If your child hasn’t yet reached the age where they start repeatedly asking you for a smartphone, consider yourself lucky. It only takes one kid in their class at school to be given a brand-new iPhone or Samsung by an over-indulgent parent for jealousy to start spreading, and soon you’ll be told that every other kid in the class has one, and you’re the worst parent in the world for saying no. You might resist for a while, but eventually you’ll give in and get them a phone – probably against your better judgment.
Regardless of your misgivings about giving your child a device that’s open to the internet and all the horrors the internet contains, there are some advantages of them having a smartphone. You’ll always be able to get in contact with them, for one thing. You can also equip the phone with a tracking app, so you’ll always know exactly where they are as long as the phone is switched on. For many parents, that’s a welcome way of achieving peace of mind. Those benefits ultimately come to outweigh the negatives for the majority of parents, and that’s probably why so many kids now have phones. In the UK, half of all ten-year-olds have a smartphone by the time they’re ten. Figures in the USA aren’t much different.
Having accepted that your child is going to have a phone (and you’re going to be paying for it), the next question is how to make the phone safe for them to use. Most phones come with a child mode that will filter out pornographic content and age-restricted applications, but they’re not totally effective. Some websites will always slip through the net, and there are still some adults-only websites you wouldn’t want a teen or pre-teen accessing. As an example, think about online slots websites. A porn or violence filter wouldn’t exclude them, and so your child would have little difficulty accessing online slots websites if they wanted to. They would still have to jump through some hoops – you’ll find that almost all online slots sites carry out age verification and some even require ID – but if your child is savvy enough to lie about their age, gain access to your credit card and unlock Slot trophies, you could soon have a problem.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on basic filters to make a smartphone safe for a child. There are a few specialist apps out there that are designed to make policing your child’s phone a little easier – and here are our top three!
Net Nanny Parental Control
This is probably the most sophisticated and detailed app available for parents who want to police what children are doing on their phones, and one of the few that works on both Android and iOS. That means no matter what type of handset you’ve given your child, this app should work on it. Aside from doing all the basic tasks like showing your child’s precise location, you can also manually expand the list of blocked websites (and therefore block your child from accessing literally anything you don’t like the look of), and even force the device to switch off after a certain amount of usage each day, or by a certain time at night. If you’re a parent who worries – with some justification – that too much screen time is damaging your child’s academic performance or sleep pattern, you can take control over that by cutting the cord when they’ve been playing with their phone for the agreed amount of time. This app has one major drawback, though. It can’t monitor who’s calling your child’s phone, and it can’t read their texts. If that’s a ‘must’ to you, you’ll want a different app.
We have two issues with Qustodio. The first is that its name is hard to remember, spell, and pronounce. The second is that it’s expensive – you’re looking at one hundred dollars per year if you want the premium version of the app. Only the premium version of the app has the full range of features, so it’s up to you to decide whether you think the features justify the price. Those features include being able to set time limits on phone usage and also time limits on the use of individual apps, location tracking, web filtering, and crucially call and text monitoring on Android only. The Android version of the app also allows you to manage the settings of every single application on the phone, whereas the iOS version will only allow you to manage a few dozen. That probably means that only the Android version of the app is worth paying for.
Kaspersky Safe Kids
Anti-virus software giants Norton and Kaspersky both offer their own child protection apps, but for our money, Kaspersky’s version is a little better. We really do mean ‘our money’ too – Kaspersky charges fifteen dollars per year as opposed to $50 for the Norton software, and there’s little difference between the suite of features available. As an added bonus, this app can also monitor what your children are doing on tablets and PCs as well as phones, and tools for all three devices are included as part of the price. Time limits, website filters, app management, and text message reading is all available with Kaspersky Safe Kids, but yet again, only the Android app allows you to read text messages, and app management doesn’t cover every type of app on the iOS version. You can’t see who your child is calling or taking calls from on the iOS version either – although, at $15 per month, that might irritate you less than it would if you’d paid full price for Qustodio.
You might have noticed that we haven’t recommended an Apple/iOS-friendly app that can monitor your child’s texts or calls. That’s because no such application exists. You can blame Apple for that – they won’t allow anybody access to that aspect of the iPhone, no matter what the purpose of allowing that access might be. For a lot of people, Android phones are a better fit for children than iPhones for this reason alone. Qustodio probably offers the strongest overall package, but if you’re working with a budget, the Kaspersky option is just about good enough. Remember that no app can make your child’s phone completely safe, and resourceful children will always try to find ways to hide or disguise apps. Refresh your knowledge often, and make sure you know your Tik Tok from your Tinder. The occasional visual inspection of your child’s phone is just as important as having remote access through an app!