How to keep children safe around mobile phones as schools could ban them

Close Up Of A Line Of High School Students Using Mobile Phones
The government is set to ban students from using mobile phones while at school. (Getty Images)

Ever since mobile phones were invented, parents have grappled with questions around what the right age to give a child a mobile phone is, and what limits should be applied. But, as technology continues to put the internet literally at our fingertips, children have never been so exposed to screens and scrolling.

Determining when a child is old enough to wield the responsibility of having a mobile phone is one thing. But what they do with the device - and how they use it when you’re not looking - is another thing entirely.

Now, the Department for Education (DfE) is seeking to ban pupils from using mobile phones while at school.

The new guidance aims to "tackle disruptive behaviour and online bullying while boosting attention during lessons," the department explains in a statement.

The announcement comes after a survey by comparison and switching service revealed that almost half of parents (48%) worry their child’s academic performance could be impacted by the use of mobile phones.

However, parents appear conflicted as more than half (55%) said they would feel concerned about their child’s safety during school hours if they did not carry a mobile phone with them.

Read more: Why are mobile phones being banned in schools? (Evening Standard, 2-min read)

A young girl uses a mobile phone with her mother smiling and watching over her
Parents are conflicted about their children having mobile phones at school, a survey revealed. (Getty Images)

A separate report by Keeper Security, found that nearly one in three (30%) of parents have never spoken to their children about cybersecurity, and schools were most relied upon (40%) to educate children about the subject.

Modern times call for modern solutions, and with a plethora of safety features and tools at their disposal, parents can take some action to keep their children safe around mobile phones.

Read more: How to know if your child is ready for a mobile phone as research reveals it is one of parents’ biggest stresses (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

Where to start

As the DfE’s new guidance was published on Monday 2 October, Brian Higgins, security specialist at Comparitech, tells Yahoo UK that parents should have a conversation with their children about the ban on mobile phones at school sooner rather than later.

"A lot of young people are going to find a ban on mobile phones in school very difficult to deal with, so the best approach is to start conversations about it as soon as possible," he says. "It could also be a useful catalyst for more in-depth conversation about online presence and safety.

A Black man, wearing a blue and white striped shirt, sits and talks kindly to his young son, wearing a white and green T-shirt
Having honest and open conversations with your child about cybersecurity and online safety is important. (Getty images)

"The sooner, and more frequently you broach the subject, the better chance you have of preparing them for such a major change. If you're dead set on some kind of monitoring, then that should start as a discussion too and be implemented in partnership with your children."

Simon Newman, member of International Cyber Expo’s Advisory Council and CEO of the Cyber Resilience Centre, also advises parents to "take an interest in what sites [their children] visit and urge them to show you what they do online".

"An open and honest relationship with your children will encourage them to speak to you if they have viewed content they shouldn't, and it will also give you peace of mind that your child is using their phone sensibly," he says.

Read more: UK children 'lack understanding and awareness of cyber bullying' (The Independent, 2-min read)

Keeping children safe around phones

Darren Guccione, CEO and co-founder of Keeper Security has put together some tips

Get to know your child’s devices and learning platforms

Take time to familiarise yourself with devices and software your children are using for classes and schoolwork. It's essential to understand how to update the device and software, as well as configure parental controls and privacy settings.

Utilise parental controls and privacy settings

These allow you to define which websites your child can access, limit the information they share online and regulate their online time outside of school. Don't just configure these settings; also explain their significance to your children.

Keep devices and software up-to-date

When you receive notifications to update your child's device or software, ensure they are legitimate and not phishing scams. Once you've verified the updates, install them promptly as these updates often include crucial security additions.

A woman places a strip of red tape over a webcam on her monitor
Covering webcams when not in use can help protect yours and your child's safety at home. (Getty Images)

Avoid public Wi-Fi networks

Public Wi-Fi networks, like those provided by restaurants and businesses, are notoriously insecure. Ensure that your child does their schoolwork on your secure home network, avoiding public Wi-Fi networks.

Educate your child about phishing scams

Teach your children to exercise caution online, just as you instruct them not to enter cars with strangers in the real world.

Safeguard your child's passwords

Protect your child's online presence by emphasising good password practices, which are crucial in preventing data breaches.

Other steps you can take

Dr Amanda Gummer, child development expert and founder of the Good Play Guide, also recommends other habits you can teach your child about being online, including:

  • Talking to your children about the importance of treating others online with kindness and respect

  • Encouraging them to come to you if they ever experience of witness cyberbullying

  • Enrolling your child in age-appropriate digital literacy programs that can help them understand the internet better and develop critical thinking skills

  • Teaching your child what to do in case they encounter something inappropriate or threatening online, such as immediately reporting it to a trusted adult