Being a parent in the internet age means constantly feeling like you’re trying to catch up with what your kids have already been exposed to. Smartphones literally put a world of information into your children’s hands, but they also give your kids direct access to a world of things you’d probably prefer they didn’t have access to.

Thankfully, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has shared five essential tips for parents to keep their kids ‘smartphone safe’.

Put parental controls in place on mobile devices

Before you hand your child or teenager a device that enables them to connect to the internet, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the types of parental controls that you can activate on the phone. Parental controls allow you to limit access to which websites and content your children can access, and restrict the use of apps or even usage at certain times of the day.

While controls can be set on the device itself, there are also various software packages available that allow you to set controls on home wi-fi or across devices used by the family. By using these tools, you can have peace of mind that you’re keeping your kids safe from accessing inappropriate content.

If your child will be taking their phone to school, remember to check their school’s policy on smartphone use – some schools restrict phone usage at school while others have a more relaxed approach.

Teach yourself and your child about the safe use of social media

We all like to stay connected to our friends and family and with the array of social networking apps and platforms available, children are no different. There is no replacement for making sure you regularly talk to your child about their online activity and how they are using these platforms. By staying engaged and aware of how your children may be using their devices you can help ensure they are staying safe and acting smartly.

Some social media apps have age limits, but privacy settings can also be changed to make these social media platforms age-appropriate for your child. It really pays for you to check the usage terms of their social media accounts to ensure you understand the rules, and make sure your children do too.

Build screen time around family activities

It’s important for you to talk to your children about how often they are using their mobile device, and for what purpose. This will allow you to provide some rules and guidance that will find a good balance between screen time and other activities.

The UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child’s Health (RCPCH) recently released guidelines that suggest parents replace screen time with other activities if screen time is interfering with sleep or family routines. The RCPCH reported that instead of setting strict time limits on children’s screen use, which is often ineffective, parents should replace screen time with activities that encourage family and face-to-face interaction or encourage more sleep, exercise and less snacking.

You can read more about the RCPCH guidance here.

Have an open dialogue with your children to prevent bullying

In many respects, dealing with cyberbullying is similar to dealing with face-to-face bullying – it’s all about managing relationships. It’s important to talk to your children and help them develop good strategies and behaviours to deal with any kind of bullying, and also to prevent them from bullying others.

Cyberbullying can include abusive or mean messages, excluding others in an online space and posting nasty gossip, videos or pictures online. It’s important to set up an open dialogue so children know that they can and should talk to you, their teachers or other trusted adults if they are experiencing bullying. Let them know that there are steps that can be taken to remedy situations – they can block the bully, report the behaviour and even just take a break from the online world.

Visit eSafety.gov.au for more resources and assistance.

Help manage your child’s spending

A smartphone will often be a child or teenager’s first interaction with spending money or managing personal credit. Giving your child their own phone can be a great opportunity to teach financial awareness and literacy, but it’s important that they understand how their mobile plan or spending works and how to limit their spending when necessary.

Depending on the maturity of your child, you may want to help them manage the spending on their phone and there are some simple ways to do that. Keep passwords safe and avoid sharing any account passwords or PINs that would enable your child to make purchases, including in-app purchases, from their device. Use vouchers for purchasing to avoid giving access to your credit card, and set spend limits for in-app purchasing by contacting your mobile service provider or when setting up an account in the relevant app store.

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