These days, it doesn’t matter if you’re a parent or a teen, we can all be addicted to our devices. We don’t know how to stop scrolling or are even aware of how much time we spend on our devices. The difference is that teens are a lot more vulnerable online and oftentimes don’t know the warning signs of addiction.
With teens and students spending so much time on their smartphones, many parents are wondering how they can keep their students safe when giving them access to a mobile device. We asked experts to share their best tools, tips, and resources for safe teen cell phone use. Learn how to create a smartphone agreement, how to have an open dialogue with your teen, and how to introduce the responsibility of having a smartphone early.
1. Bring awareness to problems and examples of addiction and deception
Ludovic Chung-Sao, Founder of Zen Soundproof
Transmit your values through education and simple rules. Bring awareness to your child of what owning a phone involves. This means teaching your family about securing data, identifying scams, and being aware of how much time is spent on a screen. To secure data, put a passcode (or fingerprint) on the device and apps with sensitive family information.
We may feel safe when nothing bad happens to us, but showing teens examples of scams can be enough to shed light on the risks. Try a technology detox from all devices as a family. A detox can help bring awareness of how much each member of the family uses their cell phone and even how much you rely on it to do simple things.
Discuss the risk of smartphone addiction and how it can be detrimental to reality perception for teens. It’s important to separate moments where a phone should be used and a moment where it shouldn’t. For instance, forbid the use of smartphones during a family meal.
Many topics such as body shaming, trolling, craving for likes and followers can deceive reality perception. Get interested in what your student does on social media. Ask about their feelings and opinions about what they encounter on social platforms.
2. Have your teen join in on the conversation and agreement process
Josh Ochs, Founder, SmartSocial.com
It’s very easy for parents to create a dream agreement for their teens to follow, but that’s not realistic. Have your teens join in on creating the social media agreement and be flexible on compromising with your teen. Conversation and compromise can lead to better success of your teen actually following the agreement.
Just like social media, agreements can become outdated. Have regular check-ins, discuss any updates that need to be made, and any aspects where your teen may be struggling. Don’t forget to set the example you want them to follow.
3. Teens should analyze their screen time data to understand how much time is spent scrolling
John Li, Co-Founder & CTO, Fig Loans
I advise that teens routinely monitor their cell phone screen time. It can be easy to burn hours of time browsing social media, especially on a mobile device if you’re always on the move.
For this reason, teens in particular should monitor their screen time to get a better idea of how long they’re spending online. It’s important to stay connected, but at the same time, excessive use can cut into their time for studying, socializing with friends in person, and even spending time with family.
Many phones provide screen time data snapshots showing how and when the device has been in use. Visualization of this data in a chart or graph is a great way to get a better perspective on how you spend your time day by day and to retain a level of accountability that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
4. If a website doesn’t look right, it probably is not safe
Brian Turner, Chief Technology Officer, Convert Binary
Teens should be mindful of the websites they visit while using their cell phones. These days, malicious websites can look incredibly convincing. They duplicate the look and feel of typical social media, and it can be difficult to discern the difference – especially while using a small screen of a cell phone. Cybercriminals can lure in unsuspecting users and trick them to enter their passwords and phish for their private details.
The ramifications are potentially limitless. If you’re very unlucky, your device might get infected with malware. Worse still, you might have sensitive financial data exposed to cybercriminals. It pays to be absolutely certain about where you enter your log-in details and to be mindful when clicking unfamiliar links from emails, direct messages, or texts. If something doesn’t look right, speak to a parent or guardian immediately.
5. Role model the phone usage you want your teens and tweens to display
Harriet Chan, Co-Founder & Marketing Director, Coco Finder
Role modeling phone usage is the primary step in encouraging your teen to use their mobile phone responsibly on the internet. To avoid spam and malware, instruct them to not download apps from unknown sources. Screenshot capabilities can allow teens to record unsolicited media on the internet. Constant notifications, private messaging, and instant uploads can be dangerous for both adults and teens. As a family, foster a culture of no phone usage during family moments or have occasional no-internet holidays.
It is advisable to encourage students to keep phones safe and always charged to nurture responsibility. That includes physically protecting the device with a screen protector and phone cover and installing a phone detection feature to find the phone if it is misplaced. Besides regulating student’s internet usage, educate them on internet safety. Teach them what is appropriate to share online and the implications of sharing sensitive information. As a result, students can detect fraudsters themselves and make wise decisions to avoid problems.
A good tip is to install apps that limit the amount of data usage spent by teens. Data limitation cultivates safe smartphone use per their monthly allowance and limits teens’ time online. Also, dictate strict rules that there won’t be any extra payments if they run out of data. I also recommended creating a formal agreement between you and your kids, which acts as a family media plan covering all types of devices and media use.
6. Create a teen cell phone agreement
Varda Epstein, Kars4Kids
Make a smartphone agreement specifying:
- Whether the phone goes to school
- When phone use is allowed
- Appropriate online behavior
- That monitoring software is non-negotiable
- That the smartphone can be confiscated for poor behavior
- That the phone be checked into a central location at mealtimes and before bedtime
Students aren’t getting enough sleep due to smartphone use. The light from phone screens interferes with melatonin production and the sleep-wake cycle. They also text throughout the night, leading to interrupted sleep. This is affecting health, behavior, and school performance.
