Shopping for school supplies used to be about picking out pencils and backpacks, but these days, it’s also about equipping your child with a cell phone as up to 40-percent of elementary school children now head off to class with mobile devices.
And those numbers continue to rise.
But how can parents, who purchase phones in case of emergency, also make sure their children are safe from cyber predators and bullies when there is no physical danger in sight?
That’s where Bipper’s MobileKids app comes into play, as it provides a service to parents to helps keep kids safe, while at the same time has nothing to do with mom and dad going all NSA and listening in to phone calls or scouring through little Jimmy’s texts.
“When my oldest child started school, she was six, and I was surprised to see a good amount of her classmates already had cell phones,” says Bipper CEO Silje Vallestad, as we talk about the importance of her parenting app. “This was back in 2006, and I was really shocked to see six year-olds with cell phones. It showed just how much childhood had changed from when I was at that age.”
And as early cell phones transformed into smart phones that can now browse the Web, engage in social networks, not to mention send friends pictures and videos at all hours of the night, Vallestad instantly saw the need for parents to protect their small children from some of the dangers these smart phones had the potential to introduce.
“This all started because I was searching for a service like this, but I couldn’t find one,” says Vallestad. “And I didn’t want to buy her a kiddie phone. They want the real phones, they want the cool phones, so I created a system so that a child could have a cool phone, but still allowed the parents to parent. I want to know what’s going on and set time limits.”
So Vallestad went to work and did just that.
[contextly_sidebar id=”439fda7cd3d9f243dae8eb1c0b56f67e”]MobileKids is an app that is installed on both the parent’s and the child’s phone, alerting the adults when a new contact is made, a new app is downloaded, or even when their child is making or receiving a call at night.
“I don’t want to spy on my kid. I believe in dialogue, trust, and communication, but at the same time, I want to know what’s going on,” says Vallestad. “I want to have the same types of insight and control that my parents had when I was young. When I grew up, we had a household phone, so when I was on the phone, they knew who was on the phone and they knew when they were calling. After 9 pm, nobody could use the phone, that was just the rule, and if somebody they didn’t know called me, they would ask, ‘Who is this person? Where did you meet?’ And if I was spending too much time on the phone, they would tell me to hang up. It was easy to control how much everybody used the phone.
“So these are the same types of things I want to know now. I want to know who, I want to know when, and I want to know how much. And now with the smart phone, I want to know what apps they are using and with the Web, I want to know where they are browsing. I then want to be able to use that information and to help me parent.
“The system allows you to find out what information you need in order to make better parenting decisions. There’s a big difference between a 6-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 16-year-old, and it’s up to each parent on how they want to handle each situation. For example, in the spring I was alerted that my daughter had installed Instagram. I use Instagram and think it’s a great service, but I also think there are issues when kids are using Instagram. What types of pictures are they sharing? I didn’t know that she had any interest in Instagram or even that she knew what it was until I got that alert. But getting that alert gave me the opportunity to talk to her about the app.”
Turns out, while Vallestad’s daughter thought she was only sharing pictures with her parents and friends, she had made her account visible to everyone because she had not fully understood the privacy settings.
Adds Vallestad: “This was important for me to know, and it was important for her to know, too, that everybody could see her pictures. So we had a really good conversation about what pictures are OK, what pictures are not OK, and I told her that if she abused my trust, I would block Instagram. And with my MobileKids app, if I decide to block Instagram or any app, all I have to do is click block on my phone, and the app is blocked on hers.”
In addition to the monitoring service, MobileKids also has an ingenious SOS feature built in, where if your child is in danger, the service will send a call to one predetermined guardian, while also sending SOS texts to other guardians like a grandmother or aunt, complete with GPS location of the phone.
And if this sounds like a feature that would benefit all cell phone users, and not just kids, you’re not alone, as Vallestad explains that she has received feedback from plenty of adults who actually borrow their child’s phone at night, just so they can utilize the SOS service in case something happens during a late jog or night out with the girls.
In fact, the safety features even caught the eye of Jada Pinkett Smith, who liked Vallestad’s apps so much, the Hollywood star decided to invest in the company after her daughter started using the safety service.
“We are going through a whole rebranding process and we are going to use as a brand, bSafe,” says Vallestad. “There is going to be bSafe: You and bSafe: Kids. And this is a very advanced app-based service where when you trigger the alarm, it’s actually going to start videotaping what’s around you while contacting those in your safety network with your GPS location, one by phone, and the others through text messages telling them that you need help.”
Sounds like an immediate response in a time when even immediate is not soon enough.
MobileKids features three pricing structures, offering a free download with the SOS alarm and basic reports, but if you want more advanced services, including contact, app, and usage control over your child’s phone, the cost is $5.90 a month per family, or $59.90 per year.
A small price to pay for parents hoping to steer their kids the right direction in a digital age none of us saw coming back when we were still trying to figure out how to untangle our phone cords.