Mobile devices. Can’t live without them, can’t control them… or can you? Here are some ways to protect your children from being exposed to inappropriate content on their mobile devices.
Children are born into a media-saturated world; one of the first things that many babies see may be the back of their parents’ mobile devices as their parents take photos of them. Many of them grow up to be comfortable in front of a camera, and be able to use technology for a variety of purposes.
We, the parents may be using so much media and technology ourselves, that we do not think too deeply about how to help our children navigate technology, assuming in our busyness that they will find their footing in it somehow.
However, unlike adult brains, children’s brains are not yet fully developed; research shows that the human brain is not fully developed until a person reaches his or her mid-20s. Children’s personalities are still forming, they are not yet able to control their impulses well, and they are unable to assess risk well.
So what constitutes inappropriate content? It may include information or images that upset our children, material that’s directed at adults, inaccurate information or information that might lead or tempt our children into unlawful or dangerous behaviour. These could be content (pictures, videos or games) relating to:
- Foul language
- Promotion of inappropriate behaviors such as violence, terrorism,racism, suicide or self-cutting
It may be difficult to monitor what our children are viewing as these materials could creep into their devices when they are on the Internet. These content may pop up when they are surfing the Web online, or surface via a link sent by their friends, or even through inter-device systems such as Apple’s AirDrop.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Broadly, two things: we can filter inappropriate content, and/or we can monitor our children’s usage of the Internet and use the reports as teachable moments to guide our children.
Content can be filtered at three levels: at network level, at search engine level, and at device level.
- Network level: You can sign up for a security package or internet filter provided by your IASP. SingTel, StarHub, M1, ViewQWest and MyRepublic in Singapore offer third-party security suites, which include parental controls.
- Search engine level: Popular search engines such as Google and YouTube can filter out objectionable content from your children’s search results. The search results will be filtered to show only what is acceptable. You will have to activate the SafeSearch settings on every browser or device that your children use.
- For Google, go to www.google.com/preferences and check the box for “Turn on SafeSearch”. This will block search results for explicit text, images, videos as well as results that might link to the explicit content. Click “Save” to save your settings. You can also lock your settings with a password by using Lock SafeSearch. For mobile devices, turn on SafeSearch in Search Settings by checking the box for “Filter explicit results”.
- For YouTube, turn on Safety Mode by scrolling to the bottom of any YouTube page. Choose “On” in the drop-down menu of restricted Mode to hide videos that may contain inappropriate content. You can lock the Restricted Mode by signing in to your YouTube account.
- Device level: At device level, you can filter inappropriate content, as well as monitor your children’s Internet usage.There are settings on your children’s phone can restrict the kind of content that is allowed. For example, for those using iPhones, parents can set restrictions for content relating to music, podcasts, news, movies, TV shows, books, websites etc.
Beyond setting restrictions on the mobile device based on the device’s built-in options, you can download and install software on your children’s mobile devices that can contain these features, depending on the product that you choose:
- Block objectionable websites, videos and music;
- Filter according to categories and age-based settings;
- Create “black lists” of unsuitable sites and “white lists” of approved sites;
- Get logs that report all activities, including websites visited;
- Set time limits or time windows for Internet access
- Track words and phrases that your children have used for searches;
- Monitor your children’s use of social networking sites;
- Get notifications if your children attempt to access inappropriate websites.
But the most reliable filtering and monitoring tool is you, the parent. No other tool is 100 percent effective, and many of the risks that our children face online are caused by of their own behavior and that of others. Furthermore, what we consider inappropriate material for our children may differ from our children’s views, or even that of other parents with different parenting philosophies and family values. It is therefore critical to discuss with our children why and how we are setting boundaries with them, and let them feel safe to come to us whenever they have questions or when they are in doubt.