More information and further links on the author are listed at the end of the article.
Whether you are a youth pastor that works every day with high schoolers, a teacher in middle school or a parent of children, you are looking out for these youth in so many aspects of life. One big area of need? Technology. More specifically, the revolution of mobile devices.
It seems that nearly every child has some kind of mobile device. Whether it is an Android phone for children to call their parents in emergencies, Kindle tablets for reading, or an iPod for listening to music and watching movies, youth have a lot of power at their finger tips. At the same time, there is concern for the emotional, mental and spiritual safety of them using these devices.
Having done youth ministry for nine years, I have a couple of tips, apps and other safeguards for you to begin implementing today. Note that no software is going to completely protect your children, no single rule is going to keep them out of harm’s way. But with healthy communication, solid ground rules, accountability and some tools to help you out, you can sleep a little easier at night.
You should also know that your teenager may not like these 10 steps, but you are not doing this out of anger or spite. Instead, you want to protect them. Youth workers who are reading this, support the parents in this cause!
1. You Control the Password
Without the password, they cannot install any software without your knowledge. Note that ideas like “they have to install it in front of me” or “I can check their phone at any time so I know what they have” mean nothing when they are at school. That gives them eight hours to download the same app day after day and then delete it on the bus ride home. Hold on to the password and have strict rules about installations.
2. Random Access to All Accounts
One idea I tell parents is to have a conversation before their kids get a mobile device and let them know that part of getting to use the device is that you have all of their passwords and may check any and all accounts at any time. This includes text messages, Facebook, email, Instagram and Vine. I encourage you to check it in front of them and if you find something you need to discuss, you can do it right in the moment. This turns it into a normal tradition and not “mom or dad snooping on me.” At the same time, do not check it on a routine, but vary it. If they have been doing well, reduce the number of times, too.
3. No Texting While Driving
If you have teenagers who can drive, the risk is there that they will text and drive. In fact, 75 percent of all teenagers admit to having done so at least once in their lives. We know the stories of these situations and just once is too many times. One service that works on iOS and works with some Android versions is Textecution. It’s an app that completely disables texting while driving. If the user removes Textecution from the phone, it notifies the parent by text.
4. Porn Blocker
I do not think that porn filters on devices are the end-all, be-all for Internet devices. All apps can be subverted and it is as easy as a Google search to figure it out, so this should be coupled with a conversation about why porn is not appropriate. That being said, CovenantEyes is a great family app that only costs $12.99/month and includes downloads for everyone in your family, can work on iOS and Android, prevents uninstalling, has filtering and includes accountability. (Also note that this is not just a boy thing and should be a general rule that you install it on all devices.)
5. Protect the Hardware With a Case
Not only have I seen repeated phones dropped by youth over and over, several times I have caught middle school boys and girls tossing their phones across the room to show a friend their latest text. A nice case is necessary. Otterbox has withstood many teenager drops, tosses and carelessness, and they have cases for nearly every phone or iPod out there.
6. Find My iPhone App
It says iPhone, but this app works with any Mac device and is perfect for those “just in case” moments when you cannot remember where it is. It has GPS location to find the device, a noise signaler when you are in the vicinity, and a Lock My Device option if you think it is stolen. You seriously need to get it now. Android users can download Where’s My Droid. (Note: The app has to be installed BEFORE it gets lost. Just do it now and forget about it until you need it)
7. Bible App
I know it sounds cheesy, but what is the point of protecting our children if we are not also instilling the Word of God into their lives? It doesn’t matter what your platform is, YouVersion has it for everything. From here, I recommend the whole family together picks out a reading plan and then every night you can all talk about it together. These little habits can truly be life altering. Putting it in their mobile device gives them another reason to use it.
8. Restrictions on Everything
I’m not sure what you do and do not want your children to have access to, so I will simply point you to everything. iOS has a great settings panel to set restrictions on nearly everything a parent would want to do. To access it, go to General > Settings > Restrictions. You need to set the passcode (make it unique to the code that gets you into the phone) and then you can set everything from movies that can be downloaded, to what Siri is allowed to say, to the different websites that can be visited. For Android users, go to Settings > Users > Add user or profile > Restricted profile and then set up an individual account for your teen.
9. Keep Up-to-Date Yourself
Technology is an ever changing market and so you really need to be informed yourself. Need some recommendations? Here are seven:
- iParent.tv – A website with videos, reviews, how-tos and live support on everything technology.
- SafeFamilies.org – Internet focused, they offer a Christian focus to assist parents in protecting their children.
- WiredSaftey.org – Online safety, education and help group for those who have suffered a cybercrime as well as help prevent any issues.
- FacebookforParents.org – Help parents think clearly about Facebook.
- FamilyFirst.net – Serving the family by helping them use technology on and offline.
- InternetSafety101.org – On the front lines of efforts to protect children online
10. Lock Phones During Homework Time
iOS devices have a function called Guided Access that allows you to lock your phone to a specific application with a unique one-time passcode. For teens who get distracted with text messages and social media, load up the calculator or notepad app, triple tap the home button, hit start, set the code and then unlock it for the teenager when they are done. To unlock it, triple tap home again and put in the same temporary passcode and press end.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master’s of Counseling in Mental Health. His bachelors degree is in Computer Engineering and Master’s in Family Ministry. For more from Jeremy Smith visit churchm.ag