A lot of kids blow out birthday candles wishing for an iPod touch, but should a parent deliver the goods? Should your family use an iPhone or an iPad? Answer: Not without setting restrictions.
Recently, a dad who is a Covenant Eyes member discovered just how painful an iPod can be. His 10-year-old son invited a 9-year-old friend to spend the night, and during the evening the dad discovered the boys using the 9-year-old’s iPod touch to play a video game.
“They are so young, surely nothing bad can happen,” the dad said. “But when I walked by the living room door later, I saw them look up at me. It was a look that only a parent could understand. Something was up.”
The dad asked the boys what they were playing. They showed the dad a game, so he took the iPod and tapped on the Safari Internet browser app to see if they had been surfing the Internet.
His heart fell.
Several Internet pages of hardcore images and videos had been accessed. Then, the dad tapped the YouTube app icon, which delivered more pornographic videos. Then the dad tapped on the icon used to download apps and discovered more pornography.
“Handing an iPhone to a child out of the box and saying, ‘Have fun,’ is a bad idea,” said Covenant Eyes software developer Dave Caswell. “However, if you are going to buy an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad for your family, take steps to secure how they can be used.”
1. Monitor Internet Use
Covenant Eyes provides an app that can be used in place of the Safari browser. The Covenant Eyes browser does not filter the Internet, but it does monitor and report how the Internet is used. Every website visited will be rated for mature content, with ratings like T for Teen and M for Mature, and a report will be sent to the parent(s) or mentor(s) selected as an Accountability Partner.
Be sure to disable the Safari browser, so that all Internet browsing is done through the Covenant Eyes browser.
This approach often works well for adults and even older teens, but it is not the best choice for kids. Adults and older teens recognize that their Internet use is being monitored and will filter their own activity; however, kids often make mistakes in surfing the Internet and a filter is a must.
Since no filter is available for iPod, iPhone, and iPad, parents should disable all Internet browsers and search apps for children. Internet browsing with these devices should only be allowed with parental supervision.
2. Restrict Apps
As a parent, use the “Restrictions” menu so that your child can use Apple’s mobile devices safely. Covenant Eyes recommends disabling pre-installed apps like YouTube, FaceTime, and Safari.
Parents should also disable the installation of new apps. A parent should be present when an app is downloaded to their child’s device. This will help prevent apps being installed that provide content inappropriate for the child’s age or track a child’s location.
Adults can also restrict how they use Apple’s mobile devices using the same “Restrictions” menu. Ask an Accountability Partner to help you do this.
3. Everyday Cyber Parenting
Parents face an uphill battle keeping up with how mobile devices work and how to place reasonable limits on their use. Often it’s easier just to say “no,” or “I just trust them.” Neither is the correct answer.
Remember, if they don’t learn how to apply moral standards to technology from you, they will learn it from someone else, even if that someone else is a person or website they discover online or the marketers and pornographers who make a living at pushing their wares.
Take time to learn about devices for your family before you buy them. If parental controls and monitoring are not available, don’t buy the device for your child or teen, or even for yourself if you feel vulnerable. No one ever died from phone shame, and you likely have a computer that can do anything your child wants but which can be monitored and filtered.
When it comes to devices or the apps that can be used on them, don’t give in to begging and coercion if you feel your child or teen will be at risk. You might not be the coolest parent your child knows, but they will be safer for it. At the same time, don’t be a curmudgeon just because you haven’t done your homework. Take time to talk with your child, learn about the app or device, and explain your reasons why it is or isn’t appropriate for their age. You will likely still be asked why, so take the time to restate your concerns, but hold fast if you know your child or teen would be at risk.
Parents have a big influence on their kids–more than their friends, school, or religious institution. So do the homework and put parental influence to work.