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Mobile safety

Children’s don’t just access the web on their PCs or laptops – these days they’re just as likely to get online on their mobile phones.

Around six in ten 12-15s now have a smartphone giving them the potential to get online at anytime, anywhere.

They can also use them to take pictures and videos and post them online within seconds, maybe before they’ve even thought through the consequences.

In this section, you’ll find six categories of tips relating to mobile safety, and how you can help to protect your children.

Please select an option on the left

Inappropriate content

Mobile operators can’t filter content your child receives directly from their friends, for example in text or picture messages. Discuss with your child the types of content you'd be unhappy for them to receive or share with others. T-Mobile

You can download and install a number of apps to your child’s smartphone which will filter the content they see.These apps vary in price and offer everything from basic web page blocking to full-scale monitoring. Phones4U

Children can access the internet through publicly available wi-fi for example in shops, coffee bars etc or through your own home wi-fi. Check what parental controls are available for the specific smartphone; some devices may have options for switching off the internet browser. Vodafone

It’s worth checking the age ratings on apps that your child downloads, where available. However, you should be aware that app developers provide these age ratings and they are not generally independently rated. You can also look at app reviews online. For example, Common Sense Media provide age ratings and reviews for many apps, relying on developmental criteria to determine what content is appropriate for which ages.

Young people can get hold of music from many different sources, including download sites, blogs and social networking sites. They can swap tracks between computers, mobiles and portable music players. Make sure your child understands the difference between buying or listening to online music legally and illegal downloads. O2

Reporting inappropriate and illegal content

If you think your child is accessing inappropriate internet content on their mobile, you should first contact your Mobile Operator. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, you can contact the BBFC, who will review the content to determine whether it should be placed behind parental controls or internet filters. This will normally take no more than five working days. Find out more here.

If you think online content accessed on a mobile device might be illegal, such as images of child abuse, you can report it directly to an organisation called the Internet Watch Foundation. It’s their job to make sure that things like this are taken off the internet.

You can also find details of other national hotlines through the International Association of Internet Hotlines.

Parental controls

All mobile phone providers offer free parental control services which limit the content children can access via the mobile network to items suitable for under 18s. However, they may not always be automatically switched on. Check with your service provider that the parental control settings are switched on, and ask for them to be switched on if they are not. This is particularly important if the phone was used by an adult before. Ofcom guide

For advice on the safety tools available to you, contact your child’s mobile network provider using the following links:

Vodafone has also produced a step-by-step guide to set up parental controls if your child has a Blackberry and has published a guide on how a Vodafone account holder can check the Content Control setting of their child’s phone.

The UK Safer Internet Centre has a Parents’ Guide to Technology which provides FAQs about smartphones, instructions for setting up parental controls and a handy shopper’s checklist of important questions to ask when buying a mobile phone for your child.

Privacy and security

You can access some great content and services through mobile apps but it's important to know how to use them safely and securely. This Ofcom guide explains more about apps and how to use them with confidence.

A lot of personal information can be stored on smartphones, such as photos, videos and email and social networking site logins. Some people also store bank details, usernames and passwords. Using a password, or PIN, to secure your device is a great way of keeping all of this information safe. UK Safer Internet Centre

Many of the apps your child downloads will ask for personal information and data. Make sure you understand what the apps are using this data for, and if you have any concerns about data security and privacy the Information Commissioner’s Office has more information.

Encourage your child to download applications only from trusted sources. Read their terms of service and privacy policies to really understand what permissions your child is giving when they download their apps. Yahoo

Location based services can be very useful, but it means someone could find the whereabouts of a mobile and its owner. It's worth checking the location settings of your child’s mobile – you can stop location information being available to everyone except the police. O2

Sometimes links on social networks and e-mails can lead your child to sites that ask them to enter their phone number. Explain to them that they should be very careful about this and avoid posts and e-mails from friends that appear unusual or out of the ordinary. Phone Brain

Paid-for mobile content

When you sign up to a mobile contract, make sure that you and your child understand the contract’s internet data allowance – accessing the internet uses internet data and if you go over your allowance it may cost you. UK Safer Internet Centre

Your child may want to use their mobile to enter competitions, vote on a TV show or order ring tones, wallpapers and alerts. These services are often charged at a premium rate. Make sure your child knows exactly what they’re getting and what it costs. O2

If you’re concerned that your child has been misled into buying premium rate content on their mobile phone, contact the premium rate regulator, PhonepayPlus. The PhonepayPlus website contains lots of valuable information about these services including a Number Checker, and information about how you can complain.

Give your child control of their own budget for things like apps and music but make sure you have agreed boundaries so that they manage their money responsibly. Vodafone

In-App purchases are easy to buy. Depending on how your phone or tablet is set up, one click can mean that credit cards or bank accounts linked to your app store are automatically charged. Make sure you check the parental control settings which give parents and guardians the ability to turn off in-app purchases. Netmums

The following Ofcom video explains how you can turn off or password protect in-app purchases on some of the most popular smartphones.


Look out for changes in your child. These could include: becoming secretive about work on computer, keeping mobile on silent, staying in their bedroom, changes in relationships with friends, anxious, moody, withdrawn and quiet, seems unhappy but refuses to say why, complaining of headaches, stomach aches or other illnesses, sleeping difficulties, deterioration in their work. Beyond Bullying

Talk to your child about cyber-bullying. Explain that if they think they're being bullied over their mobile phone, they should share this information with you, a teacher, or another adult that they trust. Microsoft Family Safety

Explain to your child that replying to bullying messages, particularly in anger, is just what the bully wants. By not replying the bully may think that your child did not receive the message, or that they saw it but it didn't bother them. Childnet

Cyber-bullying can be extremely upsetting and scary but it can be stopped, your child can find out more about how to do this on the ChildLine website. It’s important to encourage them to save any texts, emails, messages or online comments along with the time and date they received them. This information will be very useful when reporting the bullying but it’s important your child knows not to reply to any messages as this can make the bullying worse.