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The holiday season is here, and if you’ve decided to give in and give your child a smartphone or tablet, you may be nervous about security, surveillance, and screen time.

Software can’t solve everything, but it can help. Here are some affordable tools to help parents or guardians guide their children’s first individual steps into the digital age.

First, set the rules

Before turning on that gifted gadget, you might want to have a discussion with your child or teen to set some ground rules for smartphone or tablet use.

Common Sense Media has a guide for parents and guardians to discuss basic safety rules with children before giving them their first cell phone, including how to respond to text messages and how to handle other people’s photos.

Creating a family group

For those giving away a standard smartphone, Apple and Google have redesigned their parental control features this year to make them easier to find and use. Apple’s dashboard is called Family Sharing, while Google’s app is called Family Link. Both work on the same concept. an organizer can add multiple user accounts to a group, but some accounts control what other accounts can see and do.

For example, someone with an adult-level account can create and configure a child account that restricts access to age-inappropriate content, blocks certain apps or purchases, and restricts daily use.

If location settings are enabled, the parent can also see the physical location of the child’s phone (and presumably the child) on a map. Parents or guardians also receive child activity reports by phone and can grant additional permissions remotely.

These built-in tools have several requirements. An adult must create a special Apple ID or Google account for the child. Children under the age of 13 cannot create their own accounts on most services due to federal privacy laws.

The system works best if everyone’s using the same platform, though parental controls are possible through a web browser, and Google’s Family Link app for iOS can control some Google apps on Apple devices.

iPhone for families

Apple’s Family Sharing allows the host to add up to five other members to the group. Purchased content, such as music and movies, can be shared among group members, and parents or guardians can manage their children’s devices there.

To set up family sharing, open the Settings icon and select Family. Tap the icon in the upper right corner and select Create a child account at the bottom of the next screen. The first time you turn on a new iOS device, you may also be given the option to create an account for the child.

After adding a child’s account to a family group, the software guides you to manage that account and apply Apple’s parental controls. In the Screen Time menu, for example, parents can limit their child’s communication with others on the phone through text messages, calls, and FaceTime.

Return to Family Sharing settings to make adjustments later.

For Android families

Google recently updated its Family Link app to focus parental controls on its Pixel phones, Samsung Galaxy hardware, and other Android-based devices. To get started, download the Family Link app from the Google Play Store; You can also find an indicator for this in the Android settings under “Digital well-being and parental controls”.

When you open Family Link, you’ll have the option to create an account for a “child or teen.” The app guides you through creating or connecting a child’s Google Account to your family group. You then set the boundaries and limits for that account. You can adjust the settings as needed by signing in as a parent to the Family Link app.

Options outside of Apple and Google

Tablets running iOS or Android can also use Family Sharing or Family Link. Some parents choose smartwatches to stay in touch with their kids, and the Apple Watch works with Family Sharing. But there is life outside the Apple-Google universe, especially for those on a budget or giving devices to younger children.

Samsung’s Galaxy phones and tablets can use Google’s Family Link, but the company also has a Samsung Kids app to create a kid-friendly environment with apps, games and additional parental controls.

Amazon includes parental controls for its relatively inexpensive Fire tablets and a similar Amazon Household feature for sharing and restricting digital content between family members. The company has its own “Amazon Kids” software that complies with age-appropriate content and screen time restrictions. a premium Amazon Kids+ subscription is also available.

Dedicated phones that limit Internet access and monitor communications (including text messages) generally promise a more controlled experience for parent and child. The Bark Phone, Gabb Phone, and Pinwheel phones are examples.

If you live in a cross-platform household or want robust tools that keep a closer eye on social media usage, third-party subscription apps like Bark, Net Nanny, or Qustodio offer parental controls.

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