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How to keep your kids 'mobile safe' at school

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Are your kids 'mobile safe' at school? Read on for tips and advice.

We did something last week that I didn’t think we’d do for a few more years. We put a laptop in Bella’s bedroom. To put this in context, Bella is five years old. I bought a new laptop as I spilt tea over my old one and the full stop key no longer works. For a while I wasn’t sure what to do with the laptop, but suddenly realised it will be great for Bella’s school apps. We use a couple of online teaching resources recommended by the school and in partnership with them. Perfect, I thought!  Bella can now access these websites at her very own desk and feel all grown up doing her school work at her own laptop in her bedroom. We’ve totally stripped the computer so she can’t access our network drive and only has two links on the desktop to the recommended websites. She’s so young she really doesn’t yet understand the internet and what else she can do on it, so I have no fear of her exploring any further, yet. She’s still learning to read and write, so it will be a while before we have any concerns.

It got me thinking though. How long will it be before she starts begging us for a mobile phone?

Times are so different with technology nowadays. I got my first mobile phone at age 15, but even that was different to phones now. My mobile phone was simply a phone. I could text and call. That was it. There were no smartphones back then or internet access. My really lucky friends could afford a Nokia with the snake game. That’s about as hi-tech as it got!  My first phone was a Motorola and was as basic as they come. We never had a laptop or computer at home when I was a child. I bought my first laptop at age 21 and this was the first time I had the internet at home.

Bella and Reuben, my children, are going to be growing up in a very different world. It’s a world I want to embrace, as after all, I make my living online and work daily on my laptop and mobile phone. I understand the importance of it all, but I still have concerns.

I know I will be able to add parental settings to our internet at home, but what about when Bella wants to take a mobile phone to school?

I have no immediate plans to buy her a mobile phone. At 5 years old she’s far too young in my opinion. Surprisingly research shows children as young as 7 have their first mobile phones. Bella is either always with me, at school or with trusted family and friends. She simply does not need a mobile phone right now. I do plan on buying her first mobile phone as soon as she’s off to secondary school.

At age 11 she’ll be taking herself off to school, travelling and no doubt socialising with friends at their houses after school. Plus there’ll be after school clubs and all sorts of activities she’ll be attending without me. It’s at this point I feel a mobile phone will be beneficial. We can stay in touch and communicate any problems from either end. It’s incredible to think mobile phones did not exist when I was at school and I had to just hope I could get hold of my mum from a phone box or landline!

It will make communicating easier once she has a mobile phone, but as with any advantage of modern technology, there comes a whole host of disadvantages.

Here are the things that worry me about children taking a mobile phone to school:

  • Searching and viewing inappropriate content
  • Too much time on social media
  • Addiction
  • Cyberbullying
  • Losing phone
  • Breaking phone
  • Theft
  • Fraud

A solution to keep your children mobile safe at school

Amazingly there is now software such as Kaspersky Security Cloud Family which enables online protection across all devices, not just the home computer. Using cloud based technology, mobile phones, iPads and computers can all be protected from a single package. This means I can rest safe in the knowledge Bella won’t be able to access anything untoward on her mobile phone whilst at school.

There are various parental controls allowing parents to either totally block suspicious websites, set up a warning alerting the child that it may be dodgy, or a message to the parent allowing them to choose for themselves whether that particular site can be accessed or not.

Time limits can be set for browsing and website usages to ensure children don’t spend all day long on social media. After all, we’d much rather they used their technology to further their studies and research homework, right?  Not chat all day long to friends on Facebook. Reports of websites visited can also be created to see exactly what your child has been up to online.

Lost phones can be located using the app, which also means if it’s stolen you’ll know exactly where the phone is. Unfortunately no software can protect against breakage or damage, so I’d advise covering all devices with a suitable insurance for added peace of mind.  Having the right device insurance allows you to get immediate cell phone repair services without having to pay for additional breakage costs. For every device our children use, I believe this is a must!

It is essential as well to use a privacy screen protector to avoid prying eyes every time your children are using their mobile phones.

As for addiction, I think the majority of us are tied to our laptops and mobile phones nowadays for one reason or another. Mobile phones have become our everything. They are no longer just a telephone, but are our internet access, newspapers, notebooks, shopping lists, calendars, cameras, fitness trackers, emails and so much more. It’s understandable that we spend so much time on them. However, it’s also important to step away from the screen and have a life outside of it.

Some articles claim social media addiction is as bad as junk food for children. Encouraging your children to have a variety of hobbies and interests other than technology will ensure they have a break from the screen and discover passions elsewhere too.

Should we monitor our children’s online activity?

One issue this raises is whether we should be monitoring our children’s online activity at all. At age 11 my answer would be absolutely. The internet can be a dark place and it’s in our best interests as parents to monitor activity and protect our children. Once children grow a little older and can understand the implications of their online actions, then it’s time to reduce how much we monitor them. Throughout all these ages we should be teaching them as much as possible about online safety to set them with the foundations they need to make their own online decisions.

Many apps are now very clever in their ways. You don’t have to actually read every message your child is sent and see every website they’ve browsed, but instead just be alerted to any activity that is a cause for concern. Once children are older this gives them the freedom to use the internet without being spied on constantly, but for a parent to take action if they are accessing inappropriate content.

Teaching children about internet safety

One of the best things we can do is to start teaching our kids about internet safety from a young age. Though we may want to, we can’t mollycoddle our children forever. It’s important to teach them independence and to build a trusting relationship. If we give them the knowledge to act safely online, we can worry a little less.

Here are a few pointers to begin to teach your children about online safety:

  • Never open email attachments from people you don’t know
  • Never give anyone your online passwords
  • Never give anyone your bank details
  • Do not add strangers as friends on social media
  • Keep your social media profiles private
  • Treat others online as you would offline
  • Only download software from a trusted source
  • If something online doesn’t seem right, ask a parent/responsible adult

Using the internet and mobile phones should be a fun and positive learning experience. Use this article to help your children get their ‘digital 5 a day’ and to remember how online activities can be combined with offline tasks too, making the best of both worlds.

Once Bella is old enough for a mobile phone I am certain I’ll purchase some software to control what she can and can’t access, particularly when she is only 11. My only concern for now is how young she’ll be when she starts pestering me for a mobile phone!