7. Messaging services increase the vulnerability of sensitive information
Waqas Khan, PureVPN
While the ownership of smartphones among students has increased, the security risks associated with using them are greater than before. Students tend to share more through the usage of messaging services rather than phone calls or e-mail. This, in turn, increases the vulnerability of their sensitive information which is present in the form of chat logs, pictures, voice notes, videos, check-ins, etc.
The best way to counter this threat is to teach students to only send messages and pictures that they think are a positive representation of themselves. Also, avoid downloading fishy messaging apps which require a lot of permissions before downloading.
8. Utilize vault apps
Tonia Baldwin, A1 Connect
Keeping your information – whether it’s school information or personal information – safe and secure is a concern for most students. Whilst a passcode is used on almost all smartphones, four-digit numbers and simple dot connections can be dangerous in the wrong hands putting important and confidential data and files in jeopardy.
There are apps out there that offer a second level of security and many even allow to pick and choose which apps and data require additional protection. Also known as vault apps, the majority can erase protected data after a number of unsuccessful login attempts if you take regular backups.
Consider using a password manager to store more difficult-to-remember passwords all in one place.
9. Consider using a VPN
Chris Beattie, Fried Inc.
The most simple yet also most effective recommendation I can give students with regards to being ‘smartphone safe’ is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN, for short). A VPN is a lightweight, non-technical app that you can download and run on your smartphone in less than 60 seconds.
By connecting to a VPN you will instantly encrypt your online data and activity to a military-grade level. This places a huge amount of protection on your online data — and identity — privacy. Using a VPN on your smartphone is a fundamental practice in today’s online privacy-invasive climate.
10. Only download apps from trusted sources
Michael Hall, DriveSavers Inc.
Students should create a pin or password, for their phones, and shouldn’t share it— the longer the passcode is, the better. Only download apps from trusted sources like the Apple Store and Google Play. Check privacy settings for apps before installation.
Back up regularly to multiple locations, such as a computer and cloud service. Keep the OS and apps current with the latest updates—these often include security improvements. Shut down Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections when not in use. Additionally, do not use public Wi-Fi to conduct business. Install a locater app to find your phone if misplaced and another app to remotely wipe your phone if lost or stolen.
11. Understand there is no real anonymity on the Internet
Charles Mudd, Mudd Law
Students and parents should set up student accounts to require parental approval for app downloads and purchases. Teach students to never use a smartphone to take private or nude photos – even with Snapchat.
Parents should follow their students on social media. Use a unique passcode to lock the smartphone and remind teens to not share their passcode with anyone other than their parents/guardians. Talk with your students about not sharing their smartphones. Save other passwords in a secure app (not in the Notes app on your phone). Require two-step authentication whenever possible for more protection. Do not allow apps to automatically disclose location to others. Monitor and follow school policies for smartphones and understand there is no real anonymity on the Internet.
12. Avoid having too many social apps
AJ Saleem, Suprex Tutors Houston
The best way to be safe on smartphones is to avoid too many social apps. While it is important to maintain an online social life, it should be with others you know, rather than strangers simply online. Maintain social profiles in a professional way that you can be proud of.
13. Monitor phone bills for rogue charges
Maria Hudson, Xura
Parents and students hoping to catch fraudulent activity should check their phone bills on a monthly basis for rogue charges. Only 32% of U.S. mobile subscribers regularly check their bill and wouldn’t know if they’ve been targeted by a hacker tapping into their messaging, data, or calls.
Hackers can easily steal millions from cell phone bills by simply taking a minimal amount from a lot of people. Not so bad if it’s $1, but terrible if repeated, or gives hackers access to personal data. If families notice unexpected charges, they are encouraged to reach out to their cell phone provider to report the issue.
14. Keep an open dialogue
Jeff Clark, Clark School
The best way to keep students safe on their smartphones or other devices is to make sure as a parent you are constantly checking those devices. This lets students know that those devices aren’t theirs. They are able to use them because their parents provide them. liability falls on the parent’s shoulders, not the students that they are handing the devices to. Only by keeping an open dialogue and letting students know that you’re involved will the students be safe.
15. Teach students how to spot fraudulent calls and texts
Shea Stamper, SaferTech
Always use a pin or thumbprint to access the smartphone. Phones can easily be stolen, especially at school. Encourage students to not use wifi hotspots or public networks to save data. Teach them how to spot fraudulent text messages and calls, and not to respond to them.
Have an Internet contract and limit or forbid social media platforms where communication disappears after sending. It’s not only unsafe because of predators, but it can also be hard to prove or track cyber-bullying. Have your student ask to install any app and delete any apps they aren’t using (as some apps gather data to sell to marketers). Use privacy settings on apps to manage what personal information is shared and who sees it – and turn off any permissions that aren’t absolutely necessary. Lastly, talk early and often with your students about the pitfalls of sharing intimate photos with ANYONE, even people they trust, and how those situations can go horribly wrong.
16. Introduce the responsibilities of having a smartphone
Lemi-Ola Erinkitola, The Critical Thinking Child
When your child is given their first smartphone, it becomes an instant source of social entertainment. Teach students that their smartphones should be protected and cared for. By presenting the phone as something that is to be protected, it will introduce the concept of being responsible and smart about using it right off the bat.
Habits are formed quickly and devices are given to kids way before their tween or teenage years. Start conversations in your family early about teen cell phone use. Show students news stories about the dangerous side of social media and examples of the predators lurking online. It’s never too late to have these conversations. Your child’s life could depend on the lessons in this blog.