A parent’s guide to smartphone security

Smartphones are kids’ trusty companions both in- and outside the classroom, and as they return to their desks, we’ve prepared some handy tips on how to keep their devices secure.

While in some parts of the world kids have already returned to their classrooms, in virtual form or in person, in others they are just gearing up to get back to school. And all of them will have their smartphones with them, be it to share notes, play games or partake in new social media challenges, or even use them to attend classes if those are taking place online. 

Left to their own devices (pun intended), kids will probably lose focus and be diverted from their studies by activities they find more entertaining. And of course, we can’t forget about the cyberthreats that are always lurking on the internet, ranging from cyberbullying to scams to child predators. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the chances of any of these scenarios occurring by securing your kids’ smartphones and sometimes keeping tabs on their activities. 

Passwords, passwords, passwords 

Let’s start with the basics. Secure passwords are the first line of defense that will keep anyone, and especially unsavory characters, from accessing your kids’ valuable data stored across the various apps they use. These should be strong and secure and follow password creation best practices. If you’re at a loss on how to get your children excited about creating passwords while teaching them proper security habits, you can use our fun guide to creating fantastic passwords. However, the amount of access credentials needed to use various services tends to pile up so you should probably consider using a password manager as well; this will make the whole process a breeze and your children won’t have to manually type them out every time they browse through the apps on their smartphone.  

Locked out 

This next piece of advice is a no-brainer, yet even a lot of adults don’t follow it – use a screen lock to access your phone. Much in the same vein as passwords, locks prevent random people from accessing your devices. This is a process that you should immediately walk your child through once they get their first smartphone. Especially since, if their smartphone is left unattended and without proper security, someone can go rummaging through their private messages or media, and may even circulate the content around the school and the materials could be used for cyberbullying. There are multiple choices of locks you can go through, ranging from passcodes and pattern locks to biometric locks. If you are eyeing the first option, where creating a strong alphanumeric passcode is advised, but better yet: different lock options should be used in tandem with each other, so always choose a combination of lock features instead of going for just one. An optimal combination would be using two various authentication factors like a biometric lock and a passcode. 

Installing a security solution 

Your next step should be securing your children’s smartphones using a reputable security solution. This can protect them from most types of threats they can encounter online, including dubious links from an unknown source that could redirect them to a malicious website that could infest their devices with malware, or trick them into parting with their credentials. Kids tend to be especially naïve, so reputable security software can help you rest easy knowing your children are well protected. 

Find my device software and remote wiping 

Children tend to be careless with their stuff; it’s just a fact of life. They can misplace their smartphones or just leave them lying around for anyone to grab. As a preemptive measure in case that happens, it’s best to have a “find my device” option installed and enabled. The two major smartphone operating systems – Android and iOS – both offer their own solutions and even some smartphone makers offer their own take on such apps. Whichever option you lean toward, just make sure it’s up and running before you hand the phone to your youngster. In case you can’t retrieve the phone, you have one more fail-safe and that’s remotely wiping your kid’s phone. Reputable security software often offers its own spin on these functionalities as well. 

Parental controls 

Attitudes towards parental controls vary; while a lot of parents see their children through rose-colored glasses and give them a lot of leniency, others tend to take a Game of Thrones-esque “the internet is dark and full of terrors” approach with a lot of bans. However, the best analogy would be that tech and the internet are good servants but bad masters. That being said, parental controls can be a handy tool for giving children enough freedom to use their smartphones while allowing parents to monitor their activities and set healthy boundaries as they teach them to safely navigate the internet and tech in general. Parental controls allow setting time limits for applications or locking them off entirely, filtering out potentially malicious and age-inappropriate content, limiting search engines to secure and safe results, and parents can even receive reports about their kids’ activities, among other things. 

Educate them 

Using various tools and features to keep your children and their smartphones safe and secure is great, but that is just one piece of a greater puzzle. If you want to instill proper cybersecurity habits in them, it’s better to take them along for the ride and explain each part of the journey, be it setting up the lock screen, brainstorming passwords together (even if you use a password manager, you usually still have to set one really strong password!), or the value of security solutions. With that in mind, don’t shy away from discussing the various aspects of social media and the perils it may present, since there is little to no chance they won’t be using it down the road. For starters, you could always ease their way into social media proper by starting them off with one of the social networks for children. 

Closing words 

While at first blush you might think some of this advice seems fairly obvious, the simplest solutions tend to be the ones that are most overlooked. To sum it up, by following the advice in this article you’ll secure your kids’ devices and help foster proper cybersecurity habits that will help them lead a more secure, safe, and hopefully private life. 

To learn more about the dangers faced by children online as well as about how not only technology can help, head over to Safer Kids Online. 

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