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 social media 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 website for more advice on these topics and review a selection of mobile parental control software below – we welcome website feedback 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, smartphones and tablets

Both Google’s Android mobile operating system and Apple’s iOS come with parental control ‘restriction’ settings that can limit what users can do, install, browse and access.

We have also listed below a small selection of apps or software for various devices but we have not tested these and would welcome feedback from current users. NetSafe recommends you read app reviews and evaluate a free trial before purchasing.

Some software suites also offer monitoring and logging of websites and app usage but we strongly encourage parents to discuss this with their children to build a sense of trust and not to install apps that run in stealth mode.

Android devices

Android Restricted profiles
Google’s guide to limiting features and content that user accounts can access on devices running Android 4.3 and higher

With Android you can filter the Play Store to only show apps that are appropriate for children and restrict costly in-app purchases. You can also set up user accounts with restricted permissions that can only access certain apps on the device. Some handset manufacturers also have additional settings or modes/apps that help with filtering.

There are also many apps in the Android marketplace to filter adult content and even monitor calls, texts and web activity.

Vodafone Guardian app
Free for Vodafone NZ Prepay and On Account plans

Set time restrictions and time limits, block apps and get reports via the paid service

Apple iOS – iPhone, iPod Touch

iOS Restrictions
Apple’s guide to iPhone, iPad and iPod touch parental controls

Apple’s Restrictions settings can be used to prevent purchasing on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and prevent the Safari browser, Siri assistant or other apps from being used.

The iOS operating system can also control which apps have access to your private information and the use of GPS based Location Services.

See also our advice on Apple Parental Controls for iPad.

Multiple operating systems

Intel Security Safe Family
Free for 6 months – grant and block access with time limits and age-based rules

Norton Family
Parental control software for multiple devices, free for 30 days