA.
How to stop your child’s mobile habits costing a fortune
High-end smartphones can cost more than £1,000, so how do you keep the costs down? There are a number of ways to do that.
If you don’t like the idea of buying a second-hand phone because you’re worried it won’t be in good condition, a refurbished handset is a much safer option.
These are pre-owned devices that have been made good as new by the manufacturer. They’re not brand new, and they won’t be this year’s models, but the manufacturer has wiped them clean of any data and content and given the outside a polish. The result is a phone that looks and works as new.
An even cheaper option is to give your child your old phone when you upgrade to a new one. You will know how the phone works, so can show them, and you’ll know exactly what condition it is in.
Alternatively, you could trade in or sell your old phone and put the money/credit earned towards a new handset for your child.
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The Monqi device is a smartphone built specifically for kids. Parents can control every aspect of the device using an app you can download on your phone.
Take out a flexible contract
Now you’ve got the handset, you’ll need a way of getting data, minutes and texts.
Contracts work out cheaper than pay as you go. But that doesn’t mean you have to be locked into a lengthy, expensive contract. Mobile operators have got wise, and now offer a large range of SIM-only deals that are much cheaper than 24 or 36-month contracts.
Set a price cap
If your child exceeds your allowance with a SIM-only deal, you could end up paying a lot more. That’s where a price cap comes in.
This is a limit on your monthly usage that can’t exceed. It means you can’t spend more than you’ve allocated during the month, so you know your child can’t run up a big bill. Some mobile operators offer a price cap.
How to keep your child safe online
Stress the dangers of oversharing
When signing up to a social network, it’s tempting to tick every box and share every detail about yourself. But oversharing has its dangers. Not only does it give away very personal information that could be used to steal your child’s identity, location tracking can also help predators see where your child is.
Talk to your child about the importance of privacy and what could happen if they share too much information about themselves.
Help them find out how to update their privacy settings so they only share information with who they want to.
Take an interest in how they use their phone
Know what apps they use, what social networks they’re part of and roughly how much time they spend on them. This can help pre-empt any problems like cyberbullying, oversharing or trouble sleeping through too much smartphone use late at night.
With younger children, you can explore the apps and games together. Not only will this make sure they only see age-appropriate content, it will also be good bonding time for you.
Set limits on phone use
Experts agree that too much screen time can be detrimental for children. It can cause social, emotional and behavioural problems, brings a higher risk of obesity and using devices late at night can interfere with children’s natural sleep patterns.
This can all be avoided with some simple rules around phone use. Set limits on how long children are allowed to use their phones for, as well as when and where.
For example, some families ban phones from the dinner table so everyone talks to each other. Others say no phone use until the child has done their homework.
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