We’ve all seen dozens of articles posted about apps that can jeopardize the safety of your children. Now you’re informed and you can fix the problem. Now you can monitor them like the Gestapo. That should be great for your relationship.
Wrong. After you read an article that tells you about the dangers of these Apps (almost always messaging or social types) it’s hard to know what to do. Here’s some practical ways to help your kids stay safe.
Lock down the phone, tablet, or iPod
This isn’t about trusting your child, it’s about protecting them. Especially if your child has a device at a young age (or access to a device). Sites you might think are benign are not. Many of those hilarious memes, and gifs that we love so much are hosted on a very popular site called IMGUR? There’s some really funny stuff on there! There are also galleries dedicated to pornography both animated gifs (clips from videos) and still images. IMGUR is available in any web browser, mobile or otherwise. What about Youtube? Youtube is awesome, right?! It is. I love it. Youtube also has porn, even though it’s supposed to be against the terms of service. Any site that has user generated content will have pornography at some point, at least until it can be reported and removed.
For a moment, lets say that you think it’s OK for your children to view pornography (it’s not, seriously). We’ll leave that alone for now. Anonymous messaging apps are wildly popular, however, they have three huge drawbacks: predators, sexting (posting explicit content of a minor is a felony) and bullying. If you think any of those things are OK, please get help.
How to lock down a phone
Make sure the phone is associated with YOUR account and not your child’s, otherwise any “locks” can be circumvented. If you have an Android device and it is registered to your child’s account they can visit the Google Play store in any browser, on any computer or device and install any app they want.
For Android users, set content filtering to the appropriate level and password protect it. This prevents apps that are accurately categorized from being installed. Realize that many apps are not properly categorized.
Get an app locker (here’s another), this will require a password to use locked apps. It also prevents anyone from removing applocker without the password unless they do a factory reset and wipe the device. You also want one that will lock an app as soon as it is installed. This prevents “side loading” where the app is downloaded on a computer and then transferred to the device.
Use the app locker to lock the app store/Google play store – this will prevent your child from installing apps without talking to you about it first. If you unlock it because they told you they wanted to get an Angry Birds game and then they walk away with the unlocked device, you’re doing it wrong. Ask what app they want. Install it for them. Close down the app store so that it is locked again before returning the device.
Browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer) are a big deal
Many apps also have a browser based presence. This means that they can be used on any device without installing the app. You just need a browser. So even if a device is locked down, you should also consider installing a filter on your computer and putting it in a high traffic area of your home. K9 Web Protection is a free application that also has apps for Android and OSX (iPhone/iPad) devices. It blocks malicious sites, porn, adult content etc. and has a variety of customization options to help you choose what comes into your home. You can even set up times where internet access is disabled. An alternative or additional layer of protection can be provided by Open DNS. This is set up on your router (if you have one) and filters all internet traffic on your home network. Unfortunately Open DNS can be avoided by switching to a mobile network (like your phone’s 4G connection) or by unplugging the router and connecting directly to the modem.
The Rest of the Solution
Locking down devices and installing filters won’t always work. Your child’s friends will introduce them to anything and everything you don’t want them involved with. You can’t stop it, but you can talk to them. Teach them why they should avoid these types of content, apps and other influences that can lead to negative behaviors AND make it hard for them to engage in those activities without your knowledge.
- Install filters are your computers (the internet has a billion dark corners).
- Lock Down/Filter ALL Devices