How To Lock Down Your Smartphone

By Tracey Dowdy

Stories about kids who’ve racked up charges on their parents credit card via in-app purchases aren’t new. Earlier this year, author Ayelet Waldman went on a Twitter rant when her son spent $120 on Kim  Kardashian, Hollywood in just two days. That seems like a bargain compared to the Belgian kid who charged $46,000 – yes, I meant to type three zeroes – to grandpa’s card playing Game of War: Fire Age.

The risk of unintended credit card charges is just one of the reasons to limit access to your phone. As tech savvy as kids are, it’s easy for them to accidentally – or on purpose – access areas of your phone or the Internet you may not want. Just as we put parental controls on our computers, there are simple ways to manage access to your smartphone.

Here’s a step by step guide to locking down your smartphone to protect both you and your child.

Apple iOS

With iOS you have two options: Guided Access or Restrictions.

  • Guided Access is best if you just need to lock the device short term, e.g. you’re waiting to be seated at a restaurant and only want the child to access a single app. To set Guided Access: Navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access. From here you can enable Guided Access and set your password. To activate, go to the app you want to lock the phone to, press the Home button three times and the Guided Access screen will appear. To exit, press the Home button again three times and put in the password and the phone is no longer limited to the single app.
  • Restrictions limits accessibility device-wide. Because it’s password protected, you have control over app installation – disable completely or set age appropriate content levels – disable in-app purchases and limit access to certain websites. To set Restrictions: navigate to Settings> General > Restrictions. From here you’ll create a PIN that will be used anytime you want to change your current restrictions. Simply scroll through your list of apps and customize the content, apps, and accessibility level appropriate to your family.

Android

Google has introduced something called “Screen Pinning” with its most recent update, which allows you to lock your phone to a single app. To enable pinning: Navigate to Settings > Security > Screen pinning > On. Once enabled it’s easy to pin your screen anytime. Note you can only pin the last app you accessed so launch the app and follow these steps:

  • Tap on the Overview button (square button at the bottom of your screen)
  • Drag the title bar for the app you’ve selected to the middle of your screen
  • Tap the blue pin button at the bottom of the screen
  • Confirm you want to pin the app – you have the option to make this step password protected
  • Tap Start

To exit Screen Pinning: Touch and hold the back and overview buttons at the same time. After a few seconds the screen will revert back to the Overview screen.

Windows Phone

Windows offers a “Kids Corner” feature that allows you to create an environment customized to your specifications. It’s available from the Home screen or you can go to Settings > Kid’s Corner and switch to “On”. Once Kids Corner is active, you can pin it to the Start screen and start customizing each of the four sections: Games, Music, Videos and Apps.

To add features, choose a category like Games. Simply go to the games installed on the phone and check the box of each one you want to include. Tap “Done” when the list is complete. Windows allows you to further customize the app by adding a photo or background colors and you can rename the app to personalize it for your child. Note the Start and Home buttons are disabled in Kids Corner. To exit, just tap the power button and unlock the phone.

Whether you’re letting a friend check their email or your nephew play “Angry Birds” while you wait for a table at a restaurant, being able to restrict access to your smartphone is a great idea and something you should really take advantage of.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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