Many parents are struggling with both wanting to give their child access to a smartphone to communicate with them (wait, these things have PHONES in them??? Who knew!) and not wanting to give them unfettered access to the whole worldwide web.
I totally get it. Smartphones can pose a significant risk to our children. There is the potential to expose them to pornography, predators, and there could be bullying. They may also see their friends doing fun things they weren’t invited to, and so so much more.
We’ve already run down our list of smartphone alternatives if you wanted to go that route. But if you are set on a smartphone for your child, there are definitely ways you can “dumb it down”. You can make sure you have complete control over everything that is happening on their device.
Do not get them an iPhone
First things first though, most of what I’m going to break down does NOT work as well on an iPhone. iPhones for kids is just a bad idea. The main reason is that Apple is SO concerned about their user’s privacy that they will protect it at all costs… even if that user is 11 years old. So, while you might enjoy the privacy it can provide, it can seriously hurt you when you are looking to monitor and manage your child.
The first thing you will want to do when dumbing down a smartphone is to install a parental control app. Maybe even a couple of them. I love using Boomerang Parental Controls. This app will let me disable access to any app I want to completely block.
With the ability to block any app I choose, I can really make a smartphone dumb by only allowing the phone app. These settings also include the ability to make sure any apps that get downloaded are automatically disabled until you manually enable them.
Using this your child won’t be able to install an app without you knowing about it. Apple does have some of this ability through its Screen Time settings, but it’s not nearly as robust as a regular parental control app on Android.
As you lock things down, make sure there is still a “back door” that can be used to contact you. Whether it’s “always allowing” the phone app, or a messenger app that only family members are added to like Messenger Kids, they need to be able to get a hold of you, even at Midnight. Don’t ask me how I know 🙁
I also like using Google’s Family Link on the device. It does a lot of the same things that Boomerang does, but multiple layers of protection are better! With Family Link though I can also filter content from the Play store like apps and games and movies.
Kids will figure out ways to get around one parental control app! It gets exponentially harder to try and get around 2 at the same time!
Set time limits
Having access to a smartphone can occasionally be a good thing! You can set time limits for apps you want to allow them to use, but only during specific times and for only a set amount of time.
With Boomerang I can set specific time limits per individual app. I can also set a broader time limit for the rest of the apps. I like to limit YouTube to only 30 minutes a day. My kids are given more access to texting, drawing and music apps.
When your child should be asleep or should be doing homework, you can completely disable the phone based on a set schedule. Or you can just disable the phone anytime you want by timing it out.
The Circle claims to be able to do this, but all it is really doing is disabling the internet to the device when you time it out. The device will still be able to play offline games while it’s timed out. I like the entire phone to be disabled during these times instead.
Utilizing these time limits and app controls you can actually have MORE control over a smartphone than a dumbphone! Good luck!
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com