Tips for parents of tech-savvy kids - how to keep them and your wallet safe

Tips for parents of tech savvy kids - how to keep them and your wallet safe.
It's impossible to keep kids from outsmarting adults, but it's not impossible to stop the potential damage. Photo credit: Getty

Recently, a phone I was reviewing for work went walkabout. I found it hanging out with my seven-year old daughter who'd just videoed her bedroom for her imaginary YouTube channel.

Before handing back the phone, she asked if she could finish a post to her friends on an app she'd used for classwork and chats during the recent lockdowns.

My jaw hit the floor.

Not only had the little madam cracked my phone passcode (apparently it's taken weeks of furtive watching), she'd discovered the new App Library ("look, this is how you find it mum") with a few deft swipes, done some passable edits on a series of selfies and voice-searched Google for some song lyrics.

All in the space of 20 minutes.

"Cute phone, mum," she said, handing back the device, without a trace of sheepishness. "Can I have it?"

Not a chance. This kid didn't watch any TV until she was three, so keen was I to limit her screen time and exposure to tech - though a fat lot of good that's obviously done. 

What I need to accept is that my daughter is tech-savvy. She's not a technical whizz kid, just an average digital native who - according to some research - is of an age that understands digital technology better than adults.

If I don't sit up and take proper notice, she'll soon totally outsmart me and it won't be as cute as it has been to date, so here's what I'm busy reminding myself.

Kids love to hack

Just because we can never remember our damn passwords, we shouldn't think our children are the same.

Mine now knows the phone passcode for five family members. She also waits until I'm distracted with the baby before waving my phone in front of my face to enable its facial recognition feature while her friend does a similar trick using his father's thumb.

These kinds of phone hacks can be expensive. Stories about children buying games or making in-app purchases without their parent's knowledge, because they know their passwords or how to access their credit card details are more common than you think.

For one friend of mine with a savvy tween, the bill ran into four digits. I kid you not. 

Frequently change up passwords on your devices and be suspicious. Always.

Tech usage should be visible

It helps to have a dedicated area in the house where laptops and other devices get used.

I know a young teenager who'd been convinced that she could earn a quick buck by simply webcamming 'lonely' men who just wanted to 'chat'.

Luckily, her plan was discovered by her horrified mother before she could discover what it most likely meant.

It's hard to be a cam girl from the corner of your parent's lounge, thankfully.

Cyber security.
Photo credit: Getty

Parental controls are key

We can't be looking over their shoulders all of the time, so free parental controls offered by the likes of Apple and Google can be helpful.

As well as controlling access, they can show app usage and allow screen time limit to be set. Some routers allow Wi-Fi to be turned off to specified devices when, for example, it's time for bed and apps too are getting better at offering controls.

For example, TikTok has a new feature that enables parents to turn off comments on their children's videos entirely.

We need to keep up with popular apps

What apps are a hot topic in the playground? We should be asking our kids, talking to other parents and seeking the advice of younger relatives more in the know.

App review sites can be useful and if possible, we should download and play with requested apps ourselves to help us better understand whether they're appropriate. 

My daughter wants to use Roblox, a platform of user-generated games aimed primarily at tweens and teens. People can do anything from attending a concert to looking after a pet and real money can be spent in the game.

Having had a look at it myself, I'm not comfortable with her using it just yet. My concerns are about how well it's moderated - but that's a topic for another day.

A lot of her friends are allowed so it helps that she's aware I've at least considered it, not just just a parent blindly saying "no".

For teens, checking their phone once in a while to see what apps they're using is a worthwhile exercise. I'm not recommending snooping, simply a spot check where they have to hand over their device straight away so you can have a look.

But be aware too that there are apps that let the user hide other apps from prying eyes.

Social media use needs rules

Families should talk about social media use and set some rules.

Parents can friend or follow their teens and check in every now and again, or use another family member such as an older sibling or cool aunt or uncle to do it instead. Just don't comment on their posts unless you love winding them up and definitely don't pretend to understand the lingo. Anyway, by the time it's common knowledge they'll have moved onto something else. 

Our kids can teach us

They find their way around phones and learn tips and tricks far quicker than we can.

They can also smarten up our social media accounts, edit our photos and get those smart home devices up and running before we've even had a chance to take them out of their box.

Most kids love being asked for help and it gives us a chance to upskill too.

We can get smart with their tech use

There are so many cool numeracy and literacy apps now available for kids that can be used at home as well as at school.

If possible, it's worthwhile designating a specific laptop or tablet for them to use. Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops. 

One mum of two regularly looks for online programmes in digital design, programming and other tech-related subjects to help her kids become more digitally literate and keep them occupied on weekends and those long school holidays.

She's also enrolled them in 3D printing and coding camps, though these can be expensive and usually only found in the bigger towns and cities.

And nearly all kids love photographing and videoing things. We can get them to use their devices, or ours with supervision, to make something creative the family can watch. It will teach them heaps of skills.

It's our job to help them stay safe and happy online

No matter how hard we try to shield them, it's inevitable that our kids will stumble upon someone or something online that's either unsavoury or downright harmful.

Teaching them the basics of online safety and how they should behave, is our responsibility as parents. There are plenty of resources online to help us do this. 

In New Zealand, Netsafe, an independent non-profit online safety organisation, is a fantastic place for parents to get up to speed.