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Christmas and Tech:
What Parents Need To Know –
Part I Cell Phones

WOW! The Christmas displays are up and getting filled for Black Friday!  That must mean that Halloween is right around the corner!

But, it also means that parents are beginning to buy Christmas presents for the kids.  Therefore, Tech Safety has to be on our minds! What should parents be considering?

Let’s see!

Today’s high-tech toys and gadgets are all inter-connected via the Internet and the cell phone networks these days!  Responsible parents, then, need to ensure that they keep foremost in mind that when kids can connect to the Internet, and each other, they are also able to connect with inappropriate material and undesirable folks!

If parents purchase a gift that connects to the Internet the first things that  you have to check on is whether or not it has access to the World Wide Web via a browser.  If it does, then that device will be able access the good, the bad, and the ugly.  For example, PlayStation 3s and 4s both have browsers, so adding a keyboard makes for easy surfing.  The iPod touch also has web surfing capabilities.  And the adult entertainment industry is making sure that they are able to effectively provide their products through these “toys”.  In fact, back when the PS3 and Nitendo Wii first came out, there were custom versions of adult web sites whose design was optimized for how those machines operated.

Don’t worry, though, because parents have options to protect their children.


First and foremost, parents need to ensure that their entire home network is filtered at the router, or gateway.  This ensures that ALL web-enabled devices using your network are filtered….automatically.  This even covers devices brought over by your children’s friends that you allow onto your network.  That can bring a level of safety to your home that other parents will appreciate!

Network-level filtering is best done by using a service such as OpenDNS.  OpenDNS filters web sites by web address through a change you make in the settings of  your gateway or router.  Even more, it allows a lot of choice by having 54 categories for filtering, as well as “white” and “black” lists.  You can learn more in these articles:

But, what about when your kids are not at home and on someone else’s network?  OpenDNS has a solution for that, as well, called OpenDNS Family Shield.  It is designed to be configured on mobile devices (not phones) so that they are filtered when devices are on other networks.  Click on the link to find directions for how to do this.

Everyone uses cell phones.  So, what do you get your child?  Well, they probably WANT an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy phone.  But, what should they be given?  This depends on a number of things:

  • What is their age and
  • What are their needs?
  • What are YOUR needs, as parents?
  • How can the phone be filtered?
  • How can the phone be “locked down”?



Small Children:  I am not a proponent of children under 6 having a phone, at all.  It is too easy for them to get too plugged in when they should be running, playing with blocks and Legos, etc. It is also too easy for parents to let the phone entertain the child instead of the child leaning self-discipline.

Children 6-12, if they need a phone, should only be provided a flip-phone.  There are several reasons to do this:

  • They want constant web access & access to apps.  They need voice and texting.  Stay strong and give them what they need instead of what they want.
  • I don’t care how much you make, is it really wise to give a small child a $600 fully-connected iPhone right off the bat?  This sends the wrong message, in my opinion.  Giving them a flip phone gives you a goal for them to attain as they get older.  As they get older and more responsible they get “better stuff”.
  • They will not have access to pornography or predators as easily as they would with a smart phone.  And that IS a huge consideration with smaller children.
  • To prevent you from being a high-tech helicopter parent! Unless events warrant, you do NOT need to know where they are down to the GPS point location at all times! Parents raised kids for thousands of years without satellite-aided tracking, and civilization prospered!
‘Tweens/Younger Teens (11-15):  These kids might actually need a smart phone, but with controls.  Smart phones provide tools that can be used in school, etc.  But, I recommend that parents get children in this age group Apple iPhones and not Android or Windows phones. Here’s why:
  • The Windows Phones have such a small share of the market (<4%) that there are far fewer options for filtering and parental controls.
  • Android phones are more difficult to lock down, and the Android OS is less secure, as is the Google Play store.  Plus, Android is “customized” for each provider and, often, for each model phone.   This exposes children to more security  risks.  In addition, this exposes the device, itself, to more risks as apps and such are not as tightly controlled for security flaws and malware.  Kids at this age are not that security conscious.
  • Apple’s iOS, which iPhones use, is easy to “lock down”, has built-in basic web filtering, and has tight security for apps, themselves.  I like COVENANT EYES as it has a multi-device family plan.  THere are more features in the iPhone version than the Android phone version.  Plus, it works on PCs and tablets, too.
  • You can set up an account for your kids on the Apple Store/iTunes Store without having to use a credit/debit card.  This protects you, and enables kids to learn budgeting by using gift cards that they, hopefully, buy themselves!
When you set up their phones, make sure you set them up on a child’s own account.  The iTunes store (as well as the Google Play store) do not split or merge accounts.  Also, make sure that the e-mail address is one that you have access to so you can see all the receipts!

Older Teens (16+):  This is where changes take place.  Basically, any phone is OK because instead of trying to completely protect your child, you are switching to teaching them to set and manage their own boundaries and safety.  This is essential before they leave for college, the military, or the workforce.  With older teens you need to consider the following:

  • Having more capable/vulnerable systems begins teaching teens to set their own boundaries, and making themselves responsible for the security of their devices.
  • You can work with them to select and set up safeguards, helping them learn to acknowledge their own vulnerabilities and the need to protect themselves.
  • Make sure your child does not have the capability to turn their phone into a WiFi hotspot, otherwise they can go around your OpenDNS protections.
  • At this age, you make them pay for their own phones, both the price of the phone and the monthly charge!  This teaches them responsibility.
  • These last 18-24 months that they have before heading out on their own are great times to “phase in” more adult responsibilities and self-awareness.  Waiting until they get out on their own to start learning these lessons (filters, boundaries, finances) is a recipe for disaster!  You could start their Junior year by giving them a little more control/privacy and, as they show their maturity, you can gradually lift restrictions and increase access by the middle of their Senior year.  That way they have the next 3-5 months to manage their own tech while having Mom/Dad close by to advise.

Regardless of which route you choose, you should always be aware of what parental controls are available at the provider level, too.  These controls change from time-to-time, so just Google  “<provider name> phone parental controls”.

I recognize that some of these choices will be difficult and, most likely, unpopular.  You might even have a child throw a conniption fit!  That’s part of the job of being a parent.  I was known as “Daddy Evil” for quite a while!

Well, that covers the web and phones.  Part II of this discussion will cover game systems and TV systems!

Check out these other popular posts:


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