Getting your kids ready to disengage from summer fun and head back into the classroom can be a little painful. And you might be sweetening the deal by getting them new cell phones or even a first cell phone as part of the school preparations. Either way, take a moment to review some of my suggested tips for kicking off the new school year in the safest way with cell phones. Then share them with your children and follow the steps I explain for keeping your cell phones and other mobile devices safe throughout the year. Break this up into a few conversations and set aside time for some of the activities that you’ll do with your children:
Set a password on the phone to lock the keypad and screen when not in use.
Tape your home phone number on the back of phone.
Set up parental and emergency contacts on the phone. Show child how to access them.
Password – Setting a password can be a great first line of defense against so many issues, like cyber bullying and sexting. We had a situation in my daughter’s school where a child’s phone was left unattended and a group of kids sent increasingly rude messages out to her distribution list, including her parents. A password can also prevent someone from looking at private images and messages, let alone forwarding them to others or creating messages. It also stops someone from hacking a social network or changing passwords on apps. Set a password on all mobile devices!
Tape another number on the phone – imagine your child’s phone (or your own) is lost. Even if the person who finds it wants to return it, they have to go through your private information to find a number to dial. Make it easy. Tape your home number (or whatever number is suitable) to the back of the phone, along with information about a reward, if you like. That way, even with a password locking the keypad or screen, a do-gooder can get you your phone back!
Emergency contacts – my kids used to tell me they didn’t call me at the office because they couldn’t remember the number. We solved that by making sure they all stored my office number, my cell number, my husband’s office and cell numbers and so forth on their phones. If you travel often, add the numbers of friends, neighbors and relatives. You never know when your child will lock themselves out at home and you might be miles away or stuck in a conference you can’t escape. You’d want your children to have other safety options at hand.
Install and/or activate remote locate/lock/wipe software and install security software – some smart phones come with a free service to remotely locate a lost phone. Take advantage and set it up! If not, there are numerous other apps out there. Norton makes a great solution, Norton Anti-Theft, for the Android platform that can allow you to locate, lock and even wipe sensitive private information from a lost phone. It’s also included in Norton 360 Everywhere, a comprehensive multi-platform security solution. Having security software on your mobile device can protect you from downloading malicious apps, clicking bad links or falling for other threats. Mobile malware is still a relatively new issue but it’s growing rapidly.
Turn off geo-tagging for some services and apps – allowing apps and services to use your location is necessary in a mapping program but not necessary for your social network. Talk to your child about using good sense about when and where to share your location. Check if photos sent from the phone contain location information in the properties.
Review school cell phone policy with your child – each school’s rule is different. Some ban mobile phones on campus and others welcome them into the classroom and include their use in the curriculum. Make sure you are up to speed on the school and the teacher’s preferences. Discuss with your child what the stated consequences are for rule violations at school (and at home).
Review the contract plan and costs for each phone call/SMS or MMS. Set limits and consequences for extra fees – we all know someone whose child ran up a huge bill for texting or other overages. Avoid those nightmares by planning ahead. Show your child how they can check their current spending throughout the month so they feel a sense of ownership.
Set up a family phone charging station in public area of your home – this is one of my longtime recommendations. Kids will often sleep with the phone under their pillow. They’ll tell you they are listening to music as they fall asleep. Often that’s true but the child is also on alert for incoming messages and may engage in back and forth texting all night long. Sleep suffers; school suffers. There’s also insufficient data about the potential harm of long term exposure to the cell phone’s radiation on the child’s developing brain. Why risk it!? Put the charging in the kitchen or den but away from the child’s room. Set time limits on the phone using parental controls to reinforce your House Rules.
Discuss not clicking links or replying to unknown callers or text messages – My own daughter fell for a quiz scam that signed her up for premium text services. It was expensive but not difficult to catch when we reviewed the bill. Spam on mobile devices is a growing problem. Make sure your child knows how to delete and block unwanted contacts.
Set rules for selecting, purchasing new apps and games – Apps and games can be expensive and they can be dangerous. Some new apps have made it all the way to trusted app stores despite their hidden malicious nature. By choosing well-known and reviewed apps, we can all avoid some of the newest threats. Kids often don’t realize that the game “everyone is playing” on their phone comes in a ad-filled free version and to unlock it costs real money. Help your child understand what you’ll pay for and what is coming out of their allowance.
Discuss the issues of cyber bullying and sexting and the role an unguarded phone can play – You likely are already well aware of the role phones play in causing pain to children and teens. A cruel text message, an embarrassing photo, a nasty social network page can all be created, distributed and promoted via smart phones and out of the sight of clueless parents and teachers. Sexting, the sending of provocative messages and images, is primarily a behavior of older teens and young adults and still isn’t a majority practice. Sexting can carry additional social and legal risk. All responsible parents must discuss the practice with their maturing children and make their thoughts on the topic known. There have been too many heartbreaking stories of young people who have in a moment of thoughtlessness or excitement, created and sent a sexy photo, only to see it end up the hands of people they never intended to see it.
A cell phone is increasingly becoming a mobile computer that fits in your pocket. It can be a lifeline to safety, a gaming device and an educational tool. There’s no reason we can’t teach our children the right way to use these incredibly powerful devices, if we’ll only take the time. I know these topics are complex. Try not to overwhelm your child by going through them all in one sitting, or worse, printing this out and leaving it on their bed. This has to become part of a long-term safety discussion you have with your children on a regular basis. And if you think there are additional issues I should have included, please add your comment below! Thank you for reading and Good luck!