Ask any kid from first grade to college to name the phone, media player or tablet that they covet the most and you’ll hear iPhone, iPod touch and the iPad. Brand awareness and demand for Apple products among the jungle gym crowd has never been higher. What most parents don’t realize though is that if appropriate safety checks aren’t put in place, Apple’s wonderful devices could be an unguarded gateway to dangerous forbidden fruits.
While most parents know they should use parental controls on their home computers, according to a survey by McAfee, four out of five parents fail to turn such software on. Nearly a third of parents left their kids alone when surfing, and almost half of parents said they didn’t know if their kids had social networking accounts at sites like Facebook. (Think your kid is too young? Over 20 percent of 4th – 5th graders have a social networking profile. According to a Cox Communications study, 72 percent of teens have a social networking profile and nearly half have a public profile viewable by anyone.)
Over half of parents don’t monitor their kids’ desktop or laptop usage (according to an MSN Europe survey). When it comes to mobile Internet safety, even the most tech savvy parents find it next to impossible to monitor their kids’ mobile habits. Even if kids only use their mobile devices during the commute to and from school, they need to use them safely. Personal monitoring is not always possible. Even when they’re in the same room, a parent can’t read what’s on a small screen without sitting right next to their child.
Fortunately, there are technologies that can help. Parents can create mobile safety for their children, and it isn’t as difficult as they may think.
Mobile computing is the fastest growing technology sector, with youth market penetration rising higher each day. Seventy-six percent of all eight to 18-year olds have iPods or other MP3 players. Teens spend at least 49 minutes a day consuming media on mobile devices, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Study.
Mobile technology can expose young people to the good, the bad and ugly of the Internet. According to a Pew Internet study, 70 percent of teens are exposed to pornography accidentally on the web.
The Apple of every kid’s eye:
With over 120 million iOS devices sold, as of September, 2010 (67.6 million iPhones, 7.2 million iPads, 45.2 million iPod touches), Apple dominates the mobile market. Beyond its obvious cool factor, the availability of thousands of kid-friendly apps means that youth brand loyalty is already locked in. In addition to being “cool”, iOS devices are changing the way learning happens in the classroom and at home.
There are pilot programs using mobile learning in all 50 states. Many are centered around the iPod touch as the primary computer to replace all textbooks, coursework, graphing calculators, etc. The iSchool Initiative estimates each $150 iPod touch would save at least $600 per student per year. Those powerful numbers mean that more school programs will require an iPod touch. (A few schools will even standardize over to the iPod touch’s brother, the larger and more expensive iPad, which runs on the same iOS platform.)
Both parents and school districts will need to find ways to secure these devices to make them child-friendly at home and in the classroom. This isn’t just a matter of safety, there’s money involved. Schools that enable mobile learning need to implement Mobile Child Internet Protection standards to enforce a standard of Internet safety and remain eligible for federal funding.
As more school systems test Apple’s iOS products in the classroom, both parents and educators need to make sure that the first defense against inappropriate content (web filtering software) is set on kids’ iPhones, iPods and iPads.
Some think that the parental controls on iPods, iPhones and iPads are insufficient. While parental controls are important for desktops and laptops, mobile parental controls need to happen above and beyond what is built into the technology of the devices. To ensure that your mobile kids are safely surfing the mobile web, here are 10 tips to keep your child safe online.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #1: Safari could be a safari of unfiltered content.
As great as Safari is at displaying sites (as long as they don’t use Flash), it has no web filtering parental controls. None. Zip. Zilch. If your kids want to chat on PredatorsRUs.com, Safari will let them. First and foremost, change the iPod’s Safari browser to one that allows web filtering..
Child mobile Internet safety tip #3: Use the iPod’s basic parental controls.
Once you have installed the child-safe iPod browser, disable Safari. But be warned, kids are clever. If kids don’t like using a child-safe iPod browser, they will simply download another browser. Here’s how you stop them.
On the iPod’s Settings menu, choose Restrictions, and turn off Safari, YouTube, Installing Apps and Location. You can also turn off the camera, if that is appropriate.
While you are at it, restrict the kind of content they can download from iTunes to age appropriate levels. Turn off In-App Purchases.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #4: Search is king.
Search is where the action is. (That’s why Google has a market cap of a $151 billion.) Children most often encounter inappropriate content by accident through searches. You need a child-safe iPod browser that enforces safe searches on all popular search engines. Make sure that this feature cannot be disabled by changing the search engine preferences.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #5: Keep your blacklist updated automatically.
There are hundreds of thousands of new web sites created every day. (Spammers alone create 57,000 new sites each week.) If you block PredatorsRUs.com today, the bad guys will create Predators4Friends.com tomorrow. Make sure your child-safe iPod browser constantly updates its list of threats.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #6: Use ratings as a guide.
Even the most dedicated parent can’t surf and judge every new web site, so make sure your child-safe iPod browser uses ratings such as the Family Online Safety Institute’s movie style ratings to choose which sites your kid can visit.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #7: Use a browser with real-time filtering.
Because your child may be the first to discover an inappropriate site, make sure your child-safe iPod browser can detect inappropriate content on the fly.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #8: Encrypt your kid’s traffic.
Bad guys use free WiFi hotspots to snoop on people’s Internet traffic. That guy over there isn’t working on his novel, he’s watching your child’s iPod use remotely. Get a child-safe iPod browser that encrypts web traffic over unsecured WiFi hotspots.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #9: Wireless safety extends to 3G and 4G too.
Apple has restricted some iPod, iPhone and iPad functions to WiFi only, while others work on your carrier’s 3G or 4G signal. Make sure your iPod’s child-safe browser’s safety measures stay intact when you switch from cellular to WiFi, or vice versa.
Child mobile Internet safety tip #10: Allow age appropriate web use.
Keep in mind that as your kid ages, you’ll want a child-safe iPod browser that has graduated levels of web access for older kids.
Mobile Internet safety solutions start first and foremost with web filtering. Block the sites that are going to cause problems. But by far, the best way to protect your kids is to sit down and discuss mobile Internet safety. Here are a few sites to get you started.
Protecting Kids on Mobile Devices – Online Safety
Online safety is vastly underestimated by parents and children alike. Here is a compilation of popular resources available online for the discerning parent.
– FBI Publications – A Parent’s Guide To Internet Safety
– Family Online Safety Institute – FOSI.org
– WiredSafety.org – The World’s Largest Internet Safety, Help And Education Resource
– iSAFE.org – The Leader In Internet Safety Education
– iKeepSafe.org – The Internet Safety Coalition
Now you have the knowledge and the tools to help protect your children from mobile Internet dangers. Let’s get started.
Suren Ramasubbu is a co-founder of Mobicip.com, a leading online child safety service for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, PCs, laptops and netbooks. Mobicip’s mission is to provide a safe, secure and educational Internet experience for school-age children. Mobicip’s dynamic content filtering technology helps parents protect their children in the new era of Internet hazards stemming from anytime anywhere access on personal devices.