How can I put parental controls on my child’s mobile phone?

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Many children at school today own and use a mobile phone. Whether it’s for the perceived safety of being able to reach a parent, or for the status appeal of carrying the latest smartphone, by age fourteen 84% of NZ children surveyed way back in 2005 had their own cell phone.

Risks versus rewards

At NetSafe, mobile devices are increasingly playing a part in many of the issues raised with us by students, parents and teachers. Cybersafety challenges include:

  • Sexting or the sending or inappropriate texts and images, often by minors
  • Text or mobile bullying where children with a mobile can be sent threatening messages or a video of an embrassing moment or school fight can be shared or uploaded to YouTube
  • Time management or cost issues that can be caused by teens sending hundreds of txts a day or staying contactable late into the night
  • Location based concerns where smartphones can automatically share a child’s current location on Facebook or other sites or apps and perhaps with friends they don’t know that well.

There are of course great benefits to children having mobiles too – the ability for parents to keep in contact and advise on late pickups or revise plans and track location if ‘stranger danger’ is a real worry.

But often we are asked by parents and caregivers how they can perhaps filter, lock down or just generally control or monitor their chid’s cellphone to do any of the following:

  • prevent the use of the camera
  • block calls or texts from certain people
  • set strict usage limits or times for internet access
  • prevent file sharing over Bluetooth or the installation of downloaded apps

NetSafe encourages discussion

It should be remembered that no filtering software on a PC is 100% efficient in preventing access to material available on the internet.

There will always be weaknesses in systems and users may actively try to circumvent the software – the same may be likely for mobile controls just as it is on a desktop or laptop computer.

At NetSafe we encourage adults to have open conversations with young people about the responsibility that goes along with ownership of a connected device – issues to discuss can include cyberbullying; internet and mobile safety such as friending and communicating with people you don’t know offline; and not sharing information that should be kept confidential or may be used to bully or embarass you later on (in the case of sexting photos, drunken pics or threatening or abusive texts).

Explore our dedicated websites and for more advice on these topics and review a selection of mobile parental control software below – we welcome tips and feedback in the comments or by email or phone.

If you install monitoring software or parental control software on your child’s phone we would encourage you to discuss the reasons behind this parental choice with them.

Parental control software for mobiles and smartphones

For younger children there are now dedicated handsets available – see this new story on the Firefly and Teddyfone – remember current guidance states that mobile phones are safe for use and do not cause health problems but a brain surgeon is quoted as saying that younger children should be encouraged to avoid persistent use.

We have listed below a small selection of apps or software for various phones – we have not tested these and would welcome feedback from current users:

Android phones

Android Parental Controls (Free)

Phone Control (Free)

Vodafone Guardian (Free for Vodafone NZ Prepay and On Account plans)

Apple iOS – iPhone, iPod Touch

McAfee Family Protection (US$19.99)

iOS Settings (Free – In built) – See this ‘how to’ guide
See also our advice on Apple Parental Controls for iPad

Symbian (Nokia phones)

SMobile Security Shield Parental Controls Edition

Kaspersky Mobile Security

Windows Mobile 7

Mobile Parental Controls

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