How to Keep Kids Safe on Mobile Devices

With kids spending over 40 hours a week on a mobile device, it’s no surprise there is so much discussion among parents over usage and safety.

What’s the right age for their first phone? How much time is too much on their device? How much should I be monitoring? Are kids becoming addicted?

It’s an enormous topic that can be overwhelming as a parent, especially as new devices and technologies emerge. As a parent and techie in the space every day I see much to be concerned about but also much to be excited about with the acceleration of technology. I won’t keep my kids from it but it’s my responsibility to teach them how to maturely manage the most powerful device they have at their fingertips. Here are some key safety steps I take to keep them safe.

Communicate & Educate

The first line of defence for parents is open conversation. Talk about the consequences. It’s important for kids to understand the responsibility of a mobile device and the impact their digital footprint can have on their safety and future. Schools and employers look at social and form an opinion before even meeting face to face. Protect your digital reputation and take an audit of the vibe you give simply by your overall social presence.

It’s also important to be aware of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). COPPA holds web and app publishers liable by the FCC to restrict collection of personal information of children under 13 with many publishers restricting the use of their platform unless the user is over the age of 13. Read the privacy policy of apps your children use. If a new user has to share age in the registration process, don’t allow your children to lie about their age. If they aren’t 13, don’t use the app. It’s that simple.

Hold you and your kids accountable by putting in place a cell phone contract with expectations and consequences, limitations and boundaries. Both parent and child have to agree and sign it. Here is an example of one I’ve used.

Check Device Settings

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The next step you can take is review iOS and Android device settings. Enable parental restrictions based on age and personal preference. Family sharing features on iOS also help control app installs and purchases with children in the family needing  parent approval prior to purchases. Key settings include, location services, installing Apps and making in-app purchases, allowed content, privacy and allowing changes to accounts and data usage. Here are a few more details for each.

iPhone

iPhone allows you to easily set restrictions as granular as necessary and requires a password to access any restricted areas. Start in Settings > General > Restrictions to begin to set boundaries and content restrictions.

Android

Android allows parental control based on maturity level within the google play store as opposed to device settings.  It has good content filtering for app availability. 

But, in my opinion, iOS devices win for parental controls and built-in device features. There are other Android apps on the market that can support families on android devices with parental control.

Leverage Third-Party Apps & Services 

Carrier Apps

Most cell phone carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-mobile have apps and services to monitor and limit data usage. Become familiar and use them. My family is on an AT&T data sharing plan and I often cut my kids off from data before the month is over. Games and social apps are data hogs! Smart limits by AT&T gives you 30 days free and then is $4.99 per month for 1 line, or $9.99 for up to 10 lines. Ask your carrier for more information.

MamaBear

MamaBear is an all-in-one parenting app that creates a private family communication hub providing parents with an efficient way to communicate, locate and protect their children. MamaBear provides parents with a powerful all-in-one safety and awareness tool that offers a private place for families to communicate and stay abreast of family activities such as kids’ team sports.

Key features include, overall communication tool, locating, monitoring of social media, text messages, and even driving speed and cyber threats.

How to get it: It’s free to install from iTunes and Google Play. It has a premium upgrade to remove ads and have unlimited social notifications and see a historical view of locations for the past 7 days.

Circle

Partnered with Disney, Circle pairs wirelessly with your home’s Wi-Fi and allows you to manage every device on your network. Using the Circle app, families can create unique profiles for each family member and kids will have a connected experience that is designed just for them. With Circle, parents can filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home.

Key features include, filtering content, setting time limits and bedtime, knowing how much time certain devices spend on certain apps and even pausing the internet all controlled from a mobile app.

How to get it: It’s $99 for the in-home device and there’s subscription to use new GO network. The app is available for iOS only right now. Learn more.


As technology continues to evolve, parents should take an active role in communicating with their kids about responsible use of their devices and digital citizenship. Communication builds trust through mutual respect and safety. Kids need boundaries and parents need peace of mind. 

Watch our very own Robyn Spoto dive a little deeper on ABC Action News's Morning Blend!

If you know of any tools and tips that help keep kids safe on their mobile devices, share in the comments below.