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Digital devices are occupying our lives more and more.

We now have to worry about people getting hurt while texting and driving. In fact, at any given time throughout the day, approximately 660,000 drivers are attempting to use their phones while behind the wheel of an automobile. The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. We’re obviously not very good at controlling our own use of technology, and much less so for our kids. But, it’s time to take a serious look at this and set some limits for our children.

We did some research and here’s what the experts are saying.

Smartphones

When should we give our kids smartphones? I didn’t allow mine to have them until they were 14. Yes, they bugged me when they were in junior high, “Mom, all my friends have one!” I heard this from them at least once a week, and it was the subject of many arguments. But being the “mean mom” that I was, I didn’t think they were ready for one at age 12. Was I right? Is 14 too late? It appears not.

James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, says that his children get a smartphone only when they start high school and after they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication.

Some experts believe that 12 is the ideal age, while others say 14. All agree that later is safer because smartphones can be addictive and detract from schoolwork. They can also expose children to online bullies, child predators, and sexting.

So, it looks like I made the right decision. But evidently, it’s getting more difficult for parents to hold off on giving their children phones. According to new findings from Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study the average age that parents are giving their children smartphones is a little over 10 years of age. This is down from the 2012 number of age 12. It looks like the pressure is on to provide phones at a much earlier age.

Hmmm, even Bill Gates waited until his kids were 14 before giving them smartphones, and he’s surely aware of the dangers lurking in the digital world. Bill and I think alike.

Regardless, of when you allow your child to have a smartphone, you should set parameters for using it.

You can control the types of apps your kid can use and the ones they can purchase. You can also adjust the type of content they can view.

If your child uses an Android device the restrictions you can set vary depending on the type of phone you use.

A great tool for this is the Mobicip Safe Browser. It automatically enforces restrictions that you set for Androids, Google Play, and other devices. A Safe Browser enforces restrictions to ensure that Mobicip is the only browser available. All other browsers will be locked automatically.

If your child uses an iPhone, Apple provides some great tools of their own. Go to the Settings menu, to General and scroll down to Restrictions. You’ll need to provide a four-digit PIN to set your restrictions. Plus, you can enable automatic downloads in the App Store, so you’re notified on your own iPhone when your child downloads an app. Pretty sneaky! But what a great feature this is to keep track of what your child’s doing on his phone. You can also set restrictions for their iPad and iPod as well.

Computers

So, what about computers? Children as young as 7 are using them in elementary school, so it makes sense to let them use a computer at home to do homework and research for projects. However, unless you set up your child’s computer properly, they can be exposed to pornography, hate speech, destructive forms of bullying, and scammers.

First, make sure you’re the only administrator on your child’s computer and accounts. And use a password that he can’t guess. Put limits on what kinds of sites your child can visit. And establish rules about when they can use their PC, and for how many hours at a time.

Microsoft provides a free child-protection tool called Family Safety that’s available in Windows 10. It gives you a multitude of monitoring and filtering tools. You can put up a virtual wall to keep them from using applications or going on the Web to unsavory sites. It makes you the boss, keeps you informed and keeps your kids safer. It also works for Xbox One devices.

Basic Do’s and Don’ts

Teach your kids about computer safety. Sit them down and talk to them about:

  • Protecting their personal information. Social Security numbers, account numbers, and passwords are examples of information to keep private.
  • Watching out for “free” stuff. Free games, ringtones, or other downloads can hide malware. Tell your kids not to download anything unless they trust the source and they’ve scanned it with security software.
  • Using strong email passwords and protect them. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Personal information, your login name, common words, or adjacent keys on the keyboard are not safe passwords. Kids can protect their passwords by not sharing them with anyone, including their friends.

Applications

If your kids download apps this may give the developers access to personal information that’s not related to the purpose of the app. The developers may share the information they collect with marketers or other companies. Suggest that your kids check the privacy policy and their privacy settings to see what information the app can access. And consider this: Is finding out which cartoon character you are like really worth sharing the details of your life, or your children’s?

Sharing

A lot of kids share music, games, or software online. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing allows people to share these kinds of files through an informal network of computers running the same software. P2P file-sharing has risks:

  • You could accidentally provide many people with access to your private files.
  • If your kids download copyrighted material, you could get mired in legal issues.
  • A shared file could hide spyware, malware, or pornography.

Here are some tips to help your kids share files safely:

  • Install file-sharing software properly. Activate the proper settings so that nothing private is shared.
  • Before your kids open or play any file they’ve downloaded, advise them to use security software to scan it. Make sure the security software is up-to-date and running when the computer is connected to the Internet.

Phishing

Phishing is when scam artists send fake text, emails, or pop-up messages to get people to share their personal and financial information. Criminals use the information to commit identity theft.

Here are tips you can share with your kids to help them avoid a phishing scam:

  • Don’t reply to texts, emails, or pop-up messages that ask for personal or financial information, and don’t follow any links in the message.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them. Unexpected files may contain malware.

Get your kids involved, so they can develop their scam “antennas” and careful internet habits. Look for “teachable moments” if you get a phishing message, show it to your kids. A demonstration can help them recognize a potential phishing scam and help them understand that messages on the Internet aren’t always what they seem.