Locking down your smartphone

Smartphones and tablets are great for adults and teens but they also have a unique fascination for small children. Those bright screens, touch controls,  and easy-to-hold shapes and sizes make them perfect playthings for small hands and inquisitive minds.

But while handing over a mobile device to a younger child might buy mom a few moments of much-needed peace and quiet, there are also inherent dangers. Smartphones and tablets hold lots of personal information and sensitive data that we can’t afford to lose, and we’ve all heard stories about kids stumbling across inappropriate content or inadvertently triggering costly in-app purchases.

Fortunately, there are several tools we can use to lock down our phones when we pass them over to our younger kids. Here are some suggestions based on the four popular operating systems:

Windows Phone

Windows Phone 8 features the excellent Kids Corner, which can be accessed from the main Start menu or through Settings. Here, you can add games, music, videos and apps that are appropriate for your child and then lock the area down with a 4-digit pin number.

By default, kids can’t make any purchases while they are in Kids Corner, although you can set up a Wallet pin and approve in-app purchases on an individual basis. To exit Kids Corner, you just press the Start button twice and you will be taken to the main lock screen.

Android

While most Android phones don’t have built-in parental controls, there are some excellent free apps like Kids Place and Kid Mode, which combines pre-loaded games and apps with a child lock feature. Keep in mind these aren’t child monitoring apps, although Kid Mode allows you to upgrade to a more robust suite of parental controls with a premium membership. Instead, they act very much like Kids Corner for Windows Phone, restricting access to a pre-populated area.

iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch)

The recently-released iOS 7 and earlier versions of Apple’s mobile operating system have a limited set of parental controls, which restrict how various features are used. Most of these controls consist of disabling features, like the camera, Safari browsing, or access to the iTunes Store.

There is also an Allowed Content feature, which gives you the ability to restrict the type of content that is accessed or downloaded from the iTunes Store. For example, you can restrict access to songs with explicit lyrics, or filter movies, TV shows and apps according to their age ratings. You also have the ability to turn off app purchases, or require a password every time your child tries to make a purchase.

iOS 7 also extends the Allowed Content feature to web sites. The options are “All Websites,” which means there are no restrictions in place, or “Limit Adult Content,” which automatically limits access to web sites with known adult content. This option also blocks certain search terms like “sexy pictures.” Parents also have the ability to allow individually specified web sites and name web sites that iOS will “never allow.”

The Restrictions tool, which is accessed through Settings, can also be used to prevent changes to various privacy settings, including location services, photo-sharing, Bluetooth activation, and more.  Finally, there is a Game Center, which allows you to restrict access to multiplayer games and prevent third party access to existing games.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry OS users (5.0 or later) have access to Parental Controls, either as a built-in app, a free update, or a free download through BlackBerry App World. Again, the majority of controls consist of limiting access to existing features such as the camera, although there are also blocking tools for phone calls and other types of communication.

Remember, it still might be possible for younger children to purposely or accidentally circumvent controls, or venture outside of their allowed content areas by clicking on web links in games or apps. Close parental supervision of connected devices is always recommended.

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