Whether you are a youth pastor that works every day with high schoolers, a teacher in middle school, or a parent of children, you are looking out for these youth in so many aspects of life. One big area of need: technology. More specifically, the revolution of mobile devices.
It seems that nearly every child has some kind of mobile device. Whether it is an Android or iphone for children to call their parents in emergencies, Kindle tablets for reading, or an iPod for listening to music and watching movies, youth have a lot of power at their finger tips. At the same time, there is concern for the emotional, mental, and spiritual safety of them using these devices.
Finding appropriate, helpful technology safeguards that are easy to implement and monitor can make things simple for parents in an otherwise complicated world. Note that no software is going to completely protect your children, no single rule going to keep them out of harms way. But with healthy communication, solid ground rules, accountability, and some tools to help you out, you can sleep a little easier at night.
You should also know that your teenager may not like these ten steps, but you are not doing this out of anger or spite. Instead, you want to protect them. Youth workers who are reading this, support the parents in this cause!
1) You Control the Password
Without the password, they cannot install any software without your knowledge. Note that ideas like “they have to install it in front of me” or “I can check their phone at any time so I know what they have” means nothing when they are at school. That gives them eight hours to download the same app day after day and then delete it on the bus ride home. Hold on to the password and have strict rules about installations.
2) Random Access to All Accounts
Parents, have a conversation before your kids get a mobile device and let them know that part of getting to use the device is that you have all of their passwords and may check any and all accounts at any time. This includes text messages, Facebook, email, Instagram, and any other social media accounts. We’ve written about kid-safe messaging apps and what ages each social network allows users to join here. Take time to review new apps and networks with your children before they download them. This turns it into a normal routine and not “mom or dad snooping on me.” Being involved in their digital world will not only help them build a foundation of making good choices, it will help you stay connected and on top of their online as well as their offline life.
3) No Texting While Driving
If you have teenagers who can drive, the risk is there that they will text and drive. In fact, 75% of all teenagers admit to having done so at least once in their lives. We know the stories of these situations and just once is too many times. One Android App reads text messages out loud and even replies to the sending with a message saying your driving at the present: No Texting While Driving App. For iOS devices, try the LifeSaver app for distracted drivers.
4) Porn Blocker
I do not think that porn filters on devices are the end all, be all for Internet devices. All apps can be subverted and it is as easy as a Google search to figure it out, so this should be coupled with a conversation about why porn is not appropriate. That being said, CovenantEyes is a great family app that only costs $14.99/month and includes downloads for everyone in your family, can work on iOS and Android, prevents uninstalling, has filtering, and includes accountability. (Also note that this is not just a gender-specific topic — all members of your household should have filters installed on each and every device.)
5) Protect the Hardware With a Case
Phones are easily dropped and even thrown occasionally (have you been to a youth group lately?). A nice case is necessary. Otterbox has withstood many teenager drops, tosses, and carelessness and they have cases for nearly every phone or iPod out there.
6) Find My iPhone App
It says iPhone, but this app works with any Mac device and is perfect for those just in case moments when you cannot remember where it is. It has GPS location to find the device, a noise signaler when you are in the vicinity, and a Lock My Device option if you think it is stolen. You seriously need to get it now. Android users can download Where’s My Droid. (Note: the app has to be installed BEFORE it gets lost. Just do it now and forget about it until you need it)
7) Bible App
Having a Bible app is a great way for kids to always have God’s Word at their fingertips. Regardless of platform, YouVersion has it for everything. From here, I recommend the whole family together picks out a reading plan and then every night you can all talk about it together. These little habits can truly be life altering. Putting it in their mobile device gives them another reason to use it.
8) Restrictions on Everything
Setting restrictions on each device can be a helpful tool to have in your toolkit. iOS has a great settings panel to set restrictions on nearly everything a parent would want to do. To access it, go to General > Settings > Restrictions. You need to set the passcode (make it unique to the code that gets you into the phone) and then you can set everything from movies that can be downloaded, to what Siri is allowed to say, to the different websites that can be visited. For Android users, go to Settings > Users > Add user or profile > Restricted profile and then set up an individual account for your child.
9) Keep Up-to-Date Yourself
Technology is an ever changing market and so you really need to be informed yourself. Need some recommendations? Here’s seven:
A website with videos, reviews, how-tos, and live support on everything technology.
Internet focused, they offer a Christian focus to assis parents in protecting their children.
Serving the family by helping them use technology on and offline.
On the front lines of efforts to protect children online
10) Lock Phone During Homework Time
iOS devices have a function called Guided Access that allows you to lock your phone to a specific application with a unique one-time passcode. For teens that get distracted with text messages and social media, load up the calculator or notepad app, triple tap the home button, hit start, set the code, and then unlock it for the teenager when they are done. To unlock it, triple tap home again and put in the same temporary passcode and press end.
Hopefully these 10 mobile device safeguards will better equip you as parents to help you raise your children well.