Mobile phone safety

Most people nowadays would struggle to cope without their mobile phone. And according to Ofcom’s Communication Market report, 95% of UK children own a smartphone. But how do we keep our kids and our personal data safe? Here’s everything you should know about mobile phone safety at home.

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Children using mobile phones

Are mobile phones safe?

We rely on our phones to keep track of every aspect of our lives. This means that you’re likely to have a lot of sensitive data stored on your device. You might be automatically logged into personal and work email accounts, social media, and even financial apps. 

Fortunately, there’s a wide range of security features built into today’s mobile phones to make them safe. The ‘Find my iPhone’ function is one example, giving users the ability to locate a lost or stolen phone while remotely locking it. Using secure passwords and downloading anti-theft apps can also keep your phone’s details secure. 

Like email scams, you might receive spam messages via SMS. Phishing texts might appear to be from your bank or mobile provider. As with emails, part of mobile safety is never replying with personal details to an unknown number. If you’re ever in doubt, contact the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for advice. You can report nuisance calls and messages on the ICO website.

Why is mobile phone safety important?

Although mobile phones keep you connected, as with any online activity there are a few safety concerns to keep in mind. Risk factors could include: 

  • Online harassment or bullying

  • Unwanted sharing of private data

  • A stolen, lost or broken device

  • Viewing upsetting content

  • Communicating with someone who isn’t who they say they are

Mobile phone safety basics 

You’re never too young – or too old – to brush up on the mobile phone safety basics:

  • Make sure your phone is password-protected. Choose a random passcode rather than something obvious, like your birthday. 

  • Don’t use public Wi-Fi for anything personal. Although it’s tempting to browse your social media or check your bank balance at a café mid-shopping spree, your activity can be visible to others. 

  • Protect your data. When you install any new app, it will usually ask to view things like your contacts, photos, location, and messages. Only tick the boxes you really need to. 

  • Keep your phone close at hand. Don’t leave it sitting on the table in public areas. 

  • Don’t add strange contacts to your networks. It’s very easy for anyone to set up a fake social media profile, so be wary of messages from unknown contacts who may be phishing for details. 

  • Only share media with trusted contacts. Once you’ve put a photo or video out there, anyone could get hold of it. Think before you share any images. 

  • Consider purchasing mobile phone insurance. 

Two-factor authentication is another great way to keep your devices secure. When you sign into an online service, you’ll be required to enter your password as well as a one-off code delivered by text message. This can be used to stop your child from signing into restricted services in addition to protecting your own online accounts. Mobile phones safety: is your child ready?

If you’re wondering if your child is ready for a smartphone or internet access, you’re not alone. And before you do anything else, it’s really important to have a family chat about online safety. 

Privacy and social media

One of the biggest dangers when it comes to mobile phone safety is oversharing on social media. Apps are designed to get us to share our data at any age. All you have to do is tick the boxes for special offers and unlocked features. However, giving full access to all your data puts personal information at risk, while location tracking can open your child’s movements up to cyber-predators. Discuss the importance of privacy, stressing that any online activity is never truly private. 

Setting screen time limits

For a child’s first phone, you should go through and approve apps together to see how they’re choosing to use it. Play games together and restrict phone use to communal rooms in your house at first. Parents can also discuss screen time limits. Evening phone use can disrupt sleeping patterns for young and old alike, so think about creating a cut-off time when all household devices are switched off. 

Mobile phone safety and cyberbullying

Sadly, home is no longer a safe haven from playground bullies. Social media and messaging apps connect children day and night, which enables the very real problem of cyberbullying. This may take place in chat rooms, gaming platforms, or emails, ranging from the offhand insults to a targeted campaign of derogatory messages. Here are a few signs that your child might be experiencing cyberbullying. 

  • They may become quiet or withdrawn

  • They may wish to avoid using connected devices 

  • They might start trying to avoid school or seeing their friends

  • Their mood changes when they view their device

As always, watch for any changes in behaviour that could indicate a problem. Encourage your child to talk about it, but understand that many children won’t want to open up. If you do find out your child is being cyberbullied, take screen grabs of abusive messages or images as evidence. Block the bully rather than responding, and report the behaviour to the technology platform. If the problem persists, you can take it to the school. 

You can find these and more tips at organisations like Internet Matters or Childline

Social media 

Although young kids might be keen to set up social media profiles, there are different age requirements for each network. Keep in mind that there’s no official system in place to verify a user’s age, so it’s up to you to make sure they don’t have social media accounts before they’re old enough. 

The minimum age for Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Reddit is 13. Inside the European Economic Area, WhatsApp and Tumblr users must be 16. Bear in mind that these are the official age restrictions. Some children may not be ready for social media at 13. 

Child-safe apps to download

Parental controls let you limit the sites and apps your child is able to access. You can set up controls to approve any new websites, set screen time limits, and restrict in-app purchases. Here are a few of the most popular parental control apps out there:

  • Google Family Link

  • FamilyTime

  • ESET Parental Control

  • WebWatcher

Some, like Google’s Family Link, are free to use, while others, like ESET Parental Control, operate as a subscription service. 

Mobile phones for children in the classroom

Every school has its own rules when it comes to kids’ phones in the classroom. Some schools allow them to be used in class, while others ban them outright during school hours. If you use parental controls connected to your home Wi-Fi network, these won’t work away from home or if your child switches to mobile data. Prevent children from accessing inappropriate content at school by changing mobile settings. 

Finding an affordable children’s mobile phone

Apart from cyberbullying and content issues, another thing to consider is the cost of a kid’s smartphone. Not only can they cost hundreds of pounds as an initial outlay, but you must also think about the cost of mobile service, apps, and in-app purchases. Save money by purchasing a refurbished phone or giving your child a hand-me-down to begin with. Look for flexible SIM-only deals that run month-to-month rather than locking into an expensive contract

No matter the contract, set a price cap with your provider to prevent your child from accidentally exceeding their monthly allowance. And with parental controls, you can disable apps from approving purchases. 

For example, there’s a ‘Restrictions’ menu within the Settings section of Apple iOS devices. Here you’ll be able to turn off all in-app purchases, or input a password before paying for anything. Google also requires authentication for all purchases made in kids’ apps. 

Are mobile phones safe?

Although this may seem like a lot to remember, ultimately these security tips and apps are quite easy to install. Once you’ve set up parental controls, they will be there as a safeguard without further input. Most will install automatic updates. It’s well worth the effort to keep your family’s online presence secure.