Urban legends are so old they predate electronics and automobiles. What happens, though, when urban legends like the Momo nonsense, or Slender Man, intersect with mobile phone technology? If grown Virginia men and women have a hard time distinguishing hoax from reality, imagine the difficulties your children face. Here are seven tips and apps to help keep your child(ren) safe on the cellphone.

Tip #1: Listen to Experts

Most pediatricians and the American Psychological Association point to genuinely harmful effects of cellphones on children. Real stories of tragedies (teenagers committing suicide when driven by horrid texts online, pedestrians killed by distracted teenage drivers using cellphones) are cataloged by a report from The University at Albany, for example.

Psychology Today promotes the “Wait Until 8th” campaign for holding back on smartphones until a child is in eighth grade. The magazine also recommends limiting younger kids to flip phones or “dumb” phones — no cameras, limited app space, and easy dialing.

Research suggests no magical lower limit to children’s use of cellphones but as always, the parent must parent, not be the pal. Set time limits, rules for not using phones at the dinner table, and consequences for refusing to turn a parent-paid phone over upon demand.

Tip #2: Preview Everything

Imagine as a parent hearing this from your child’s cellphone:

Maybe we could perform some fun games together. What’s this hogwash? You look afraid. Is it this knife in my whirly twirly hands? Making you a little nervous, huh? That’s all right ’cause this knife is gonna improve your look — when it’s sticking right out of you.

That was from a sinister knock-off app called “Call Blaze and The Monster Machines 2018” that a British mum found on her very young daughter’s cellphone. It was, of course, not an app based on a popular kids show, “Blaze and The Monster Machines,” but a twisted technological terror.

The cautionary tale reminds parents to preview everything for at least 24 hours before allowing your child to use the app.

App #1: Bark

Consumers Advocate ranked Bark the #1 parental control app for its wide coverage:

  1. Texts
  2. YouTube
  3. Email
  4. Social media
  5. Apps

It automatically scans for cyberbullying, online predators, sexting, depression, adult content, private messages, images, attachments — the list is very, very long.

App #2: Qustodio

PC Magazine ranks Qustodio as a great parental control app not least for the broad platform support:

  1. Windows
  2. Mac
  3. iOS
  4. Android

You can start for free, track multiple kids’ accounts, monitor their screen time, and locate your kids’ cell phones (and therefore your kids) through a Panic Button.

App #3: Apple Screen Time

Wirecutter recognizes some homes are Apple homes, and some are Android homes. For Apple iOS users, Wirecutter recommends Apple Screen Time, a free set of parental controls from Apple. It’s free, which is a good price tag, but it is also robust.

With Screen Time you can, at no cost, manage your child’s iPhone or iPad remotely, set daily limits on time spent on specific apps, on categories of apps, or the phone itself, and ; and shut down the phone at bedtime. It is also, as we politely remind our gentle readers, free.

App #4: Google Family Link

Wirecutter also offers tips for Android households. Google Family Link is free, too, which is a great start, but it is only for kids under 13. As Wirecutter says, “Parents can limit how much time their child spends on the phone, schedule the phone to be inaccessible at bedtime, and block their child’s access to the phone with one tap.”

Bonus Tip: No-Nos

Install parental control apps, by all means, but also be on the lookout for these apps your kids may have installed that should not be on the devices, say experts at The Doctors:

  1. Vault apps — What real-world privacy does a 10-year-old need from her or his parents? What secrets should a small child lock behind password protection? None, say The Doctors.
  2. Avatars — An avatar may seem like a cartoon likeness, but it gives away geographic information, allowing predators disguising themselves as other child avatars to know where your child’s phone, and therefore your child, is.
  3. Live Streaming apps — Perhaps because many parents try to make their child feel more special than all the other children, some kids think good people want to know what the kids are eating, thinking, doing and saying in real time. Live streaming apps are a predator’s playground. Consider what kind of adult wants to see what an eight-year-old has for breakfast.

Use Common Sense, Always

We get it. Parenting in the 21st century is hard, but remember, parents said the same thing in 1919 and 1519.

Owning a cellphone is no replacement for common sense and good parenting. Avoid using the phone as an electronic babysitter. Take time to review with your kids what being a good digital citizen means.

If you and your wife, ex-wife, or mother of your children find yourselves at loggerheads over cellphones for the kids, consider consulting your family law attorney. Unfortunately, sometimes the law seems to overstep parental bounds, as in cases of parents arrested for confiscating cellphones. You are better off getting expert legal advice if in doubt.

Struggling with issues related to your kids? Please contact The Firm For Men at  757-383-9184, or please contact us online. We will be happy to help with child custody, parenting time, visitation schedules, and other issues related to your Virginia family law challenges.