The New Back to School “Must-Have”? Setting Restrictions on Cell Phones

The New Back to School “Must-Have”? Setting Restrictions on Cell Phones

By Amanda Grossman-Scott

“He has to walk half a mile from the school to me, how do I know he’ll be safe?!” This was my defense for wanting to give my 8 year old son a cell phone at the beginning of his 3rd grade year. My husband shook his head at what I think of as my “mama bear” instincts, but agreed to give our son a basic phone. Meaning the phone couldn’t access the internet or text and could only call a very limited number of people. The phone eased my mind but…it was rarely used. It turned out that a phone that just makes phone calls isn’t much fun to a modern kid. Which was kind of the point.

“Nearly six out of 10 U.S. parents of children ages 8 to 12 have provided those children with cell phones.” (Consumer Reports, 2012) 

For some families, the back to school supply list is beginning to include a phone for each child. While I can absolutely relate to that– as a mother who likes to stay in contact with her child– I have found through first hand knowledge that the best phone for a child is one which won’t be distracting and doesn’t unintentionally expose the child to things they are not ready for.

This year my son is entering middle school. The school allows cell phones in class at teacher discretion. I can’t help but wonder how it’s possible for a teacher to monitor a class of at least 25 students; this leads me to wonder what other parents are doing to monitor their children’s cell phones and make sure they’re not accessing content that’s not okay for a middle-schooler.

My son has a deactivated iPhone that we may or may not allow him to take to school. In our home, we have a lot of internet-enabled devices. Because we know what’s out there and how easy it is to access, my husband and I have put restrictions, filters, and blocks on everything from the Xbox to the Kindle to our cell phones. It’s also become a question I ask other parents, particularly when my child will be spending time in their home: “Will the kids be playing on the computer or video game system? Do you have filters or have you set restrictions?” To be honest with you, most parents say “no”. And I’m disappointed every time. So are my kids, because I have to ask the parent not to let my child play on devices.

I can’t figure out the reason otherwise intelligent, amazing parents are failing to protect their children in this simple, easy way! I can tell you this: Setting restrictions on cell phones is not complicated or hard, it doesn’t have to be expensive and it shouldn’t even be a decision any parent thinks twice about—it should be automatic. Failure to set restrictions on cell phones and have open communication with your child opens up a world of adult apps, pornography, hypersexualized media, questionable video games and other media.

For computer filtering systems, read this article. But I’d urge parents not to forget about the other devices in your home. Xbox is internet enabled but it’s pretty simple to set restrictions. Go to Settings>family> set restrictions for game ratings, videos, movie, music. The default setting is automatically explicit- so parents should set the restrictions before turning it over to a child. Don’t forget about Roku, AppleTV and smart TVs which often include the YouTube app and other apps that come pre-installed, as do most smart phones. These apps are easily deleted, restricted or hidden. You can often set rating restrictions for these devices as well.

Phones can be just as simple and you have even more reason to restrict them; your child will carry this device around nearly 24 hours a day. It is no exaggeration to say your child can be exposed to all that the world has to offer if he or she is carrying a smart phone. Is your child ready for that kind of exposure at 8, 10 or 12 years old? The answer is an unequivocal “NO!” You can’t restrict what his friends are doing with their phones but you can encourage the parents to set limits and show them how easy it can be.

Here are some easy and necessary ways to restrict your child’s phone usage.

  • Set a household model for device usage. This may include turning the phone in each night, and should definitely include discussing appropriate times and places for phones as well as specific usage and content.
  • Use the phone’s built in restrictions. Apple products, for instance, make it pretty simple to restrict but the default setting for all content is “explicit”- so parents should set up a pin and adjust the settings BEFORE giving the phone to the child.

    Tap Settings.


    Tap General


    Choose a Restrictions Passcode. This will be separate and should be different from your Unlock Passcode.

  • IMG_2743

    Tap “Enable Restrictions”.


    You will now be able to turn off/on the features on your phone by tapping on the button.


    Scroll down to “Allowed Content”. Set age appropriate ratings and restrictions for the user.

  • On a Galaxy phone going to Applications>internet>advanced>content settings will give you the smallest amount of control but VERY little. Google Chrome settings on the phone can be altered to control the internet browser on some phones but not easily on an android device. These restrictions also don’t necessarily restrict what apps can be downloaded. This can be controlled through setting restrictions on the PlayStore or Amazon and any other app source. See this article for some of the most dangerous apps.
  • Use a simple, free filter like K-9 or Mobile Watchdog- there are many, many options for this- ranging from free to moderately expensive. Some work better than others. Find out which one works best for your child’s phone and your family’s needs. Android phones are a bit less user friendly, but parents can easily download monitoring and filtering software and delete undesirable apps.
  • Software and apps like Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny and Pyur (among others) filter the content while providing other services like screen shots and reports. They also allow you and your child to have open discussions about what they’re accessing and how they got there- encouraging accountability.

No matter what option you decide to use, it is imperative that you discuss your family’s expectations before giving your child a cell phone. Help him or her to understand that a cell phone is a tool- one that is primarily meant for communication and that you as a parent have every right to control.

Curious to learn more? Check out our books, 30 Days of Sex Talks; How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography, which is also available in Spanish; and 30 Days to a Stronger Child.

Need Help with Tough Topics? We got you covered!

Amanda Grossman-Scott is Board Vice president and Head Writer for Educate and Empower Kids. She has written for various magazines, newspapers and blogs and has been active in the journalism industry intermittently for the last 15 years. She studied Journalism and Communications at Utah Valley University. Amanda is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and now lives with her husband and four children in San Antonio, Texas. 

Mangis, C. (2012, July 11). Should You Buy your Child a Cell Phone? – Consumer Reports. Retrieved August 20, 2015.

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