How safe is your child’s smartphone?

11 August 2020

One in five lack parental controls

  • Children’s exposure to adult content is the greatest cyber safety risk feared by parents
  • Half of parents don’t know whether there is a minimum age limit for social media platforms
  • One in five don’t have any parental controls on their child’s phone

Research1 commissioned by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, has revealed parents are concerned about their children’s cyber safety, yet one in five don’t have any parental controls on their child’s smartphone.

Children’s smartphone ownership is increasing and half of the UK's 10-year-olds now own their own smartphone2.

Greatest risks to children’s cyber safety

The research discovered parents whose children have smartphones feel exposure to adult content, communicating with strangers and sharing personal data are the top three greatest risks to their child's cyber-safety from using a smartphone. This was followed by sharing inappropriate images and sharing family data.

The survey revealed 5% of parents said their child’s phone had been hacked, while one in ten (9%) weren’t sure whether their child’s phone has ever been hacked.

Parents aren’t aware of social media age limits

Most social networks do not allow children under 13 to register, yet half of the parents surveyed did not know whether there is a minimum age limit for Twitter (49%), Snapchat (50%) or WhatsApp (50%).

Parents are more likely to think there is an age limit on Facebook, however, more than a quarter (29%) aren’t aware whether there is an age limit on Facebook or not.

Children’s smartphones lack parental controls

The survey revealed one in five parents of children with smartphones (22%) do not have any parental controls on their child’s phone.

Just half (49%) of parents surveyed know the password to their child’s phone, while only two in five monitor the activity on their phone (42%) or control or restrict in-app purchases (41%).

Only 38% of parents have blocked adult content on their child’s phone or limit how much time their child is allowed to spend on their phone (38%).

While just one in three parents monitor their children’s messages (37%) or track their child’s location via their smartphone (30%).

Sarah Willoughby, Art and Private Client Development Director at Ecclesiastical, said: “During lockdown many of us have become more reliant on our smartphones than ever before to keep in touch with loved ones. Children are using technology to stay in touch with their friends and some schools are even hosting lessons online. Our research has found many parents are concerned about their children’s smartphone cyber safety. While cyber safety can be a worrying issue, our survey discovered just one in five parents have parental controls on their child’s phone. As these technologies continue to evolve at a rapid pace, it’s important that families consider how best to protect themselves and cyber insurance can offer a safety net should the worst happen.”

Tom Tahany, Operations Manager at Blackstone Consultancy, said: “Children today are often far more tech-savvy than their parents. They’ve grown up in a world where technology, the internet and social media are part of their everyday lives – they are often active across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and numerous others, while playing video games online with friends. In recent months, some schools have even started teaching classes via Zoom or YouTube. Those growing up in the 21st century are truly surrounded by and engrossed in technology.

“This is why it’s more important than ever before for parents to be aware of the risks and to know which apps their children are using and what permissions these apps have. For example, are they using apps that are tracking and sharing their location? Do they have the correct privacy settings in place? Parents need to educate their children and have open conversations with them about the cyber risks they face.”

Quick and easy steps to protect your child’s smartphone

  • Ensure that they have the appropriate privacy settings enabled on their social media accounts
  • Do not store your bank details on your child’s phone, instead activate spending controls to restrict app purchases
  • Encourage children to think twice about posts and photos they are sharing
  • If they are submitting personal details to a website or app, always check the terms and conditions
  • Encourage children to use their mobile device’s data instead of public Wi-Fi
  • If they need to log onto public Wi-Fi, then consider purchasing a VPN

Ecclesiastical, in collaboration with Blackstone Consultancy, has launched new guidance to help people understand the cyber risks they face. For more information visit

Last year, Ecclesiastical launched a new enhanced Art and Private Client policy which includes cyber cover with home systems damage as standard, with the option to purchase cyber-crime and cyber online liability as additional covers.

1 The survey was commissioned by Ecclesiastical and conducted by OnePoll, with 1,049 UK adults who are smartphone owners and parents of children aged 10-16 between 04/10/2019 and 15/10/2019. Of those parents surveyed, 844 cited their child has a smartphone.

2 Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2019, Ofcom

3 More information about how to use social media safely can be found on the National Cyber Security Centre website