Buying a phone for kids at Christmas? Here's what cyber safety experts recommend.

By Nikki Roberts

Thousands of children across the country will be hoping to find their first mobile phone under the Christmas tree this year and parents have been urged to take control of the devices before handing them over.

Cyber safety adviser Susan McLean said there were many things parents could do to help protect their children and it started with the choice of device.

Ms McLean said the best smartphones were the ones that helped parents be parents, like those with an in-built restrictions passcode or parental controls.

“Obviously stuff that’s in-built is going to be easier to manage than something you have to manually download and sort later on,” she said.

“What can you restrict? Can you turn the camera off? Can you restrict the internet browsing? Can you stop them playing multiplayer games? So there’s a range of things within each device you can look at.”

Start with the obvious. editor Stephen Fenech agreed there were lots of options for parents to both control and monitor what their kids were doing on both Apple and Android devices.

He said the obvious place to start was in the phone’s settings tab.

“Go to settings … there are devices that will give you controllers within the settings to control things like the sites that are visited and the amount of data that’s used,” he said.


And if you cannot find what you are looking for there, Mr Fenech said there was a growing number of third-party applications that could be downloaded to control of almost every aspect of a phone’s operation.

Ms McLean said parents needed to consider which restrictions they wanted to impose, and that would depend on the age and stage of the child.

“But the best [way] of course is to err on the side of conservative and then release a little bit later when they’ve developed a level of trust.”

Turn off location services.

Ms McLean said while location services were needed for maps apps and “find my phone” features, they should be turned off for other apps that may give away your child’s location.

“You can still have the location services master switch turned on … but you must ensure it is off for the camera, off for the social media apps, off for any app that does not actually require maps to work,” she said.

“If you are embedding GPS coordinates into a photo anyone can read that that has a program on their computer, so it’s allowing people to work out where your children go … and there are issues with tracking that can be quite sinister.

“The thing to always ask yourself is this: Does the app, whatever that is, need to know where I am to work? Not does it want to know, does it need to know? And you’ll find that most of them don’t.”

“They want to know so they can start to track your movements and that’s valuable data they can then on-sell.”

Don’t set yourself up to fail.

Ms McLean said it was very important for parents to realise they could never give their children complete protection.


“There are certainly things you can do [but] parents should not set themselves up to protect their children 100 per cent because they can’t and they will fail, so you’re setting yourself up for failure,” she said.

Ms McLean said she was not a fan of products that monitored everything a child did on his or her phone, believing instead that using the appropriate controls combined with conversation, communication and supervision was the key.

Make bedrooms no-go mobile zones.

When it came to mobile use in the home, Ms McLean said one of the most important things parents could do was ban mobile phones from bedrooms, and there were three main reasons for that.

“One, you can’t supervise in the bedroom, it’s a simple as that, you can’t,” she said.

“Number two, naked selfies are never, ever taken in the kitchen or the family room or the dining room, so that’s another reason.”

“And thirdly, sleep hygiene, over stimulated brain and making sure that children are in bed for rest and relaxation and sleeping.”

And that piece of advice is not just for the kids.

“Parents must set an example, nine o’clock at night or whatever time works for you, power board on the bench, five phones, five chargers. That means all of you,” she said.

“Lead by example, now obviously if you’re the local obstetrician of course you’re going to have your phone next to you at night, that’s different. But for Mr and Mrs Mum and Dad average there is no necessity.”

“And I don’t care about, ‘oh it’s my alarm clock’ and all of that, go to Kmart buy a clock radio, buy one for the whole family, it fixes that problem upfront.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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