The holiday season is here and if you’ve decided to give in and get your kid a smartphone or tablet, you may be nervous about safety, supervision, and screen time.
Software can’t solve everything, but it can help. Here are some of the resources available to help parents or caregivers guide children’s first solo steps into the digital age.
Set the rules first
Before firing up that gifted gadget, you might want to have a conversation with your child or teen to lay out ground rules for using a smartphone or tablet.
Common Sense Media has a guide for parents and carers to discuss basic safety rules with children before they get their first cell phone, including how to respond to text messages and how to handle photos of other people.
Create a family group
For those who give a standard smartphone, Apple and Google have redesigned their parental controls features this year to make them easier to find and use. Apple’s dashboard is called Family Sharing, while Google’s app is called Family Link. Both work on the same concept: an organizer can add multiple user accounts to a group, but certain accounts control what other accounts can see and do.
For example, someone with an adult-level account can set up and configure a child account that restricts access to age-inappropriate content, blocks certain apps or purchases, and sets time limits on daily use.
If location settings are enabled, the parent can also see the physical location of the child’s (and presumably the child’s) phone on a map. Parents or guardians also get reports on the child’s activities on the phone and can grant additional permissions remotely.
Adult supervision is account-based, so parents must create an Apple ID or Google Account for their children to use.Credit…Apple; Google
These built-in tools have a few requirements. The adult must set up a special Apple ID or Google Account for the child; children under the age of 13 cannot create their own accounts on most services due to federal privacy laws.
Kids can contact parents to ask for more screen time or permission to buy digital goods, and the software can also remind them that a guardian is keeping an eye on things.Credit…Apple; Google
The system works best if everyone is on the same platform, though it’s possible to do some parental controls via a web browser, and Google’s Family Link app for iOS can manage certain Google apps on Apple devices.
For iPhone families
Apple’s Family Sharing allows an organizer to add five other members to a group. Purchased content such as music and movies can be shared with group members, and parents or guardians can manage their children’s devices there.
To set up Family Sharing, open the Settings icon and select Family. Tap the icon in the top right corner and choose Create a child account at the bottom of the next screen. The first time you turn on a new iOS device, you may also be presented with the option to set up an account for a child.
Once you link the child’s account to the family group, the software walks you through managing that account and applying Apple parental controls. For example, the Screen Time menu allows parents to limit the child’s communication with others on the phone through messages, calls, and FaceTime.
When you open Family Link, you have the option to create an account for a “child or teen.” The app guides you through creating or connecting the child’s Google account to your family pod. Then you configure the limits and restrictions for that account. You can adjust the settings to your liking by logging into the Family Link app as a parent.
Options beyond Apple and Google
Tablets with iOS or Android can also use Family Sharing or Family Link. Some parents choose smartwatches to stay in touch with their kids, and the Apple Watch works with Family Sharing. But there is life outside of the Apple-Google universe, especially for those on a budget or who give devices to younger children.
Samsung’s Galaxy phones and tablets can use Google’s Family Link, but the company also has a Samsung Kids app to create a kid-friendly environment with apps, games, and additional parental controls.
Amazon makes several Fire HD tablets designed for younger children. Credit…Amazon
Amazon offers parental controls for its relatively inexpensive Fire tablets and a similar Amazon Household feature for sharing and restricting digital content between family members. The company has its Amazon Kids software with curated, age-appropriate content and screen time limits; a premium Amazon Kids+ subscription is also available.
Dedicated phones that restrict internet access and monitor communications (including text messages) promise a more controlled experience overall for parent and child. The Bark Phone, the Gabb Phone and the Pinwheel phones are examples.
If you live in a cross-platform home or want robust tools that track social media usage more accurately, third-party subscription apps like Bark, Net Nanny, or Qustodio offer comprehensive parental controls.
If you’re looking for more advice on how to teach your kids to use technology in a healthy way, DailyExpertNews has a detailed guide for families with kids of all ages.