Being smart with your child’s new smartphone

Being smart with your child’s new smartphone

Every parent has a different idea about smartphones. Maybe when they’re old enough to drive. Maybe when they’re old enough to stay home alone after school. Maybe when they can afford it themselves. Any way you look at it, there’s no doubt it’s become a decision facing more parents every year.

For Sarah Johnson, of Verona, she’s probably the kind of mom who never pictured her son needing such a thing. Owen is an atypically responsible and mature 10-year-old, who asked mom and dad for a smartphone when he took on new responsibilities. That line of communication became more important as he joined more sports teams and served as a member of the safety patrol at his elementary school.

Based on his performance with other devices, they bought in.

“He had shown us with other things, tablets, you know we just felt that he could be responsible…not losing it, but also using it in a proper way,” said Johnson, who acknowledged that since they got the phone, he’s been more than responsible with it, and also doesn’t overuse the device. “We’ve always been a family that believes more in personal communication rather than the electronic devices, but he’s not over the top with it.”

It also fit their budget, and since they haven’t let him sign up for various social media applications like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, they feel like the dangers are at a minimum.

“He seems to be happy so far with texting and phone calls. I don’t think at 10 years old at least that social media is really something that they need to be involved in,” she said.

Across town at Madison College, information technology expert Mike Masino said the world of smartphones, with kids getting phones earlier in life, presents a lot of tough choices for parents.

“(You have) all the same issues you have on a computer, only now you’re carrying them around with you,” Masino said.

According to various surveys done in recent years, the number of young smartphone users continues to grow. According to the National Consumers League, a survey done in 2012 indicated that 60 percent of kids between the ages of 8 and 12 now have some sort of mobile device. If you go up an age group, nearly 40 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 owned smartphones in 2012. That number indicated a 23 percent growth from the previous year. No doubt since then, as smartphones have continued to become more popular, the numbers have climbed.

“It’s almost a given now,” Masino said. “How many kids do you see who don’t have some type of device?”

So if you’re in that massively growing crowd nabbing up smartphones for your pre-teen or tween, how can you stay on top of their activities? News 3 found basically a never-ending amount of “parental control apps” that are out there, but for starters, Masino suggests talking to your service provider to see what they offer.

Most of the big providers offer services (for a small monthly fee) that can track any phone on the account; set caps on data, text or phone usage; and can even shut the phone off for certain hours of the day (such as no service during school hours).

Verizon Family Base, $4.99/mo. for all lines attached to a single account
Sprint Guardian, $9.99/mo. after free trial (up to 5 phones), includes Sprint Drive First that deactivates phone when vehicle exceeds 10 miles per hour
U.S. Cellular Family Protector, $9.99/mo. (up to 5 phones) after free trial
AT&T Smart Limits, $9.99/mo. (for up to 10 lines, $4.99 for 1 line) after 30-day free trial
T-Mobile, Family Allowances

If those offerings are not sufficient, you can always look at some of the apps that are out there, but Masino cautions that people shouldn’t just be downloading random apps on their kids’ phones because it poses a risk of malware. In other words, don’t just download any so-called “parental control app” to your kids’ smartphone, because you could actually be putting them at further risk. Some parental control app developers have been accused of creating apps that actually allow third parties to spy on your kids.

Here are a few parental control apps that might be worth further investigation, if you feel what your service provider offers isn’t enough:

Netnanny (Android or IOS), $40/year (30-day free trial), offers nearly 18 different categories
Mobile Guardian (Android or IOS), $4/mo. MamaBear, (, $24.99 (6-month premium account) MyMobileWatchdog, $44.95/year Qustodio Parental Control 2015, $44.95/year (five users, five devices)

Some of these apps may give you a few more controls over your child’s activity, and also may do so at a price that is more favorable than what service providers charge. Parents need to decide how to walk the line when it comes to their child’s privacy.

Ultimately, it may come down to a matter of trust and an open line of communication between child and parent, as was the case with the Johnsons. Their approach is to talk openly and often with Owen about everything he does with his new smartphone.

“He knows we can look at his messages, his emails and his Internet history. That’s just one of the rules that comes along with having a phone,” Johnson said. “Even the most responsible kids need to be monitored because there’s just so much out there that you don’t want them to see.”