When my son went to preschool at age 4, I taught him to use a cellphone for kids that I tossed in his backpack. It had no apps and four numbers: Mom, Dad, Grandma, and 911. This time was way before school shootings were in the headlines.
Many parents are shocked when they find out what their child is doing on their phones, tablets, or computers. Don’t be that parent. Get proactive. Much like you have the sex talk with your kids, have the digital life talk. Tap or click for my free tech contract parents and kids can use to set boundaries.
A new report shows there were 193 incidents of gunfire on school grounds during the 2021-2022 school year. I can’t imagine the stress of dropping your child off at school now and truly questioning whether they will be safe.
That’s why I want to help any parent or guardian with school-age children use the right tech. For your convenience, I have linked to some helpful products you can check out and order on Amazon. I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases, but I assure you, my recommendations are always independent.
Here’s what I would do
Many schools don’t let kids have cellphones in the classroom until they reach a certain age. Smartwatches can be a better safety tool than cellphones. Here’s the reason why:
In an emergency, kids can tap a few buttons on a watch. This movement is more inconspicuous than making a phone call, especially when the watch is hidden under long sleeves.
For little kids, I like T-Mobile’s SyncUP KIDS Watch. It makes calls and texts to approved contacts, but it also has real-time location tracking, virtual fences and one button to press to call for help or 911.
An Apple Watch is excellent for older kids who use an iPhone. Remember, this is sized for adult wrists, so it’s not well suited for young kids. The Apple Watch SE is a good deal compared to the much more expensive newer models.
Take the time to teach your child how to use any smartwatch. To use Apple’s Emergency SOS feature, press and hold the side button until the Emergency SOS slider appears. Dragging the slider calls emergency services and sends your child’s current location to any emergency contacts. Here are the steps for setting up emergency contacts.
For older kids and teens with an Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch includes an SOS feature that sends a message to designated emergency contacts, along with location information. You can adjust the settings so that this is accessible by pressing the Home key three times. Here’s how.
Skip Fitbits since they do not have an emergency or SOS feature.
How to set up parental controls on all your kid’s devices: Windows, Apple, Android
Put a tracker on them or in their backpack too
A tracking device is another way to keep an eye on where your kid is throughout the day. In an emergency, it can help you locate them too.
If you have an iPhone, use an AirTag. I have them all over the place: On my luggage, my dog’s collar, my car, my purse, you name it. Here are more smart uses for the inexpensive trackers.
You can slip one into your child’s backpack, but it may not always be on them. You do what feels suitable for your child. I like these accessories that always keep it right on their body:
• Kids can hide this silicon clip with a tracker in a pocket or waistband.
• For very young kids, a necklace may be more comfortable. Here’s a cute two-pack that holds an AirTag securely in place.
• A keychain holder is a nice option for teenagers and older kids, but remember it may get left in a backpack.
For Android users, you can use a Tile tracker or a Samsung Galaxy SmartTag+.
Apps for your child’s phone
If your child has a phone and is allowed to bring it to school, there are ways they can quickly and silently contact you.
Life360 offers location tracking and a way to ask for help without saying a word. The free version includes the SOS Help Alert. If your child opens the app and taps or holds the SOS button, an alert with their location is sent to the emergency contacts you set up ahead of time.
Paid options start at $14.99 a month and add many more features.
Noonlight is another solid option. Your child can press a button to call for help silently. There is an extra step, so this one is best used with older children and teens.
With Noonlight, open the app and hold down on the button that reads “Hold until safe.” If there is no emergency, release the button and enter a four-digit pin to cancel. Releasing the button without entering a pin will notify police of an emergency.
The Safety Network feature is excellent too. You can request a check-in with your child; if they don’t respond, the app will help you trace them. Note: This works only with iPhones. The safety button works with iPhone and Android.
Know your options: 9 safety apps you’ll want on hand in an emergency
Practice at home
It pains me to say this, but you should also have safety drills at home so your kids know what to do if they need to. Teach them how to use their smartwatch or phone apps to contact you in an emergency.
Discuss with your child when and where it’s appropriate to pull out their phone – and what constitutes an emergency. This is especially important with young kids.
Keep your tech-know going
My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.
PODCAST PICK: Smart headlights, ads on Apple Maps, find hidden trackers
Do you use navigation apps when you drive? Buckle up. You might have to deal with ads cluttering the screen. Also, Ford wants to make night driving easier with its smart headlights. Plus, is someone watching you with a hidden tracker? Here are the signs you need to watch out for.
Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.
Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.