THE BLOG

Letting Your Kids Loose on Your Smartphone: What Are the Risks?

12/03/2013 15:06 GMT | Updated 11/05/2013 10:12 BST

As everyone who has seen the video of the baby desperately trying to make a print magazine function like an iPad will know, technology is becoming part of kids' lives. Whilst we would never allow a child behind the wheel of a car, parents seem oblivious to the dangers of handing connected devices to children without any supervision, or controls to keep them safe.

Today it is not uncommon to see children or even toddlers playing games on a parent's smartphone or tablet. It's an easy decision to hand over your device to a fractious child in the pub or on a train, but this can have unexpected consequences. Some of the possible repercussions hit the headlines recently, with the news that five year old Danny Kitchen racked up a £1,700 bill in just a few minutes on his parents' iPad. Danny innocently ran up the debt by playing a game on the tablet which automatically billed his parents as he progressed.

Parents can be lax when it comes to how their children interact with their devices, according to research carried out in the UK with One Poll. Over a third of respondents allow their children access to their mobile or tablet while one in five admit their child knows their device's PIN or password. One in ten are even happy to share their password to iTunes or other app purchasing sites to enable their kids to buy apps. Next stop, a bill for £1,700!

Children are increasingly technology savvy and their skills with a smartphone can often be far more impressive than those of their parents. Yet it's important that parents don't let this lull them into a false sense of security. Children do not have fully developed perceptions of danger and often fail to understand the possible consequences of their actions. It's crucial for parents to educate their children about safe smartphone or tablet usage and also make sure they have the appropriate blocks and controls installed on any device that might be used by a child.

It's natural that at some point your phone will end up in the hands of your child, so it's important to make sure that you've thought about the necessary precautions. Here are some additional tips to help you keep your child, your device and your data safe:

1. Don't share any PINs and passwords associated with your smartphone with your child. That way, they'll have to check with you if they want to download something.

2. Check whether your phone or tablet has a 'kid zone' option where you can fence-off child friendly apps into a special area.

3. Make sure your children are using browsers and search engines that do not display inappropriate words or images. Check that they come preloaded with safe websites and preset word filters. All you need to do is review and approve the default websites and words. If your children use a standard search engine, make sure you turn on the parental controls to block inappropriate images and content from appearing in search results.

4. Use parental controls. Some tools will allow you to implement fast, simple age appropriate settings that provide a safe online environment in minutes.

Switching off access to the internet remains one option, but research and parental instinct suggests that children will simply find an alternative avenue to get access. So it's important to create a safer environment at home and explain the risks so even when they are using the internet without parental supervision they stop and think before they connect.