In an era of mobile phones, tablets, fitbits, smart watches and a whole world of technology, how do you allow your children access to these things, whilst maintaining their safety? When you give a child their first mobile phone, do you just blindly trust that they will use it responsibly or do you use parental control apps to keep them safe?
Some of my long term readers, may remember a few years back when I wrote a post called “Tablet computers: How young is too young? In this post I debated what age was appropriate for a child to be given a tablet computer. Well in the years since that post, I’ve had a new debate on my hands. Our original house rule was “no mobile phones until you are 14 years old”. That was the age I got my first mobile phone. However, times have changed since then. Phones are no longer just for calling and most of the children in my daughter’s primary school have mobile phone’s already. It feels as though she is being left behind on social activities, because she doesn’t have a phone. I also realised that actually, when Bunny has to get a bus to school by herself, I’d rather she have a means of communication. Not being one to bow to peer pressure, I changed the rules to “no phone’s until secondary school”.
Secondary school is now fast approaching and I have already started receiving letters about buying school uniform (from a specific shop of course – with specifically high prices). I’ve already had to apply for the school bus and it is rapidly dawning on me that secondary school is a far more expensive affair that primary. I was sitting at home simultaneously wondering what on earth I could get Bunny for her 11th birthday and wondering how on earth I’d afford to buy her a mobile phone in September, on top of all the other new school costs. And there ladies and gentleman, I found the answer staring me directly in the face, even though I didn’t want to admit it.
So yes… We broke our own rules and bought Bunny her first mobile phone for her 11th birthday. Said mobile phone comes with it’s own set of rules though and we chose a Samsung on Android, so that we could set it up easily for her and install some parental control apps.
Mobile phone rules for an 11 year old
Rule 1 – The phone is confiscated for a day for every instance of bad behaviour (we are trying to clamp down on answering back and disrespect).
Rule 2 – She is not allowed to use any apps for which she does not meet the age restriction. So no Facebook, WhatsApp or Snapchat just yet.
Rule 3 – She is not allowed to have the phone 24/7. Human interaction is important. Family time is important. Meal times are important.
Rule 4 – She is responsible for it. If she loses it or breaks it through carelessness, we will not replace it. She needs to learn how to look after her belongings, keep things safe and not tempt thieves.
Parental Control Apps for Android
Also, because I am a worrier, I am using some parental controls on Bunny’s phone. I am concerned about online bullying, dangerous crazes, accidental contact with strangers, boys asking my daughter to send inappropriate images and people like Logan Paul. The two apps I’m using are Google Family Link and Qustodio.
Google Family Link
On Google Family Link, I have set bedtime hours, so her phone cannot be operated when she is supposed to be in bed. I have set location to “on”, so that if she’s not with me and I need to see where she is, I can log into Google Maps on my phone and it will tell me exactly where she is. When she wants to download apps, they get sent to me for approval first and as soon as I click approve, they are automatically downloaded to her phone. Google Family Link will tell me how long she has used her phone for and what apps she has used. It blocks out adult content so she can’t stumble on any websites which she shouldn’t see.
Qustodio (the premium version) goes that little bit further, because I do still feel that Bunny is very young for a phone. Qustodio will also show me Bunny’s location and has a panic button. If she activates the panic button on her phone, I will receive a notification telling me her exact location and that she needs help. It will continue updating and sending me her location until I deactivate her panic button from her phone. Qustodio allows me to set rules and limits for just about everything on her phone. Time limits, restricted times, web filtering, social monitoring, switch off apps, restrict apps and also allows me to see all her calls and text messages.
It was very important to me that I was transparent with Bunny about this. She KNOWS everything that I can see on her phone and she knows that it is for her own safety. She has no objections to this at all and obviously when she is older (a teenager), I will reduce the amount of parental controls that I use on her phone. When I know she can be trusted to use her phone safely, I will drop from premium Qustodio to the free version, which means no social media or text monitoring. By time she is 15 or 16 I will have uninstalled Qustodio and slackened all the restrictions on Family Link, only keeping it if she wants to for the location safety element.
There will be parents reading this, thinking that parental control apps are over the top or even intrusive, but I know my daughter and most importantly, I have her consent to have these parental control apps installed. I know that at 11 years old, she makes silly mistakes, she’s forgetful and she often doesn’t think things through. I know she is susceptible to peer pressure and very naïve about a number of things, even though we have discussed them numerous times (boys, internet safety, location sharing to name a few). We recently had a discussion about how she should consider her chest a “private part” now that she is getting older and I bought her some bras. The following day she was running around the house without a top on shouting “BOOOOOBIEEEEEEEES!!!” at the top of her voice and laughing hysterically. Sometimes these things take a while to sink in. I wouldn’t want her videoing that and putting it on snapchat for the boys in her class to download!
Please note this post does NOT contain affiliate links or advertising of any kind. These products are ones I have chosen because they suit my family and we have paid for them in full.